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Published November 05, 2012, 11:36 PM

Meet the sweets: Red wine trend sweeps shelves

FARGO – It started with the German Dornfelder grape. Three or four years ago, Happy Harry’s Bottle Shops started carrying sweet red wines made from the European fruit. “It was kind of like a Riesling, but red,” says General Manager Dustin Mitzel.

By: Meredith Holt, INFORUM

FARGO – It started with the German Dornfelder grape.

Three or four years ago, Happy Harry’s Bottle Shops started carrying sweet red wines made from the European fruit.

“It was kind of like a Riesling, but red,” says General Manager Dustin Mitzel.

Sweet red wines differ from traditional red wines because of their higher levels of residual sugar and lower tannin content.

As more and more varieties became available stateside, wineries in the U.S., Australia and elsewhere started picking up on the trend and making their own.

Winemakers realized that while the Dornfelder may not be appropriate for their climates, they could make sweeter wines with grapes like Merlot or Shiraz.

Over the past couple years, sweet red wines from major brands like Sutter Home, Gallo Family, Funf, Yellowtail, Barefoot and Middle Sister have emerged onto the market.

“A lot of the big wineries are coming out with sweet reds,” Mitzel says.

The small ones are, too.

Kathy Swiontek, owner of Uncorked in downtown Fargo, says the custom winery’s best-sellers are those on the menu under the header “Sweet & Fruity.”

Uncorked’s popular Sweet VCR (Vieux Chateau du Roi) rates 2 on a sweetness scale of 0 to 5.

“It serves as a good way to transition wine drinkers unsure of the drier wines into the more traditional red table wines,” Swiontek says.

Everyone’s palate is different – what’s sweet to one may not be sweet to another. Plus, taste can change over time.

“Usually when people will drink sweet, eventually their palate will evolve toward the drier wines, but there are many, many people who just prefer the sweet,” she says.

Regardless, Mitzel says sweet reds fit a previously unfilled niche.

“It’s really been a gateway wine for people to enjoy reds that typically would not have had any options before,” he says.

Happy Harry’s sells more than 20 different varieties, and as their selection grows, consumers are becoming more comfortable picking and choosing on their own.

“Before, when people would want an approachable red, they had to ask a lot of questions because they didn’t want that really dry, bitter flavor, and we would try to show them something that was soft and fruitier, but it wasn’t sweet,” he says. “Now, there’s something that actually says, ‘Hey, I’m sweet, give me a try.’ ”

Merlot, for example, tastes dry because it contains less than 1 percent sugar, but if the fermentation is stopped, leaving 3 to 5 percent sugar, you have a sweeter wine, Mitzel explains.

He says the sweet reds have done well since they arrived but are doing even better now that they have their own group.

“I think it’s a fun and exciting category for people to get into the enjoyment of drinking wine,” he says.


Readers can reach Forum reporter Meredith Holt at (701) 241-5590

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