Liquid Gold 2019

The sweet wines of the world present us with a paradox, and if there is one description of this paradox that has lodged in my mind more firmly than any other it is that espoused by Jo Pithon when I was in conversation with him a few years ago. At the time Jo was still working alongside his stepson, Jo Paillé, as one half of Pithon-Paillé, and as well as turning out a very smart range of dry wines made from with Chenin Blanc grown along the banks of the Layon, they were also making – whenever the climate permitted it – sweet wines within the Coteaux du Layon and Quarts de Chaume appellations. Jo told me his opinion of sweet wines, delivered with his trademark grin and ebullient style

“They are difficult to make, difficult to sell, and sometimes difficult to drink”

Jo’s first point is self-evident, the nervous wait for morning mists or a shower of rain, anything to kick-start the botrytis, followed by the equally troubled wait for the fruit to concentrate on the vine; it could all so easily go wrong (and not uncommonly it does), with unwanted rain and the subsequent grey rot the most significant risk, producing a rush to pick before it is all too late. And after all that, the rewards are small, often little more than a few hectolitres. And his second point, that the wines are difficult to sell, will be confirmed by anyone in the trade faced with this task; sweet wines are the flared trousers of the modern-day wine world, unpopular and unloved. Although, having said that, I read recently that flares are set to make a comeback. How many times, I wonder, has a similar renaissance been predicted for the sweet wines of the world?

Liquid Gold 2019

Which brings us to the final point made by Jo (pictured above). In the truly liquoreux style I would agree with Jo, who admitted he found it difficult to down more than a glassful of such wines. For most sweet wines, however, where the residual sugar is tempered by balancing acidity, I confess I have rarely found the drinking of these wines to be an issue. Indeed, I have the opposite problem; one glass of top Quarts de Chaume or Barsac is rarely enough! The problem I do experience is remembering to pull the corks in the first place; very little about modern lifestyles calls immediately for a glass of Coteaux du Layon or Sauternes.

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