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jam jarThe wine world hasn’t had a good dust up in awhile. Perhaps this debate between Tim Hanni (MW) and Jamie Goode will get the intellectual juices flowing.

Hanni argues that there is a significant portion of the public who are genetically programmed to prefer sweet wines, and this segment is not being served by wine experts who control the aesthetic discourse about wine and generally prefer dry wines. Here is a recent interview and there is much more information at his website.

Jamie Goode, wine writer and science journalist, thinks Hanni does not take into consideration how malleable and adaptable our tastes are and doubts that our preferences are being determined by wine experts:

The fact that most wines are dry, more-or-less, is because this is what the market wants. The market for mid-price to expensive wines with significant residual sugar is precisely zero. People who pay a bit more for wine want their wines dry. The market for fully sweet wines is also tiny: this is why Sauternes is having such a hard time and so many producers are struggling, while the market for high-end dry Bordeaux wines is surging.

No doubt sales of sweeter wines at the lower end of the market have been surging in recent years as evidenced by the success of Moscato and sweet red blends such as Apothic. But the larger question is why those of us concerned about wine as an aesthetic object should care about the preferences of casual wine drinkers who buy commodity wines.

I haven’t had time to look deeply at Hanni’s work and part of his thesis depends on the difficult question of innate preferences on which the science is not yet settled. But I’m not at all persuaded that adding sugar to most wines will improve their aesthetic qualities, although many of the high-acid non-vinifera wines need sugar to bring them into balance.  Perhaps I’ll have more to say about this when I’ve had a chance to soak in the literature a bit more.