sweet wines from anaba

“Everything I did was just a bore/Everywhere I went it seems I’d been there before…”

I’m not one to follow trends. Part of this is laziness. I can’t be bothered to find the places where those who decide and dictate trends write about them. The other part is a fierce independence. I like what I like. I don’t want to be told to like something just because everyone else does at the moment. I’m looking at you, whipped coffee (it’s gross). And so many trends are just overdone and recycled. While not contrarian by nature, I won’t hesitate to tell you I don’t like the thing people are raving about if I’ve tried it and don’t liked it. It’s not a badge of honor. It’s just me.

That said… if I have tried something and like it, I will become an unapologetic disciple. If you’re within five feet of me you’ll know what I’m currently listening to, watching, reading, eating and of course what I’m drinking. And chances are it’s not trendy.


The Trends I’ve Called

When it comes to bona fides I’m proud of a few of the things I loved before others discovered them. In this way, and no other, I’m the ultimate hipster.

Depeche Mode, greens other than lettuce, Korean skincare and orange wine are just a few things on which I was way ahead of the curve.

My trendsetting continues into adulthood as I’ve transitioned into wine writing. The original name of this blog was Oethical Oenologist, thanks to my love of wines that keep environmental protection and purity at the forefront. This was also a theme of my book. I wrote about orange wine in 2015 and again in 2018. Last night it was mentioned on the newest season of Dead To Me. See? I don’t need anyone to tell me the trends.

Sweet Wine: The Next Wine Trend

With Virtual Wine Tastings one of the best ways to spend an evening during lock down I’ve been drinking tasting pretty steadily. I’m fortunate that several excellent folks in the PR world have kept me abreast of tastings and sent lots of samples. The most recent were three sweet wines from Anaba Wines. No one’s been within five feet of me in the last eight weeks but if you were, you’d hear me singing these wines praises.

Anaba Wines: Basics

The Sweazy family has established a well-deserved foothold in the Carneros region of Sonoma. The winery, led by father John and son John Michael is a wind-powered powerhouse producing Rhone-style blends, Burgundian varietals and, of course, sweet wines.

Ashley of Studio 707 sent me three bottles of these sweet wines ahead of an Instagram live with the father-son duo and one of their two winemakers, Katy Wilson.

The sweet wines were two distinct styles. First, port-style wines inspired by the Portuguese sweet wine in both a red and a white and also a late-harvest Viognier made with botrytised grapes.

Stop Scoffing at Sweet Wine

Let’s get a few things out of the way. Do not think sweet wine means cloying wines. Any winemaker worth their salt balances the residual sugars in a sweet wine with alcohol and acidity. Otherwise you get cloying, flabby wine.

Anaba is not that. Instead, it is an example of the complexity and brilliance sweet wines bring to the table.

Sweet wine, after all, is not about adding sugar. It’s about using the natural sugars in the grape and stopping fermentation with eu de vin, raising the ABV in the case of a port-style sweet wine. Another method is allowing the development of botrytis on the grapes. This rot shrivels the grapes, allowing them to maintain a very high sugar level. This method gives us the gold standard of Sauternes.

Wine 1: 2017 Red Aero Port

At $36 a bottle (suggested retail) this is a steal. The Syrah used to make the wine comes from a single vineyard at 800′, facing east in volcanic rock. 2017 was an exceptional year and the climate’s diurnal swing means the grapes ripen slowly and evenly: always a good thing for the final product.

The process involves picking the grapes at normal ripeness (this is not late-harvest wine). Freshly distilled Viognier eu de vin from Germain-Robin is added to stop fermentation and after 24 hours a light press is applied. The wine ages in French oak for a year and a half.

The wine itself smells amazingly purple. But not in that awful “grape” bank lollipop way. No, this is the purple of nature: black berry and super sun-ripe raspberries. There are notes of gorgeous violets, and an earthiness floating behind these primary aromas. Closing your eyes you’ll picture sitting in a field under a deep dark sky on a summer’s night, the stars popping out and the earth smelling of a late afternoon rain shower. The experience of drinking this is visceral. It’s physical. The wine transported me to a time and place outside of quarantine.

sweet wines from anaba

The French oak balances the fruit and flowers with notes of spice… think pencil shavings and memories of a Caribbean kitchen. Is it nutmeg? Cinnamon? Is that black pepper? It is. All of it. I won’t call it allspice because it’s a melange your grandma had passed to her through DNA.

Completely satisfying on its own, enjoy it with a gourmet-leaning trail mix. Preferably by a fire. It will also pair beautifully with blue cheese drizzled in honey. If your pairings lately are leaning toward gas station gourmet (mine are) look for chocolate-covered almonds and add a packet of salted nuts.

Wine #2: 2016 White Aero Port

Another steal at $36. Here the port-style wine is a blend of two white grapes: Viognier and Muscat Blanc. The Viognier enjoys a climate similar to that of the Rhone with warm afternoons and cool evenings. The Muscat gets breezes and fog which keeps the acidity high in the grapes.

This is also not a late harvest wine, the grapes in this vintage were picked in September. An eu de vie of Sauv Blanc stops fermentation at the halfway point with pressing three days later. I love that this port-style wine is fermented with the skins on: the color is incredible! The final step is oak aging in French oak for 22 months.

This is a tapestry in the glass. The wine is incredibly clean and bright with aromas of florals and tree fruit, both citrus and orchard, stitched through from nose to finish. The verdant threads twist and dance. Orange and green race around the white linen background. Garlands of lilies and gardenia wrap the fruit trees in their scent and drip petals to perfume the orchard floor. There’s so much energy without it being chaotic and again, no cloying sweetness. Instead it’s rich and floral balanced with kumquat, lychee and a roundness of baked pear.

Rather than a food pairing, I’d enjoy this one chilled in a glass. Then add some tonic and citrus and feel it brighten even more. If you want some munchies, look to salty charcuterie or a piece of angle food cake with some strawberries and cream.

Wine #3: 2018 Light Harvest Viognier

It’s Sauternes doing the Electric Slide. That’s right, I’m skipping right to the tasting note because this wine blew my mind. I’ve always loved Viognier but now? What’s more than love?

Made in the style of Sauternes but with 100% late harvest, botrytised Viognier, this wine smells like only the best memories of elementary school. You’ve got autumn briskness, golden hour and the zing of pencil shavings. It’s your school shoes almost perfectly broken in. Remember going with mom to get those shoes? You complained about the pinch but by the time the first day had rolled around she had you scuff them on the sidewalk a few times giving them a newness that made even you have to admit you loved them. You walked a little taller in them. Kicked leaves and had all those new-school year feels.

That’s this wine. It’s rich, yes. And it looks gorgeous, but it has this incredible pinch of acidity that makes you sit up and take notice and realize, as the others from Anaba do, that sweet wine has arrived. Especially those made with such finesse.

The grapes are harvested in November after developing botrytis. Fermentation on skins for a week prior to pressing.

Closing Thoughts

Food and beverage trends happen, but only some stick. Flavored foam? Not really a thing anymore. Unicorn and rainbow everything? On its way out.

But waiting on the horizon? Sweet wine. Get ahead of the trend and enjoy it now by ordering these three incredible examples from Anaba. The port-style wines will stay fresher longer thanks to being fortified so especially when you can’t have friends over to drink during lock down sweet wine is a perfect option! And I have a feeling it’s not just a passing fad but something that’s here to stay.

photo from Anaba Wines

“But you brighten up for me all of my days/With a love so sweet in so many ways…”

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