In Defence of Sweetness

Written by Al Drinkle

There is definitely such a thing as a “Metrovino palate.” That is, a pattern of loose, general preferences amongst Metrovino employees for certain types of wine over others. There are significant variants and exceptions, but one unwavering consistency across the tongues of all 12 of us without compromise is an unyielding, unconditional, insatiable thirst for wines with modest but discernible sweetness. I also notice that any colleague in the wine industry whom I have the slightest semblance of respect for shares this obsession.

I don’t think of this as an esoteric preference amongst wine elitists, but rather an honest admission that sugar tastes good. What I do find suspicious is that approximately 95% of our customers insist on purchasing dry wine without exception. How can there be such a discrepancy between the preferences of Metrovino employees and our customers in this case? Is it actually possible that most of society is intolerable of sweetness? A booming international junk food industry would indicate otherwise… but I’m willing to concede that the average Metrovino customer (and email subscriber!) has a more refined palate to begin with and probably doesn’t alternate bottles of Sancerre and Arbois with Twinkies and KitKats. But what about fruits and vegetables? Is it perverse to wait for bananas, strawberries and carrots to pass through their green phase before eating them? And what of sauces and condiments? Are your fridges and pantries bereft jam, jelly, ketchup, mustard, mayonnaise, sriracha, hoisin, oyster and bbq sauces, not to mention honey or syrups from maple or agave? You wouldn’t consider the application of such things to your otherwise refined and savoury dishes, would you? Okay, perhaps I’m being unfair. Let’s shift focus back to beverages…

Obviously you’re too cultivated to add any form of sweetener to your coffee or tea (not to mention milk or cream, the former of which contains 12 grams of lactose sugar in every 250 mLs) and it’s a certainty that those of you who make kombucha insist on the same categorical dryness as you do in your wine. A sure sign of sophistication is to enjoy fermented tea that’s dry as bile. It’s also a given that you avoid soft drinks because of their tendency towards industrial production, but fruit juices too, however artisanal, tend to rely on sweetness for balance and thereby never pass your lips. Okay, I’m being a dick for sure. And while I’m at it, let’s assume, just for fun, that perhaps an intolerance of sugar, for reasons inexplicable and fatuous, only extends to alcoholic beverages.

We all love cocktails, right? I asked one of Calgary’s most respected bartenders (not to mention most talented, which doesn’t always coincide with recognition unfortunately) how common it is to serve a cocktail that hasn’t been adulterated in any way by sweetening agents. His reply is as follows: “Oof, that’s a tough one. It would mean straight alcohol cocktails but even those would most likely harbour some sugar if they include liqueurs, vermouths, etc. You typically need the viscosity that sugar lends to a cocktail for balance. “ This is all totally cool of course, but perhaps some of you are now scrambling to formulate arguments as to why cocktails are allowed to be sweet but not wine? This is an argument that I would be happy to engage in until you’re out of breath, at which point I may not have had to say a single word…

So back to wine and the specific discrepancy between our preferences and (allegedly) most of yours’. Let me first point out that sweetness in an authentically-made wine is simply due to the retention of naturally-occurring grape sugars. And since fermentation tends to ferment glucose prior to fructose, the residual sugar in such wines consist almost entirely of the latter which is healthier and contributes more complex flavours. But since sweetness is easily discernible to even the most unsophisticated palate (and in decades past was most closely associated with the shittiest Teutonic exports imaginable), it’s an easy target for criticism, however unjustified.

After careful deliberation, and while accounting for inordinate and unusual flavour preferences, I would like to politely suggest that if you are intolerable of any wine with purposefully unresolved residual sugar that is harmonically integrated into all its other aspects, you are drinking dogmatically instead of listening to what your mouth wants, and consequently depriving yourself of some of the world’s most sublime pleasures.