What are some sweet wines and champagnes for a beginner?
June 18, 2011 6:55 PM   Subscribe

What are some quality sweet wines for someone new to wines? I have plenty of experience with beers but not so much about wines.

I have been a proponent of not drinking the alcohol-y stuff, but I want to change that.

Recently, I had a chance to taste some wines, but they were either too dry or were quite bitter. I know from reading James Bond novels about some of the quality wines that experts prefer, but I probably can't afford them.

To ease my transition, I am looking for some sweeter wines that have lesser % of alcohol (for driving back after a glass of wine and not getting a DUI!).

By the way, is there a beast called "sweet champagne"? I would love to drink champagne once in a while, but not sure how it would be to someone who is new to it.
posted by theobserver to Food & Drink (28 answers total) 17 users marked this as a favorite
Moscato! Ugh, so amazing. I hate wine. I'm allergic to wine. But I'll drink chilled moscato any time. De-lish.

And speaking of beers, you've tried the lambic sort, yes? Framboise = amazing. Super low alcohol content, very yummy, and a great transition drink.
posted by These Birds of a Feather at 6:59 PM on June 18, 2011

Hey! I am/was in the same boat. Here's what I've found out over the last year or so:

Moscato and Reisling are very tasty white wines.

Barefoot Brand and a few others makes something called "Sweet Red" which is a very sweet red wine blend. I love that stuff to death but my digestive system does not, unfortunately. Some people can't tolerate red wine blends for whatever reason.

Prosecco is a sweet bubbly white wine while not technically "champagne" is the best kind of beverage in the world.
posted by bleep at 7:02 PM on June 18, 2011 [1 favorite]

Moscato, muscadet, reisling, prosecco, cava.
posted by jeffamaphone at 7:06 PM on June 18, 2011

You'll probably like whites better than reds. I might start by asking your local sommelier for a decent Chardonnay. If that's not sweet enough, then I'd try a Reisling. If that's not sweet enough, then wine might not be your thing.
posted by FreedomTickler at 7:07 PM on June 18, 2011 [1 favorite]

I got my mom into wines a few years ago and we started with the sweet whites like riesling. It's important to keep sweet whites really cold, FYI, otherwise they can taste syrupy.

You might also like lambrusco - it's a fizzy red, served cold. Riunite gets made fun of but it's pretty drinkable. You should be able to find it in the cold wine box at any grocery store (assuming wine is sold in your state's grocery stores).

Menage a Trois is a sweet red served at room temperature. My mom was a big fan of that brand when she first transitioned from whites.
posted by something something at 7:13 PM on June 18, 2011

Spier Sweet wine tastes amazing. You can usually find it with the dessert wines--just ask a salesperson if you can't find it. I know Total Wine carries it, if there are any of those in your area. It's pretty much a staple my family gatherings.
posted by litnerd at 7:21 PM on June 18, 2011

Sweet champagne = Moscato D'Asti. It's the moscato referenced above, just bubbly.

Rieslings are my wines of choice most times. Gewurztraminer can also be sweet. Look for "late harvest" which are made from grapes that have essentially rotted on the vine (but in a good way!) and they will be sweeter than anything just labeled Riesling. Hogue makes good Rieslings as do Chateau St. Michelle and Columbia Winery.

If there's a Riesling on a wine list at a restaurant, it's usually one of a few choices such as Dr. Loosen and Chateau St. Michelle. They are usually medium-sweet.

Be careful when venturing into German and Alsace Rieslings. There is some deciphering of labels to be done to make sure you don't end up with something bone-dry.
posted by cabingirl at 7:31 PM on June 18, 2011

nthing Riesling and Moscato. Recently a friend let me sample some ice wine, which was ridiculously sweet, albeit on the pricey side.

I, too, had a hard time appreciating wines, but I took a few wine classes with a friend and by myself (at a discounted price, thanks to Groupon). The two classes I took helped me a great deal in figuring out what I like in wines and what to look for. Taking a beginner's class on wines could be a fun way to spend the day with a friend or few, while helping you pinpoint wines that might appeal to you. Good luck!
posted by sums at 7:51 PM on June 18, 2011

I like this. And I think I've had another dessert wine made with Tannat grapes that I liked at Palo Santo, but I don't remember what it was.
posted by novalis_dt at 7:56 PM on June 18, 2011

New Age white should be on your short list.
posted by The Deej at 8:02 PM on June 18, 2011 [1 favorite]

I'm a sweet wine kind of guy, and I like rieslings and ice wine (though seconding the expensive part for the latter). But my favorite is vinho verde from Portugal. It can be a little hard to find... it probably won't be at your supermarket, and I'd say 50/50 chance of finding it at your liquor store (depending on how wine-heavy they are). But when you do find it, it's not that expensive... $8-12 a bottle, maybe. Couldn't tell you the alcohol content off the top of my head, but I love it. Sweet but not overpoweringly so. To my palate, anyway.
posted by Kosh at 8:05 PM on June 18, 2011

Stay away from chardonnay, unless it is specifically a late harvest dessert wine (these are usually, but not always, sold in little 375 ml bottles.

Most of the above advice is good (except the one about chardonnay! sorry!) -- prosecco is sweet and bubbly; moscato is sweet and sometimes bubbly; riesling is often (but not always) sweet. Cava is not usually sweet.
posted by fingersandtoes at 8:17 PM on June 18, 2011

Be aware that a lot of dessert wines are much more alcoholic than their drier counterparts.

Most white wines (and many reds) outside the dessert category are 12.5% alcohol, as a rule.

Also, be aware that a lot of the advice about which wines are "sweet" in this thread is a bit misleading. I only like very crisp, dry whites and love both prosecco and cava. Vinho verde can be downright acidic. Many of the brands mentioned here are really low quality, which might have an impact on your overall opinion of wine - you might be drinking really bad wine and assuming you just don't like wine.
posted by Sara C. at 8:25 PM on June 18, 2011

Thanks for the answers so far. I'll be asking the local liquor store for some of the types you people have mentioned.

@Sara C.: I thought some of the wines mentioned above were types rather than brands. I was thinking of going with a Riesling, whatever good brand is available with the local store. Would love to hear if you have any other recommendations, though.
posted by theobserver at 9:03 PM on June 18, 2011

You have some good grape names here and that is an excellent place to start off. But a grape name wont tell you what is good or not. Muscato, especially, seems to have a ton of really awful wines in the market. But a good one is summertime in a bottle. Delicious.

The key, I believe, is finding a wine store with a good selection and a wine seller who will take the time to help you out. This doesn't mean you have to spend $20-$40 a bottle. I find, with the help of my wine seller, fabulous bottles at $8-$16.
posted by munchingzombie at 9:30 PM on June 18, 2011

I just did one of our local "art and wine" walks, and second the recommendation for Moscato. I think it was the Barefoot label and it was very sweet. I also tried this, which was a very fruity and sweet bubbly red. I enjoyed it quite a bit, but I'm a wine noob also.

I've heard that the German wines labeled "Spätlese" can be good and sweet, but have yet to try it myself.
posted by weathergal at 9:37 PM on June 18, 2011

Barefoot Moscato is very sweet and tasty, but it's not good wine. Not that there's anything wrong with it, we drink alot of it in my house (like way too many of the big bottles in the summertime). I didn't recommend it because I thought the OP was maybe looking for a decent bottle to take to dinner, or something they could safely order at a restaurant. Barefoot is neither of those. It's more of a "friends on the patio with BBQ" wine.

Stay away from Barefoot Riesling. It tastes like hairspray.
posted by cabingirl at 10:01 PM on June 18, 2011

Just for fun, I'll mention this:

Chateau d'Yquem

A legendary Sauternes (80% Semillion, 20% Sauvignon blanc), the only wine ever to have received the appellation Premier Cru Superieur, ludicrously expensive, utterly unique, indescribably flavorful.

It is a masterpiece of winemaking and happenstance. In a good year, the grapes in the vineyard are preyed upon by a fungus, botrytis, the "noble rot". The rot concentrates the flavors. Do you know why we use grapes for wine? Because they're versatile! A peach is only going to ever taste like a peach, but a grape, in the right hands, a grape can taste like a peach and a lemon and a wooden plank and a dozen other things. When it goes wrong, it goes very wrong, and you end up with a jammy, fruity sweet mash of boozy Kool-Aid. But when it goes magnificently, perfectly, unerringly right, you get Chateau d'Yquem.

Another fun fact about this Sauternes: unlike a lot of white wine, it LASTS. A good vintage, properly stored, will happily age for a hundred years or so.

In 1986, I had a glass of '71 Yquem. It was like drinking God's tears of joy. It was like walking on a honeysuckle blossom with bee's feet. It was magnificent.

So, when you hear a wine snob sneer at your professed love of sweet wines, remember Chateau d'Yquem, promise yourself to one day taste some, and smile back at them. Sweetly.
posted by BitterOldPunk at 12:31 AM on June 19, 2011 [3 favorites]

Quady Electra Orange Muscat. It's like a very lightly carbonated orange soda, 4% alcohol.
posted by knile at 1:06 AM on June 19, 2011

Schmitt Sohne is a good, affordable riesling if you're going that route.
posted by something something at 6:15 AM on June 19, 2011

Re the quality issue. I find that brands like Barefoot or Charles Shaw or Yellowtail or whichever others in that mass produced "under $6 a bottle" price range are really hit or miss. You might get something totally drinkable around the house when you're not trying to impress anyone. Or you might get something that tastes like hairspray.

It would be sad if someone assumed they hated wine because they refused to just pony up that extra $3 to get something that is at least going to taste right, and might actually be pretty great. It's sort of like all the people who think they hate beer, but what they really hate is Coors Light.

Wait to go for the Barefoot stuff until you know that you actually like wine.
posted by Sara C. at 6:53 AM on June 19, 2011 [1 favorite]

if you want sweet, dessert wines -- essensia and other muscats, a good tawny port, etc.
posted by rmd1023 at 8:21 AM on June 19, 2011 [1 favorite]

Wine can be a tricky thing if you're trying to buy without tasting first. I would strongly advise that if at all possible, you stay away from shopping for wine anywhere that you cannot taste first, until you've got a good grasp of what you like.

I volunteer in a SE MI winery, have the good fortune to have more than a dozen other wineries within 90 minutes driving range to visit regularly, and make a point of visiting the 28 wineries of the Traverse City area at least once a year. (Yes, I am a lush.) On my wine journey, I have learned that recommendations from other folks will only get you so far. Everyone has a different taste profile, and what tastes like pineapples to me might taste like tart apples to you.

I took the liberty of checking your profile for your location. You're in luck, you have access to a number of wineries in your area! (And if you decide you like wine tourism, there's a good list of wineries across your state.) Pick a weekend and a few wineries, and go tasting. As a beginner, you should keep it to two wineries in a day, three if the tasting flights are short. You don't want to blow your palate, you won't be able to taste anything once you do.

Take a notebook and pen along to make note of the wines you like the taste of. Keep the tasting notes from the wineries where you find things you like. Don't fret about "wine words" - it's not necessary to decide that a wine is "impertinent, with a touch of shyness", or whatever nonsense self-proclaimed wine snobs get up to. What matters is how it tastes to you. Do you like it? Take a bottle home! Make a note of the grape it is made from, so you know what to ask for in the liquor shop or grocery store.

Keep an eye out for wine shop tastings and wine events, too. They're a great way to learn about wine without emptying your bank account on bottles you might not like.

Sure, you can be "safe" and go with Moscatos and Late Harvest Rieslings, but where's the fun in that, when you have wineries to go play in and learn about other sweet wines, too?
posted by MissySedai at 2:45 PM on June 19, 2011 [1 favorite]

If you like Sauternes as BoP reccomends above, but can't afford $250 per half bottle or more, then look around for other "botyritized" wines. Some are amazing, such as this Jurancon Uroulat.
posted by lalochezia at 3:39 PM on June 19, 2011 [1 favorite]

How about a Vouvray? I find the Barton & Guestier Vouvray they sell at my local state store quite sweet (sweeter than any Riesling I've tried, for example) but I also think it has a very nice flavor, delicate and interesting (sometimes sweet wines have a sort of cheap cloying taste to them).
posted by ootandaboot at 9:48 PM on June 19, 2011

For a sweet sparkling wine that goes GREAT with chocolate or by itself, Rosa Regale (or really any Brachetto or Brachetto d'Acqui). I've bought it for a few friends who claim not to like wine and every year I get a call or 2 asking "what was the name of that Rose champagne(sic) stuff you bought us again?"

Runs about $20/bottle in my neck of the woods.
posted by screamingnotlaughing at 11:20 AM on June 20, 2011 [2 favorites]

I know its a long time since this question was answered, but after a forced wine drinking session with friends, I thought I would post here once again, just for the intensely curious mefites and also for those who come later.

I got a chance to taste some Pinot Noir from Robert Mondavi - not sure how good it is on the quality scale, but it was pretty ok after a couple of sips. If someone knows about this wine, how would you rate this wine on a scale of 1-10 (with the constraint that 10 be still given to affordable ones and not a 100 year old Dom Perignon (got that from a James Bon book!))?

By the way, I paid about $12 for this bottle, so $15 is ok with me.
posted by theobserver at 11:16 PM on July 20, 2011

Was it Robert Mondavi Private Selection or Robert Mondavi Napa? The Napa will have a picture of the winery on the bottle, most likely, and is higher end. The Private Selection is more of an average grocery store brand, but perfectly drinkable.
posted by something something at 7:27 AM on July 21, 2011

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