Monday, January 25, 2010

Just Curious, When Did Sweet Become The "S" Word?

So I have been wrestling with this post, not the writing part (which is my usual issue) but if I should even bother. It’s been done, the argument had and the outcome is always the same…nothing is ever resolved, both camps believing they are right and the other must be high. So why bother bringing it up again…just not so good with the whole, “leaving well enough alone” deal I guess. After tasting and commenting on a bunch of California wines this past weekend the whole thing came up again….sweetness.

Now before anyone goes jumping on my neck let me just say, sweetness, perceived or actual is all in the palate of the beholder. I don’t wish to continue the argument about what is sweet and what is not, or if the, “perceived” sweetness is from actual residual sugar, alcohol or oak…wanna know why? Because it doesn’t freaking matter! Who cares what is giving the “impression” of sweetness, if the wine tastes sweet, it is freaking sweet. This thing drives me nuts, every time I taste something and say, “it’s a little sweet” I get to hear the speech again, “Oh no, that wine is not sweet, there’s no RS on that wine. If you are getting a perceived sweetness it might be from the oak” this speech is always delivered with the slightly aghast, how dare you say that, face.

Two things about this whole thing twist my undies; one is the arrogance of one person telling another what they are tasting or worse, that they are tasting wrong…who the hell do you think you are?! What I taste, how I taste and my perceptions are correct…for me. Would I turn around and tell a customer that the wine is sweet, probably not, not unless I knew their palate well enough to know that it would likely taste sweet to them. All taste is subjective, some people have a higher threshold for sweetness than I do, matter of fact I think most do. I don’t drink soda, will take cheese over dessert every time and I even put salt on my fruit for balance, I don’t find pleasure in sweetness but I would never call it a flaw. The other thing that gives my knickers a twist is the fact that those people that scrunch up their face when I say I am getting sweetness on a wine, see that as me pointing out a fault or flaw….when did, “sweet” become a bad word?!

I just don’t get it, some of the world’s greatest wines are sweet, some of the most respected, most sought after, most expensive…but I mention that I got sweetness on a Marcassin Pinot Noir and I get the scrunchy face and speech. Did I say I didn’t like the wine? Did I say that it was in any way jacked up?! No, as a matter of fact I rather liked the wine, it was sweet to me but I still liked it, was still able to taste things beyond the initial, “perception” of sweetness…so what gives? Why the defensive attacks on people’s palate when they mention sweetness? Why be defensive at all? Somehow we can talk about animal pee and poo but mention sweet and the fancy pants wine police thump you about the head and shoulders. Fruit is supposed to be sweet right; I mean you rarely see a shelf talker that says, “aroma of under ripe cherries” do you?

Last month I was given a box of rare and very special California wines, a beloved friend was trying to show me, teach me really, what great California wine can be…that Marcassin Pinot Noir was one of those wines and I popped it at work to share with the kids. I was tickled by the wine, I knew it was special and alone gave me a giggle, here I was the proud owner of this hard to get bottle of California wine. It was a gift from someone I absolutely adore, nother giggle. When I took my first deep whiff I must confess that my brow furrowed a bit…brown sugar, not my favorite thing to find in any wine, but I kept trying and I was able to pick out some cooked black cherries….ripe ones even. I brought the wine to my lips and again was a bit taken aback by the sweetness, that smack of sweetness that seems to attack the very tip of my tongue, but the more I tasted the more I was able to pick up. I liked the wine, even ended up pouring myself a deep glass of it to keep me company while I was doing my closing duties.

The more of those wines I tasted the more I started to crave that little sweetness, the way it wrestled with my tongue…and won. I would get home and dip into my fridge to see what was next or, I would be having a glass from the bottle I had opened the night before, or the night before that…..and you see, the thing for me, the way I drink, I never have a leftover bottle of French wine to dip into. So while I may not always go for a second or third glass in one night, I find that sweetness quite pleasant. Now I’m starting to wonder if I should be using some other term to describe that, “sucrosity” that I tend to perceive when tasting a lot of domestic wines….cuzz I’m getting kinda tired of picking at that crusty old scab of a conversation about residual sugar. If it tastes sweet to me than it’s sweet….to me and I personally don’t think sweet is a bad word.


Thomas said...


No doubt about it, all tasting is subjective. But it can be made less subjective with some training.

Still, I agree with you about the over-focusing on sweet or "dry" (the latter is not the opposite of former, but that's an issue few understand).

It only matters to know about sweetness when you are trying to pair a wine with a certain dish. And yes, I don't understand the person who eats sweets but hates sweet wine BECAUSE it's sweet. Me, I'm consistent: don't like many sweets at all, wine or food--but I like some!

Michael Hughes said...

I agree Sam. It really DOES seem as though sweet has become the "S" word. Its silly really. I loooooathe when people (reps, sales directors, winemakers etc.) tell me that there is no RS, its not sweet etc...You're right, if I taste sweet its sweet! Regardless, as you said if there is more to discern from that wine then it is merely one aspect of it.

Charlie Olken said...

OK, kids. here come the wine word police.

Sweet is experienced only by certain taste buds on the palate. It is not a term of art, but a term of science. It is different from oak, different from glycerin, different from fruit, different from dried fruit. It is measurable--and here is one point where Tom P. and Arthur, the scientists and I agree. Sweet is measurable.

OK, so you taste a wine Rombauer Chardonnay or Marcassin Chardonnay or Turley Zin or Dehlinger Pinot Noir and the character of those wines possibly says "sweet" to your brain. The question is why. Oak is not sweet; it tastes like oak. Fruit is not sweet a priori; it tastes like fruit. Fresh cherries are sweet; they are very high in sugar.

There is a difference, and here is why the wine word police get so upset. "Sweet" has become a pejorative term to diss all CA wine. It matters not whether the wines are those listed above or Bjornstad or HdV Chardonnays, the term is used to denigrate the entire collection of CA wines.

So, there are now two reasons why the use of the term sweet is such a problem. It is inaccurate in the first place for many wines, and it is meant to be nasty in the second.

And that, my dear Samantha, is why folks like me get our knickers in a twist.

Samantha Dugan said...

Okay, going to wait to comment...bring it on fellas, I can take it.

Michael Hughes said...

If I taste sweet it is inconsequential whether it can be measured or not. Seriously. Are you telling me that just because there is a scientific way to measure sweetness & that certain wines measure as low on that scale that I'm wrong? Of course you aren't...right? Regardless of science or not, taste is subjective. I'd rather leave science out of tasting my wines thank you.

Charlie Olken said...

Mr. Hughes--

The thing about tasting notes is that the more accurate they are, the better they are. Sweetness is simply different from oak or glycerin. That is my big point, and it is the reason why I prefer to see wine descriptions differentiate between real sweetness and other factors.

And, of course, there is the little matter of the way in which the words are used in the greater wine community. Too many people taste CA wines and thing that there is sugar in them. Now, I realize that tasting perceptions are not to be sneezed at, but I also realize that pejorative words demean an entire class of wines such as when some (clearly not Samantha) says "All CA wines are sweet" and by that, means that all CA wines have residual sugar.

Michael Hughes said...

Mr Olken,

Yes you're right, sweet should never be used in the pejorative. It is simply one characteristic of the wine. Explaining to someone that "no this wine is not sweet, it has 1% RS" really doesn't matter if the wine is not balanced & that is all that can be detected. If a wine has acidity & further complexity than the the RS is merely one layer of what it has to express. Calling something sweet has nothing to do with RS it has everything to do with what is detected by that particular taster. I'm not trying to beat a dead horse, just saying my piece.

Thomas said...

Something to think about: if you could take out the heat, the taste of alcohol is sweet. Therefore, high alcohol (and concurrent high pH) can make wine taste sweet with or without RS.

Of course, this has nothing to do with the fact that the word "sweet" as it is applied to wine is supposed to denote something evil. That's plain dumb.

Michael Hughes said...

I adore sweet wines & I completely agree that using the term sweet as a negative connotation is not right.

Thomas said...


With this quote, you hit the nail on the head: " has 1% RS" really doesn't matter if the wine is not balanced & that is all that can be detected."

If a wine is not slated to be sweet, has low RS, but still tastes sweet, it can be out of balance, and that is wine's biggest sin.

Kimberly said...

Well. I was all set to add my two cents to the conversation, but I see from the other commments that I'm in waaayyy over my head. What with the "high pH," and "low RS," and so on. But I'll give it a shot. . .

I just wanted to agree, really, that "sweet" is often used as a pejorative when it shouldn't be, and because lots of wine consumers don't know that "sweetness" doesn't equal "bad," they run like the wind when a wine is described as having, say, "a little sweetness."

Which I recently used to describe a really lovely Rosé to a customer as a perfect match to a certain dish she was planning to prepare. She looked stricken, and chose something else.

Charlie Olken said...

Ah, Kimberly. Spot on.

If the discussion of the wine spoke to its fruit or its freshness or its balance as a reason why it would go with a particular dish, perhaps the lady in question would not have run away. She probably perceives "slightly sweet" as something akin to Coca-Cola (more on that later).

But even that sadness on your customer's part is not what pushes my button's hardest. It is the use of the word "sweet" to damn the broad array of CA wines.

One example. A former member of my tasting panel, who went on over time to earn a Master of Wine certification (proving again that the Hosemaster of Wine is a better certification even if held by just one person) once said to me, "all Napa Cabernets are so sweet that they taste like Coca-Cola", a drink that has about 9% residual sugar and will rot your teeth and other parts if taken in enough quantity.

Now, I don't care whether this person likes or does not like Napa Cabs, even though he was the tasting director at Copia, up in the Napa Valley. He is 100% entitled to his opinion. But, his characterizaton of Napa Cabs as being as sweet as Coca-Cola is why folks like me get so upset.

He intentionally denigrated every Napa Cab and all the people who like them.

So, I come back to my first point. Sweet is the taste of sugar. There is no artificial sweetener in wines. There is fruit. There is intense fruit. There is oak. There is oak that smells and tastes of caramel, that smells and tastes of creme brulee, that smells and tastes of vanilla, but none of those characteristics is sweet.

Oh, and one more technical point--with apologies. A wine that ferments to dryness has measurable residual sugar of about 0.10%. Some wine drinkers can perceive residual sugar at about 0.50%, which is the equivalent of about one level teaspoon of sugar in a cup of coffee or tea.

Whem Mr. Hughes speaks of RS in the 1.0% range, he is talking about a fair amount of sugar. There are ostensibly dry wines like Chardonnay and Sauvignon Blanc that do have sugars in that range and are nonetheless masquerading as dry wines. OK, fair enough to say that some CA wines are too sweet for my taste. I am like Sam. If you ask me at the end of a meal whether I want a good briny dill pickle or strawberry shortcake, I will tske the pickle.

Sam brought all this up to make a point. It is a point that Sam, for all of her plain-spokenness, did not make forcibly enough for my taste, and thus, as some who know me would have predicted, I jumped in on the side of accuracy because the inaccuracy is killing off people's interest in really good wines that are not sweet.

TWG said...

"Sweet - often used as a pejorative term to describe a wine one dislikes." Can also be used to show sophistication, like "I don't like sweet wine".

Sam, I agree with you about the typical person's reactions to the term sweet, but no one has the time to change minds.

What about sweetness in the context of "food friendly" versus "cocktail" wines?

TWG said...


I understand your frustration with the misuse of sweet esp. in the context of Cali wines. You have every right to expect better of the experts.

That said, I don't agree with your observations in their entirety. If wood is leading the taster to think of vanilla or caramel there will be a strong assocaition with sweetness.

I'm also not to sure about your comparison of sugar in a hot drink with sweetness levels in wine. As a black coffee/tea drinker I can detect sugar at much lower levels that a teaspoon.

What are your thoughts on alcohol levels and the perception of sweetness?

Charlie Olken said...


What is SNJ wine?

As regards perceptions of sweetness, the problem with defining notions of caramel or vanilla as sweet is that they are not. And, we have the ability to separate out those perceptions in most settings, especially wine settings.

If you are capable of tasting RS at less than 0.5%, as many tasters can do, then you are also able to detect the difference in sweetness and thus taste perception between unsweetened chocolate and sweetened chocolate, between a liquid, like a cup of tea, to which vanilla extract has been added and to which vanilla extract plus sugar has been added.

Caramel or creme brulee or any other item that is also associated with its sweetened state does not make those associations into a proof of sweetness.

We have not talked much here about balance in terms of how it affects perceptions of sweetness, and maybe that is a bridge too far, but I will certainly cotton to the fact that fresh squeezed lemon juice has lots of sugar, but would not be described as sweet or sugary.

Thanks for the conversation.

TWG said...

SNJ = Southern New Jersey.

You're right that one could learn to disassociate oak from an automatic perception of sweetness. This points out how difficult it is for the average wine drinker to understand what sweetness is and isn't.

This subject of the usage of sweet is really about experienced, knowledgable wine persons trying to talk to more casual wine consumers.

Michael Hughes said...

TWG-good point.

Samantha Dugan said...

I was going to try and step in, bat my lashes, curl my lips into a sweet little circle and coo, "Did I cause all this?" bus seeing as I could never pull that shit off I'm just going to say...."what the hell dudes?!"

I think you and I have a unique take here as we are both on the retail end of things, we deal with the end consumer and it is our job to know their taste and find them wines that suit their palates. Also unique because we are always stuck in that dance, the dance between giving the customer what they really want and having to figure out a gentle, tackful way of saying things like, "Oh okay, something with more....fruit" when a customer tells us they like Romabauer Zinfandel, (Charlie, taste it at Zap if it's there, thing is damn near port) without mentioning the, "S" word because it freaks them out too. Seems no one wants to hear the word, not the customer, reps, writers. Thing that is burning my ass and twisting my crunders is it is not a flaw. Not a slam, (although Sir Charles I understand where you are coming from when you say that it has been used to slam all California wine, and I too think that is utter bullshit. But it is the same fuckers that refuse to drink Riesling and we will never change their minds...never) least not when I am using it, which is why I wrote this damn peice to start with.

I think TWG nailed it, along with Thomas I think....freaking long list of things to read here....but I think there is a snobbery to people that say they don't like sweet, like it is for beginners and that is simply the speak of the truly laughable and utterly infuriating, the worst kind of "wine people" there are. Which is why my Beloved Charlie, I wanted to write this piece...point out that when I say sweetness, (aside from when I am purring it in your ear) I am simply sharing what I get from the wine, for my palate...not what I would write up or share with a customer. My palate is very sensitive to ANY sweetness, now I said sensitive, not offended by, it's a subtle distinction, but an important one...and the reason for this post.

I adore you all for weighing in and sharing your feelings on this subject. As I mentioned in the post, we all go round and round and there never really is an resolution. Sure is fun to talk about though!

Charlie Olken said...


Most of the time, this is all for fun, but now we are having fun and having a serious chat at the same time.

Rombauer Zin is indeed quite sweet--which is to say that it is probably over 2% sugar, which allied with the overripe character of the grapes in the first place does create a port-like character.

And it is the perfect example of what most CA wines, including Zins, are not but are too often accused of being.

And, of course, it is sweet and should be so described so long as you are not offending the customer.

One of the things that seemed to strike a chord with me was when notion offered by TWG re wood as sweetness. Yes, I agree that some will perceive oak that way, but experienced professionals, as you call them/us, do have reason and ability to know better. And thus we need to be sure that we do our best to communicate the difference when we can.

On that, I am guessing we all agree.

Samantha Dugan said...

I do agree but I don't quite see what the difference makes more sense to say, "I am getting a sweetness, not from the fruit but from the oak or alcohol"? Bottom line is I am getting sweetness and as I tried to point out a couple times; I do not see that as a bad thing and I would never relay that comment to a consumer unless I knew their palate. I have customers tell me that they only drink dry wines and they buy a bunch of Rombauer...and that was the point I was trying to make....sweetness is something that no matter the science, can only be determined by the person that is putting the wine in their mouth. Can they be proven, "wrong" with some machine that measures residual sugar, sure....then what? Am I making any sense? This short little post has inspired some great conversation, and I too think it is wicked fun...

Thomas said...

I generally agree with Charlie here, except for his brief dissertation on "dry" vs. sweet.

A wine with 1% RS (and even more) can still be perceived as "dry," depending on its total acid/pH make up--and its balance.

"Dry" should not be used to identify the opposite of sweet (which is a taste) but to identify a palate perception that is a sensation and not a taste.

In fact, if "dry" were not used to identify the opposite of sweet, many people would lose the reason for their anti-sweet snobbery. Somewhere along the road, it became a "rule" that drinking so-called dry wine is more sophisticated.

When I operated my winery tasting room, I marveled at the volume of visitors who expressed claimed they did not like sweet wine, but then would buy the sweetest wine I produced because, the other wines were too "puckerish." The point being, many people mouth the anti-sweet because that's what they believe they are supposed to do, but then they gravitate toward sweeter wines as a simpler taste--I believe the conglomerate wine world figured that out a long time ago.

Finally, to Charlie's point about the Calif. Cabernet Sauvignon phenomenon: I believe the sweetness perception people bemoan is because of high alcohol--but that's still no excuse to damn a complete wine varietal in CA.

Michael Hughes said...

This conversation has been so much fun. Bravo, Sam, for inciting this riot.

Nancy Deprez said...

The problem is that sweetness in wine is perceived as a sign that the wine is of poor quality, and that sugar was added to doctor it up.

Hence, the general population which is not a wine geek has learned that sweet wine = crap.

Since most people in the wine business have to deal with the general population/non-wine geek customer at some point, having a wine described as "sweet" will have it be off-putting to the general population.

There are some exceptions in the general population - particular groups which do not buy into the dry = high quality wine; sweet = crap.

At any rate, it is a shame that sweet wine is all lumped into the same "girly wine, non-serious crap" category, but it is a matter of education, just like Champagne is not just for girls or all-you-can-drink Champagne brunches.

As for California wine, I think often it does taste a little sweet, and I do believe it is because there is a bit of RS and more alcohol. But that's okay!

Nancy Deprez said...

Funny, Sam when you said that no one wants to hear that a wine is sweet, not customers, not reps.... this could, from a rep standpoint, also be due to the idea that sweetness is such a primary taste, simple, if you will. ie. if a customer tells me when I pour them a Mosel Spatlese that it tastes sweet, my inclination is to think, "hoookay.... what else you got?" Surely there's much more to this wine than just sweetness.

Charlie Olken said...

Wow. Give Nancy a Gold Star, a silver dollar and the keys to the city.

If Riesling were only about sweet and acid and alcohol, no one would give a rat's ass about it. "What else you got?" is the operative point.

It is my belief that we, those of us who have even a little bit of authority in the wine biz (merchants, reps, retailers, writers) need to be able to say that the flavor of Rose is not simply "sweet"--at least not a good Rose that can have a little RS, or that Mosel is "sweet" or even Champagne, because the primary taste characteristics, the ones that make those wines worth knowing, drinking, loving are not sweetness.

We all know the difference in character between a "natural" bubbly and one that is dosed with the typical 1% to 1.5%. Indeed, without that dosage, most people would not like Champagne.

Yet, we do not call most Champagne's sweet, but we can taste the sweetness in association with the acidity. We can do that because we have learned palates. Here is exactly where Tom P is right--all the way to the end, where the dosage does make a difference in terms of uses with food--as does acidity, of course.

Now none of that explains why people think Rombauer Zin is dry. It is mawkishly sweet to my taste. And it is enormously more sweet than such high alcohol, near late harvest wines as virtually anything from Monte Rosso Vineyard (Rosenblum, Biale, etc). In that regard, I am glad I do not sell wine so I describe that wine for what it is, as I can also describe Rombauer Chardonnay.

So, Sam, I come back to what I said before and what you said before. Sweet is, sadly, a pejorative term for so many, and sweetness (measurable sweetness) is not present in so many wines where the term is used. So why not avoid it in those circumstances.

Not only that, but the taste of sugar is simply different from the taste of oak or glycerin, and the texture is different and the way sweetness finishes is different.

I admit that all this is a bit "finicky", but as I have said, and will try not to repeat it after this because four times is already too many. When an inaccurate term is used to damn wine, then I want that term to be used correctly or not at all. And I believe that you, me, TWG, Mr. Hughes, Nancy, Tom P, the Hosemaster (where the hell has he been in this discussion), most of the wine professionals do know the difference. So, why not be accurate and not perpetuate wrong impressions.

Oh, crap. One more point. A high alcohol Chardonnay, with lots of oak and lots of fruit (think Pahlmeyer, for example) is nevertheless a dry wine, works with food as a dry wine, finishes like a dry wine. So, describing its oak, glycerin and fruit as "sweet" misses the point as far as I am concerned.

Thanks to all, esp. Sam, for being so kind to my rants.

Thomas said...


Just curious: have you tested the Pahlmeyer Chardonnay for RS?

Charlie Olken said...


We pull about 5,000 corks a year, and thus we do not test most wines for RS. We do test those that seem suspiciously rounded or sugary as they finish or anything else that might suggest RS--and we do find it some of the time.

In this case, we did not taste what we thought was noticeable sweetness. And, we know that the wine is fermented in barrels with wild yeast, undergoes ML in barrel and is stored in barrel for almost a year on the lees, which are stirred weekly. That set of procedures would suggest a wine that fermented to dryness.

However, I did just call the winery and am waiting for a call back from the winemaker. The sales director said the wine was "dry" when I asked about RS, but I did point out that 0.08 is different from 0.28 even if the high acidity and low pH of the wine might hide 0.28. So, we wait.

Nancy Deprez said...

Woohoo, sweet! I got a gold star!

Charlie Olken said...


Just talked to the Asst. Winemaker who was calling on a cell phone out of the office. He did not have records in front of him, but he insists that Pahlmeyer Chardonnays are fermented until there is no fermentable sugar left (he was guessing at (0.10), which is about as far as most fermentations will go. I am to get a call from the office tomorrow with the exact numbers.

Ron Washam said...

My Gorgeous Samantha,

Where the hell have I been? Sorry. I was over at LusciousLushes arguing about whether Sanford or Harrison has prettier labels. I was all for Marilyn Merlot.

I will say there is absolutely no residual sugar in any of these posts, though a few have noticeable mercaptans.

For anyone left who cares, I fall pretty much into Charlie's camp here. I think carelessness with language only breeds careless thinking. "Sweet" does have a specific and conventionally accepted meaning in wine--it refers to residual sugar and only residual sugar. I have always felt that one of the things that is hardest to learn about wine is exactly what components you're tasting when you put a wine in your mouth--which part is oak, which part is sugar, if any, which part is alcohol, which part is tannic acid, which is malic acid... Learning how to differentiate between those tastes in your mouth is the most important step to learning balance, and, as Thomas points out, balance is everything. But my point is, once you learn the differences and understand them, and obviously you do Samantha, it IS important to use them properly. Hell, you're entitled to say whatever you want and not have to listen to some pinhead wine rep correct you, but you save yourself the lecture if you just use the words properly in the first place.

We all complain about customers using words like "bitey" and "big" and "bold" when they don't really now what they're talking about. Shouldn't we who do know what we're talking about set a better example? Not talk over their heads, but use the occasions to give them an education. "Bitey? Wasn't he one of the Seven Dwarves? The one who gave Snow White hickeys?"

All that said, I always think about why there is residual sugar in a wine. Is it there as it is in German wine to provide balance for the heart-stopping acidity? Or is it there for the disingenuous reason of simply appealing to an unsophisticated American palate, as it is in Rombauer Chardonnay (now called Cougar Juice in the trade), or the one that started it all with Chardonnay, Kendall-Jackson? (Hey, where the hell is Heimoff?)

OK, Samantha, I agree with your point that you should be able to use "sweet" however you want without getting crap for it. But you do know the differences between residual sugar and alcohol and glycerin and oak, and you are a brilliant and articulate woman, and I do love you with all my heart, so why not just use words and language properly? It does matter, and it matters a great deal. That's Charlie's point, and I agree with him.

If "sweet" has become a nasty word in wine sales it's the fault of folks who use it improperly. Say "sweet" when there is r.s. If it's "sweet" to you because it's overripe or it's high in alcohol or it's somehow out of balance, express that. It's your trade, use the language properly. Otherwise it's like your doctor telling you, "You know, I think what's bothering you is an owie on your peepee."

OK, so I went to the wrong doctor.

I Love You!

Your HoseMaster
Too little, too late

Samantha Dugan said...

Okay, I’ve been biting my tongue here and I think it took, “Why not use the language properly” to unleash the, “Rawr” that I had been trying to suppress. I write a post, a post talking about the fact that I think the word sweet has been demonized and I get….schooled, as it were. I will not jump deeper into this unwinnable argument, (and that is what it is and should be, we are all entitled to our beliefs, confidence of palate…and vocabulary) because it is an exercise in futility…and it has been done, over and over again. My point was to try and remove some of the stigma attached to the word, the dreaded, “S” word, try and make it clear that when I use it I never mean it in any derogatory manor. Is it for me, not most of the time but that has never meant that I think the wines that I perceive as sweet, are bad wines…just not suited to my palate. I think that many of the people here that have weighed in have a much richer and deeper understanding of the wines that tend to get slapped with the, “S” label and therefore are far more sensitive to the sting that it delivers…I even mentioned to a friend that their palate might be more used to that touch of sweetness, what I meant to say was, calibrated but what he thought I meant was tainted…says a lot to me.

Look, I taste wine all day almost every day and 90% of that is French wine, I am trying, (due to my new admiration for some brilliant cats that love them) to understand and appreciate California wines for what they are. My post, this short post, was an offering of sorts…a French wine lovers willingness to stand up for those wines, speak up about what is pleasurable about them and I end up getting tapped on my hinny like I am some newbie that just doesn’t have the right words…. mildly insulting and enormously frustrating.

Just wondering where you accuracy police are when I have to endure the yammering of the, “California accustomed” palates tell me that my Savigny-les-Beaune or Saint Joseph is thin and lacking in flavor….and “boldness”.

Thomas said...


My standard response to people who make comments about a wine with which I disagree is this: oh, I don't find it that way, and that's why I love the subject of wine--so personal.

While I abhor the professional that uses words loosely and inaccurately, I also don't think it's worth getting in an uproar because someone tries to teach me something--so long as it isn't a lecture.


I asked only because I seem to remember a big debate in the 90s over the subject of RS in Pahlmeyer--but I could be mis-remembering the 90s--I'd like to forget them, actually...

Samantha Dugan said...

Totally agree, and I am very open to learning new things…part of the reason I love wine is because you can never know it all. When someone and I disagree I do just as you do, “really? I don’t get that at all” which I see as respecting someone else’s palate. Hell, I even sat there listening to some lady tell me that milk chocolate and Sancerre rouge was a perfect pairing, (just typing that triggers my gag reflex and “yuck” face) did I agree? Fuck no, but it is not my place, or right, to tell her what she is tasting is wrong. My position in this business is to teach people, about wine if they so wish, but mostly about what they like, what pleases them…I’m not a professional wine writer and I don’t review wines per se, which can be another reason I have never seen that use of the word, sweet, as a nasty one….which once again, is what I was getting at in the first place.

I work with someone that seems to fall into the Ron and Charlie camp as well, he and I are always disagreeing about this very same thing, like always. We go round and round and just as there will be no resolve to this disagreement, we never find a real common ground either….still respect his position, palate and the fact that when it comes to understanding the wines of this great state of ours, (well, ours…not yours) I will default to him each and every time, just as I would and do with Ron and Charlie. The only time I get even a little prickly, (which is the case here, I am not pissed at anyone…I love both Ron and Charlie, could never be pissed at two men that are trying to help me and have been nothing but supportive of me…hear that you two?! I Love you!) is when there is a inference or flat out declaration that my palate is wrong or I am tasting wrong….kind of smug and there no way for one person to measure what another is tasting.

We had a guy working for us, he had worked in some of Napa’s most sought after wineries for years. He was with us while he gathered investors for his own project, Sans Permis. He was our Spanish wine buyer and he had me taste a little white he brought in, when I told him I got a bit of sweetness on it he told me how wrong I was. Went so far as to bring in some stupid machine the next day, tested the wine and…I was right. Does that mean I have a better palate, hell no..just means I am more sensitive to sweetness, and as I have said before, I might even have a defect when it comes to wines with a bunch of primary fruit.

If I was annoyed at anything here it was that I let myself get sucked into a debate that is never going to be settled. But I do so adore all who have contributed and cared enough to weigh in…

Sheesh, my last to comments are damn near as long as the post was!

Charlie Olken said...

I just got off the phone with Erin Green, the head winemaker at Pahlmeyer. All of her Chardonnays, and she has been there since 1993, are around 0.10% RS or less because, as she says, they do not sterile filter.

So, we got into the question of language, and she allowed that there are times when they, in their own tastings, will use the term sweetness. She said, "we just get lazy when we really ought to be talking about what causes that sensation". All of which leads back to Sam's most recent comments.

My bitch is not with you, per se, but with the notion that people use terms like sweetness, which have negative connotations when there is no sweetness present.

Erin Green also said that her wines are not sweet and that she thinks she is going to stop using the term that way because she understands how people use the term in a derogatory way.

OK, thanks Sam for the kind words, and don't get your knickers in a twist. These debates are part of a healthy exchange of ideas. Frankly, we need them to help us all find the best ways to do our jobs for our clients whether they are readers or punters in search of a bottle to take home for dinner.

Samantha Dugan said...

Sir Charles,

Not twisted in the least, I like a good debate as much as the next guy. It’s just when I read all of this I picture the faces of the general population, those glazed over faces that remind me that not everyone gives a shit. The level of wine appreciation that we are discussing here is not the kind of thing that most of the people I encounter on a daily basis are about. They are about numbers, because ya know…that makes sense, or about grabbing some wine to open and just drink. Not think about, not evaluate, not pontificate about, drink, and think the simplification of language, (for those people) goes a long way in making them feel more comfortable in doing so. Some people are never going to reach the level of appreciation that you have, some never want to…I mean, look at a good chunk of wine blogs, who’s reading and commenting on those…industry folks. I’m not at all interested in pushing my geekdom on them….that’s what I have you cats for…but I am interested in selling them wine.

Thank you so much for all your comments and for sharing your wisdom, I sincerely appreciate your, (and Ron’s and Thomas’s) points and not one word you have offered has fallen on deaf…um, eyes.
Big Hugs,

Thomas said...


Do you think soft drink consumers have these kinds of debates? ;)

A big problem with wine appreciation is that while there is always the subjective overlay to taste, there equally are technical reasons for the things that we sense and taste and the things that are in or are not in wine.

Most people aren't much tuned into their palates and noses, so it's easier to just say "sweet" or some other thing. It's also so easy for people to convince themselves that theirs is THE arbiter position. That's the hardest one to deal with...