Tag Archives: sweet wine

Winebits 395: Prosecco shortage, sweet wine, label fraud


Prosecco shortagePlenty of bubbly: The Wine Curmudgeon has not mentioned the news reports over the past several months heralding a Prosecco shortage, mostly because the “shortage” made my reporter’s stomach hurt. It’s the just the kind of “news” that offers an excuse for price increases — coincidentally, as the euro drops — and it turns out my hunch wasn’t far from the truth. The head of the Prosecco consortium, which oversees production of the Italian sparker, told Wine Business Monthly that supply increased almost 18 percent in 2014, and that there is no shortage. “We call on those who write, market and educate people about wine to do their part to inform the public about what Prosecco represents as a specific wine of place year,” he said.

Deciding what is sweet: Sweet wine is making an impression in Canada as well as the U.S., as Bill Zacharkiw writes in the Montreal Gazette: “There still seems to be some confusion about the role of sugar in wine, as many of these emails ask what the relationship is between residual sugar and quality. But there are other interesting questions as well.” Which he answers quite intelligently, noting the same thing that I have found. It’s not sweetness itself that is the problem with sweet wine, but how badly made too many sweet wines are. Says Zacharkiw: “I cast no judgment here. In the end, you choose what you want to drink. I simply want people to know the facts, and believe you should have access to all the information in order to make an informed choice.” Couldn’t have said it better myself.

Fix the label: Remember how those “artisan” spirits were going to fight to the bitter end the lawsuits accusing them of not being especially artisan? Templeton, the Iowa producer using whiskey from Indiana, has settled, and I would expect more settlements to follow now that a precedent has been set. The Templeton co-founder said his whiskey’s marketing “should have provided more clarity,” in one of those wonderful understatements that I so enjoy. Hopefully, the wine industry, with its artisan and hand-crafted claims for brands that make hundreds of thousands of cases, is paying attention.

Cupcake wine review 2015


cupcake wine review 2015Cupcake Moscato 2013 ($10, purchased, 9.5%)

Cupcake Red Velvet 2012 ($10, purchased, 13.5%)

When the Wine Curmudgeon finishes a day of wine judging, he usually gets a beer or glass of whiskey to cut the taste of the sweet wines that we judge at the end of each round. After tasting the two wines for the Cupcake wine review 2015, I needed a couple of belts of Wild Turkey.

It’s not so much that the Red Velvet, the legendary Cupcake sweet red blend, and the Italian moscato were sweet, which I was prepared for. Rather, they were sweet in that cynical, Big Wine, better living through chemistry way that drives me crazy. Sweet doesn’t mean bad; the best German rieslings are some of the world’s great wines.

But wines made to be sweet for sweetness’ sake? No thank you — and the moscato went past even that to sweet tea territory. There was a little orange-ish moscato aroma, and then some sweetness. And more sweetness.  And, in case you missed it, even more sweetness. No acidity, no freshness, just lots of sugar. Assuming my math is correct, it may be as much as 10 percent residual sugar, about one-third higher than a typical Old World moscato, and with one-third more alcohol. In this, as my old pal Tom Johnson noted, it’s Boone’s Farm for Baby Boomer grandchildren (with the resultant sugar-fueled hangover).

The Red Velvet, though even more a product of post-modern winemaking, was more like wine than the moscato. It had flavors — a sort of cherryish, chocolate thing — as well as tannins and acidity. There wasn’t much of either of the latter, but enough so that you could drink it and not go into a sugar coma. Serve it chilled with hamburgers and it’s drinkable in a way the moscato isn’t, even for those of us who prefer more balanced sweet wines.

It’s also why wine needs ingredient labels. Cupcake says Red Velvet has zinfandel, merlot, and petite sirah, but I wouldn’t be surprised if it had a couple of other grapes, as well as MegaPurple grape juice concentrate for added color. Plus, what Cupcake describes as a “unique oak regimen” smells and tastes like caramel-flavored fake oak.

So one yes, the Red Velvet, and one no, the moscato. In this case, .500 is not a bad average.

For more on Cupcake wine:
Cupcake wine review 2014
Cupcake wine review 2013
Cupcake wine review 2012


Wine of the week: Sara Bee Moscato NV


sara bee moscato Sweet wine is not easy to review, and this doesn’t even take into account that a lot of sweet wine isn’t worth reviewing — poorly made, sweeter than Coke, and as cynical as a carnival barker. Many of the Wine Curmudgeon’s readers — half? more? — will skip this review in annoyance and some will even cancel their email subscription in disgust.

But let it not be said that I am easily intimidated.

The Italian Sara Bee Moscato ($7, purchased, 5.5%) is one of the best sweet wines I’ve tasted in years, and especially at this price. Yes, it’s sweet — probably somewhere around a high-end soft drink like Jones Soda — but there is plenty of orange fruit aroma, common to the moscato grape, apricot, some wonderful “fermentato,” which translates into light, fun bubbles, and even a bit of crispness (usually missing in most sweet wines at this price).

I drank it with some delicately-spiced Indian takeout, and the sweetness correctly played off the spice. It would also work as a dessert wine; something with chocolate, perhaps? Sweet wine drinkers, of course, won’t bother with any of that. Chill it well, add an ice cube or two if you want, and enjoy.

So what’s the catch? The Sara Bee is made by Santero, a dependable producer of grocery-store priced Italian sparkling wine, but this is a private label for the Trader Joe’s chain. This means two things: Trying to get information about the wine is almost impossible, since Trader Joe’s doesn’t like to return phone calls, and you can’t buy it anywhere else. If you’re in a state without a Trader Joe’s or one that doesn’t sell wine — in New York and Pennsylvania, for instance — you’re out of luck.

This is a $10 Hall of Fame wine, but because of the availability problems, I probably won’t add it next year. But if you have $7, are near a Trader Joe’s that sells wine, and are curious about the Sara Bee, don’t hesitate to try it.

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