Are dessert wines on the wane? Ben Canaider says not quite…
Within the liquor business nothing sets a drinking trend or influences the success of an alcoholic beverage more than anecdotal evidence. It’s rampant within the drinks industry, even when it is wrong. The latest example of this relates to dessert wines. There’s a common feeling that this style of wine is on the wane, and for seemingly obvious enough reasons.
As with fortified wines, dessert wines are losing favour because of their sweet, sticky flavour profile. As Australians continue to drink more and more dry table wine (or, at least table wines perceived to be dry), they move away from the sweet styles. It is a cultural as much as it is a generational change. Fortified wines, sherries, and sweet whites were more or less our wine staple right up until the 1960s; but with the success during the 1970s of cask wines and then bottled wine in the form of chardonnay and cabernet, the worm turned. It was 1976 when coffee first outsold tea in Australia, hinting at a cultural change, and this date can be seen as the beginning of the end for the old-fashioned wine styles.
Yet as feasible as this brief sociological overview is, there’s one problem: dessert wines aren’t suffering. They are actually going strong, albeit in a niche kind of way, and without the broad, tidal wave effect of, say, white table wines like sauvignon blanc.
Both locally made and imported dessert wines are enjoying good sales and good wine list presence, and oddly enough, some dessert wine producers think it is the very cultural changes of the last 30 years, particularly concerning Australia’s eating habits, that has helped dessert wine remain amongst us.
National Sales Manager of De Bortoli, Peter Yeoman, says that “stickies” have a place in the world of wine drinking, and one that’s not going anywhere. “At restaurants, within the context of a broader dinner, stickies have the same sort of role that sparklers or champagnes have at the beginning of the meal.” It is dessert wine’s affinity with cheeses and desserts at dinner’s end that also guarantees their successful future. “The growth and great interest in food and wine matching also see stickies enjoying a real pride of place.” People might not be drinking them everyday, but dessert wines are attracting a certain connoisseurship at important dinners.
Of course, De Bortoli makes Noble One, a botrytised semillon that’s now enjoying its 25th vintage in Australia. It’s got more gold medals and trophies than it has vintages. Selling Australia’s most lauded dessert wine is therefore a no-brainer. And judging by Noble One on wine list landscapes, that’s true. Good restaurants with good wine lists will include it. In this sense Noble One has become a reference point. At $23 LUC per 375ml bottle that’s a
powerful reference point.
The other place for your list to go is back to France. At the top-end rests the world’s greatest dessert wine: Chateau d’Yquem. From Bordeaux, and at $245.10 LUC per 375ml bottle, this wine is the sort of thing billionaires drink for breakfast. Yet the price shouldn’t be off-putting; it means that imported dessert wines command a powerful market presence, and that if you can bring good dessert wines onto your wine list, at prices admittedly much, much lower than the d’Yquem, then there’s a chance to make a worthwhile sale.
One such wine would be the second wine of Chateau Rieussec, Carmes de Rieussec. Rieussec is a classic French Sauternes, but this entry-level wine in 375ml form is only $17.47 LUC… It ain’t rocket science. And what do you get?
The classic Sauternes elixir combining citrus and tropical fruits, lime and marmalade, yeast and orange blossom.
It is also typical of the botrytised fruit blend of all such great dessert wines: mostly semillon, and just a bit of sauvignon blanc.
With more producers in the Riverina getting into stickies, and yet more interesting but more expensive examples coming out of New Zealand, there’s plenty of reasons why you should be developing a smart, international sweet wine section on your wine list, and when they come in 375ml. bottles, it is perfect for BTG.
By the glass.