Sweet and sticky

The great thing about winter is the chance to dive into more red wines and also a few stickies, that most grossly overlooked category. Always the modern question: when do you drink them? It is a good thing that these wines age well, they usually do so by default!

The one time I happily imbibe is at dinners where the food and wine is paired, and a glass duly arrives. But order off the wine list? Rarely. Plus you have the concern of how the wine was kept if served by the glass. These wines aren’t being ordered as often as a light sauvignon blanc.

And then at home, a rich white wine or a red wine will typically carry all the way through dinner, and even hide in waiting to present itself again once the initial sweetness of the dessert on the tongue is gone. Barring a large table, opening a sticky is usually going to mean some of the bottle is wasted through oxidation unless you diligently drink a glass a night – but then it sounds like medicine!

The trick, of course, is to drink the sticky instead of dessert, not with it. Another trick is to serve it earlier in the evening as an aperitif, but then you have to make sure that it’s bright enough, what I mean is with enough acidity to wake the taste buds. Clearly port won’t work so well in this capacity, but many of our noble late harvests will be fantastic, like the Paul Cluver Weisser Riesling NLH 2005 with its fresh riesling thrill.

Later in the evening, or on a particularly gloomy day, you want something fuller in body. Monis have recently launched a wooded red Muscadel (vintage 2000) that sips very smoothly and comes packaged in a pretty and tall 500ml bottle, a welcome change in image to the usually-squat and stumpy muscadel incarnations. The wooded part of its make-up is great, because it mellows the drink, also the intense sweetness that these wines can lug about. Just don’t drink it chilled (as the belligerent necktag suggests).

With these wines, it does boil down to the question of having a sweet tooth or not; but then again, in this category like any other, a good wine is marked by its balance. There is no reason why a sticky shouldn’t also have enough acid and tannin to offset the sugar. Take as an example the Peter Bayly Cape Vintage Port 2004 – its smooth sipping and versatile because it’s lighter in girth and all in balance.