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Brian Elliott's guide to sweet, off-dry red wines

Sweet, off-dry red wines are coming back into vogue, to the possible dismay of some purists. Brian Elliott samples the best on offer

Published: August 2, 2015
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SINCE many younger drinkers seem to have inherited their grandparents’ sweet tooth, the focus this week – to the undoubted dismay of many purists – is on the rising trend for off-dry red wines.
Gallo was first to push one hard – California’s 2012 Apothic Red (£7.49, instead of £9.99, until 25 August at Tesco) with its big mulberry fruit and blackcurrant acidity, but only modest tannin.

Next came Spain’s plum and cassis-centred 2013 The Duke (£7.99 at Morrisons), which has less sugar and a tad more tannin than its rivals. They will be joined later this year by 2013 Wildling Winemaker’s Red Blend from Australia with fruit-forward black cherry influences and a bright bramble base.

All three of these wines are syrah (shiraz) based blends, often with cabernet or merlot. Predictably, all have discernible – but not cloying – sweet edges yet also display a welcome range of secondary flavours which include chocolate, almonds and vanilla.

The Duke has a residual sugar level around 10 grams per litre – which rises to 16 for the other two – but even the higher figure is not enormous. Put in context, it is within the permitted level for “Extra Dry Prosecco”. Alcohol levels too (13.5%) are not excessive.

As for food matching, surprisingly none worked with the chocolate I used or with heavy sweeter sauces. Australia’s overtly fruity Wildling, however, was an excellent partner for duck – taking on the role that cherry or plum sauce often fulfils.

When the meat was switched to pulled beef, the Duke provided the best match, probably because its greater tannin influences work well with any fattiness in the meat. The wine’s rich mocha background is also successful with that post-meal espresso.

The trailblazing and nicely integrated Apothic proved a hit as a casual drink without food and creates a great alliance with some desserts – strawberries are a brilliant (and slightly unexpected) example.

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2014 Exquisite Collection Cabernet de Cabernet Languedoc, France,
13.5 per cent
A great 50:50 blend (cabernet sauvignon and franc) from Jean Claude Mas that does need an hour to open out. It repays that time investment with smooth and soft flavours of juicy cherry, cloves and mocha underpinned by bright acidity and vanilla touches but (unusually for cabernet) very little tannin.
£5.99 at Aldi

2014 Stobi Rosé Tikves, Macedonia, 12 per cent
Not the obvious place to look for rosé, but this has attractive apple and cherry fruit with a nutty backdrop and appealing savoury spices within its developing texture. Best of all though, it is light and dry (unlike so much current rosé) but has just a hint of sweetness to add complexity and balance.
£9.99 at Cockburns of Leith


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