Dessert Wines: Not Just For Christmas!
I have to confess (writes Mat Evans, our Area Sales Manager for North Wales), I haven’t got much of a sweet tooth, but I absolutely love sweet wines! They are amongst the worlds’ greatest, and probably least understood and most under-rated wines.
There is a huge variety of styles, textures and even degrees of sweetness to be found, and pretty much every wine-producing country has at least one fantastic sweet wine to try. Most often these are bought around Christmas time, and are usually drunk with dessert, but they can also be brilliant with some savoury foods and on their own too, as the finishing highlight of a fantastic meal. Remember: a good sweet wine should always have a great balance of acidity and freshness to act as a counterpoint to the rich sweetness. Good wine, like good cooking, is always about balance.
France has a wealth of amazing sweet wines, from the appley, honeyed Chenin Blanc based sweeties from Coteaux du Layon and Quarts de Chaume from the Loire in the north, to the floral Muscats from Rivesaltes and great-value St.Jean-de-Minervois, such as the Muscat de St.Jean-de-Minervois, Vignerons de Septimanie (£6.20, 37.5cl) in the south. Sauternes and Barsac from Bordeaux are the most famous sweet wines in the world, and also command the highest prices; Château d’Yquem is often hundreds of pounds a bottle. However, when you see how these wines are made, grapes picked a single berry at a time by pickers in sorties called tries, then you can appreciate why they cost so much. These wines don’t always have to cost the earth though, and Tanners’ own-label Sauternes (£13.50, 50cl) is a great example; rich, honeyed, luscious yet fresh, and a great match for foie gras. If you’ve never had this combination, I thoroughly recommend it, the sweet freshness and balanced acidity of the Sauternes really cutting through the richness of the foie gras.
Australia also has a wealth of sweet wines, most famously the fortified, figgy, walnutty Muscats from Rutherglen, like the Stanton and Killeen Muscat NV (£12.40, 37.5cl) which is a perfect match for a Crème Brûlée, but Oz also has some lovely fresher styles, such as Brown Brothers Orange Muscat and Flora 2009 (£6.80, 37.5cl) with its distinctive orangey, honeyed freshness, which is well worth opening with a fruit salad.
Other areas to look for are the powerful, viscous Tokaji wines from Hungary, intensely mineral Riesling Auslese, Beerenauslese and Eiswein wines from Germany, and rare Icewine from Canada. Tokaji has a long and prestigious history, and these wines can age almost indefinitely! The higher the puttonyos number, the sweeter, more luscious and ageworthy the wine. The Tokaji Aszu 5 Puttonyos, Royal Tokaji 2006 (£11.90, 25cl) is a great example, with a finely poised balance between rich, intense sweetness and knife-edge acidity. Try pairing this with a creamy blue cheese such as Cashel Blue for a magical combination.
The German wines are labelled according to ripeness when they are picked, Auslese meaning ‘selective harvest’. These have an incredible honeyed sweetness and piercing acidity. Eiswein (or Icewine in Canada) is made from grapes which are picked when they are frozen solid in December or January, and when pressed the ice in the grapes is removed, leaving miniscule amounts of the pure, unbelievably intense essence of juice. Try the Château des Charmes Vidal Icewine 2007 from Niagara (£38.00, 37.5cl) as a great example of this style. These really are wines you must try at least once in your life, and really should be a feature themselves at the end of a wonderful meal.
Be a bit adventurous in 2012: buck the trend and try a sweet wine. I reckon it won’t be the last time you buy one!
This post was posted in Food and Wine Matching, Staff Favourites and was tagged with Australia, Barsac, Canada, Cashel Blue, Château d'Yquem, Chenin blanc, Coteaux de Layon, Dessert Wines, Foie Gras, France, Icewine, Muscat, Muscat de St.Jean-de-Minervois, Quarts de Chaume, Rutherglen Muscat, Sauternes, Stanton and Killeen Muscat, Sweet Wines, Tanners Sauternes, Tokaji