Sweet wines used to be the most famous wines in the world, but they’ve long been out-of-fashion afterthoughts. Given the current interest in expensive, sugary cocktails and exploding popularity of sweet moscato, maybe it’s time for a sweet-wine revival.
The little-known Rivesaltes wines from the Roussillon region in the south of France could be at the forefront of a sweet-wine revival. Following a recent tasting of vintages from 1999 to 1931 in New York, these distinctive wines were described as rich-textured and spicy, with layers of apricot, chocolate and candied citrus peel flavors.
What’s more, the younger vintages are a bargain. Winemaker Maison Cazes ages its versions (ambre, tuile and grenat) of Rivesaltes for at least seven years in large, old oak casks until the wine mellows and is ready to drink. Made from white grenache, the 1999 Maison Cazes, which boasts spice and orange flavors, sells for $33; the apricot-colored 1995, which is intense and elegant with hints of cocoa and honey, is $30.
Roussillon lies just north of the Spanish border, between the Mediterranean and the Pyrenees. Ninety percent of France’s vins doux naturels are produced in this sunny, hot region; the best come from sub-regions Rivesaltes, Maury and Banyuls. All are fortified, like port, which means neutral alcohol is added during the fermentation process to preserve some of the natural sugar in the final wine.