Sweet wine is much maligned — so much so, in fact, that wine snobs don’t like to admit they drink it. Instead, when they’re forced to quaff something sweet, they call it off dry.

This is not fair. Yes, some sweet wine doesn’t taste a whole lot better than Coke laced with grain alcohol, but that’s no reason ignore it. And it’s not a sign of wine weakness to drink sweet wine. German rieslings, most of which are sweet, are some of the best-made wines in the world. They can age for decades, just like red wines from and California, and they provide a wonderful sweet, lemony, stony flavor that can be addictive. Plus, they’re a lot less costly than other high-end stuff.

What to look for in a sweet wine? Stick to white, because most sweet reds aren’t very interesting. Explore German riesling, especially those with the term auslese or spatlese on the label. They denote degrees of sweetness (the latter is less sweet than the former) and are used only on the best quality German wine.

These three wines offer an overview of what’s readily available. But don’t limit yourself to these — experiment:

• J. Egberts Spatlese 2005 ($10). A wonderful introduction to German riesling, with a honey sweetness balanced by lemony acidity and a touch of minerality. Serve it by itself or with salads, Thai or Cajun food or even grilled sausages. That’s what the Germans do.

• Pacific Rim Dry Riesling 2007 ($10). Consistently solid wine from the company split off from Randall Grahm’s Boony Doon. (Grahm still owns it; he just doesn’t have much to do with it.) Not as sweet as the Egbert, but will still pair with spicy food.

• Trefethen Estate Dry Riesling 2007 ($22). An interesting wine from a Napa producer best known for its $100 cabernet sauvignons. It’s heavier than many rieslings, but impeccably made, with lemon-lime and white peach flavors. I paired it with fried chicken, which worked quite well.

Jeff Siegel’s weekly wine reviews appear every Thursday on the Advocate’s Back Talk blog, advocatemag.com/bloged.html.


Thai-style roast chicken and rice noodle salad with cilantro vinaigrette

This will take longer if you’re cooking the chicken, but it works equally well with a grocery store or takeout roast bird. And it’s a great way to use leftover chicken or turkey. Whatever the method, though, it’s a welcome change from mayonnaise-heavy chicken salads, and it’s ideal for riesling.
Serves 4, takes about 30 minutes

1 31/2-4 pound roast chicken, cut into eight pieces
1 7-oz package of rice noodles
4-6 c salad greens
1 cucumber, sliced
1 bell pepper, sliced
1 carrot, grated
About 1 c cilantro vinaigrette

Prepare rice noodles according to package directions. Next, prepare the cilantro vinaigrette: Combine 1/3 cup lime juice, 1/3 cup canola or olive oil, 1 tablespoon sesame oil, 5 teaspoons fish sauce, 5 teaspoons soy sauce, 1 tablespoon sugar, 3 cloves chopped garlic, 1/2 cup chopped cilantro and hot pepper sauce to taste. Mix well.

3. Divide the salad greens, cucumber, bell pepper, and grated carrot evenly between four plates. Place 1/4 of the rice noodles on each plate on top of the greens vegetables. Place one piece of chicken on top of the rice noodles. Pass the vinaigrette at the table.


Ask the wine guy

Q: How can I tell if a table wine is sweet?

A: The best way is to find out the wine’s residual sugar, which is the sugar left over after fermentation. The winemaker will stop fermentation before all the natural sugar in the grapes turns to alcohol. Sweet wines usually have more than 1.0 gram of residual sugar per liter. But, unfortunately, most wines don’t list the residual sugar on the label. The second best way is to check alcohol levels. The higher the alcohol, the drier the wine, so a 14.5 percent merlot is dry and an 8.5 percent riesling is sweet.