WINE & SPIRITS
WITH A HISTORY OF BEING MISUNDERSTOOD, SWEET WINES FINALLY MEET THEIR MATCH
The problem with sweet wines is that no one ever knows what to do with them. Somehow these sexy, unctuous wines are always relegated to a dessert course. But contrary to common belief, sweet wines don't pair well with sweets. Of course, sophisticates have always known that Sauternes is for seduction. When a gentleman pours his amour a glass of golden, honeyed Sauternes, it is the prelude to a long, sensuous kiss. On many occasions I've been driven crazy by Sauternes' sensuous texture and by the man who was savvy enough to offer me this spellbinding nectar.
Foodies know that Sauternes and foie gras is a match made in heaven. The legendary Chateau D'Yquem has graced many a goose liver. The wine's full texture and bracing acidity pairs with the creamy voluptuousness of foie gras. These same gastronomes are also in the know about matching sweet wine and stinky cheeses—especially Roquefort. But what they don't know, I'm quite sure, is that Sauternes is an ideal wine for spicy Asian food. Its sweetness and citruisy notes envelop Chinese fare's piquant flavors. And just where did I learn this? Straight from the source: in Sauternes.
Recently I made the voyage to the land of the sweet wines, the Sauternes region of Bordeaux, to see those famous grapes myself. Making sweet wine not only requires an expensive and unique process, but also exacting climate conditions. Mist must settle on the vineyards in the morning, and then the vines must be dried by the sun in the afternoon. Near harvest time, fully ripened grapes need to catch a fungal infection, Botrytis cinerea—affectionately referred to as "noble rot"—a good form of fungus that makes the grapes shrivel, concentrating their sugar.
As bunches of botrytis-afflicted grapes shrivel sufficiently, they are harvested in a series of selective pickings over about eight weeks. Some years the grapes don't catch the good form of noble rot and they simply rot, which can causes tremendous financial stress to the entire winemaking château. With no fungus, no wine is made. That happened in the four consecutive vintages starting in 1991.