Valentine’s Day is approaching, so some brave romantics out there might find themselves preparing an extensive dinner menu for an at-home dining experience.
On the subject of sweeter things, I have some advice.
In doing research for these columns, I realized the conversation around food and wine pairing tends to focus on main course dishes. This leaves out some very important people at the table: Sweet-tooth diners.
Some may argue, in recent years, the enjoyment of sweeter or dessert wines has fallen out of favor with many young wine drinkers. I don't think we should be overlooking some unique sweet wine selections that go far beyond the cotton-candy nature of White Zinfandel.
The main wines that you may come across in this category include those from Madeira, an island off the coast of Portugal, Port, from the Duoro region of Portugal, and the less-widely found wine, Sauternes from Bordeaux.
Sauternes (pronounced: soh-turn) wines are produced in the southernmost Bordeaux wine region of Graves (pronounced: graw-ve). Split upon the Ciron river, the region is known for its gravelly soil (hence the name) and within Sauternes borders it’s primary production is in Sauvignon Blanc and Sémillon grapes.
What makes Sauternes wines unique is that a fungus known as botrytis cinerea is used during the winemaking process. The fungus punctures the skins of the grapes, allowing water inside the grape to evaporate and concentrate the flavors and sweetness in each grape cluster. The grapes are picked after they have shriveled and then crushed to extract what juice remains.
The color of Sauternes wines is often vibrant; the hues vary and dance from yellow to deep gold in your glass. The flavors and aromas found within these wines traditionally include concentrated notes of stone fruits like peach, apricot and nectarine, accentuated with the flavors of honey, ginger and sometimes Saffron. Served well-chilled, this type of wine is great for dessert pairings, or even as the something sweet itself.
Recommended pairings include fresh fruits and soft cheeses, a very simple and very European dessert choice. The list does not stop here, though. Other options include fruit-based tarts, vanilla ice creams, creamy cheesecakes and almond-based desserts.
While it’s easy to assume that this sweet wine can only be paired with desserts, that's simply not true. Savory pairings for this wine include the strong flavors of Roquefort cheese, a kind of creamy blue sheep’s milk cheese from the south of France as well as the richness in textures and complexity of Foie Gras and other spreadable mousses.
Here are some Sauternes producers to look for:
- Château D’Yquem
- Château Suduiraut
- Château Rieussec
- Château Climens
- Château Guiraud
Costco has been known to carry Lions de Suduiraut Sauternes in 375ml bottles at an affordable price. This “second label” wine comes from producer Château Suduiraut, with adjacent vineyards cultivated next to top producers that sell Sauternes for hundreds of dollars, making this a great introduction to the world of sweet wines.
With Valentine’s Day around the corner, I encourage you to look for the sweeter things in life and consider adding Sauternes to your date night dinner menu or to your cellar.