Sweet wine in a different light!
About a month ago I attended two sweet wine
tastings in a row and I was surprised by the versatility of “sweeter” wines either as a cocktail base
or as food wines
. I have to admit to a little prejudice towards sweeter wines and have often struggled to fully appreciate them. Maybe because their traditional match is foie gras or a rich fruit tart – both dishes I am not particularly fond of, and this is how I have generally encountered them. However the back to back events I attended mid June opened my eyes and I now see these wines in a totally different light!
The first event was organised by “Vins de Bergerac“. In Bergerac there are 6 appellations for sweet wine: Monbazillac, the largest one which is extended over of 5 communities and defines 2 distinctive types of wine: Monbazillac Classique (with minimum of 45g/l residual sugar (RS)) and Monbazillac selection de grain nobles – with a residual sugar level higher than 85 g/l.The other appellations are Saussignac, a small appellation of about 20 producers of whom the majority farms organically, Haut-Montravel, Les vins moelleux de Côtes de Bergerac, Les vins moelleux de Côtes de Rosette and Les vins moelleux de Côtes de Montravel. Sweet Bergerac wines are made from late harvested Semillon, Sauvignon Blanc and/or Muscadelle grapes which have been hand harvested late October to early November.
Sweet wines in France come in 2 styles – moelleux and liquoreux. As in Germany the difference is made by the amount of RS in the wine, and the concentration of the must at harvest. The vins moelleux are the “lightest” – with RS from 4 g/l up to 54 g/l in Bergerac. Vins liquoreux have significantly higher RS, are more intensely flavoured and generally age very well. In Bergerac only the appellations of Monbazillac and Saussignac make vins liquoreux.
Bergerac Wine Pool - © Nicolas Edwige - CIVRB
The Bergerac tasting was especially focussed around summer cocktails. In lots of ways it makes sense to use a wine, rather than a spirit, as a cocktail base, but I had never thought of sweet wine cocktails. The Conseil Interprofessionel des Vins de la Region de Bergerac
had called upon the services of Victor Delpierre
, the chef barman of the Ritz Hotel in Paris to create 3 specific “Bergerac Wine Cocktails”
. The 3 cocktails, whilst each being very distinctive and unique, had the comon denominator of being light, refreshing and very easy to drink.
The first cocktail was the Bergerac Wine Pool – a typical beach cocktail, based on a Cotes de Bergerac Blanc moelleux, spiced up with fresh ginger and a bit of ginger beer and finished off with cucumber skin, raspberry, strawberry and orange and served in a large Rose glass. I felt this cocktail would work well as a punch at a barbeque as well, as it’s light, fun and refreshing
Happy Monbazillac © Nicolas Edwige - CIVRB
The second cocktail “Happy Monbazillac”
was a little richer and swankier- with a base of Monbazillac, strawberry puree, fresh raspberries, chilli and Sechuan pepper, and served in a smaller pretty cocktail glass. The chilli and Sechuan pepper add a nice bite and lift to the drink and I would definitely order this again if I was to see it on a menu somewhere!
Mojito Bergerac © Nicolas Edwige - CIVRB
The last Bergerac cocktail I tried was the “Bergerac Wine Mojito”
– which again was pretty refreshing and very easy to drink. The cocktail base is a Côtes de Bergerac, and lime, mint, cane syrup, and a little pureed melon and strawberry is added to the mix. Personally I found this cocktail a little too sweet, and preferred it when it was made without the cane sugar. However, the Côtes de Bergerac was a perfect low(er) alcohol substitute for the usual rum. Wine based cocktails work well in the summer, they are festive, pretty easy to make and are a great conversation starter!
The second event was organised by Sweet Bordeaux
– the organisation responsible for the marketing and promotion of sweet wines from Bordeaux. “Sweet Bordeaux”
comes from 11 appellations located South of Bordeaux on the banks of the river Garonne. In late summer and autumn large mist banks form around the river and create a sub climate which is ideal for the development of botrytis cinerae
– or noble rot. Affected grapes will dry out and shrivel up, resulting in increased sugar levels and concentrated candied fruit flavours. As in Bergerac, the Semillon, Sauvignon Blanc and Muscadelle grapes are hand harvested between the end of October and the middle of November and produce an intense and lush wine which can age for many years. The 11 appellations are Sauterne
, Premières Côtes de Bordeaux
, Graves Supérieures
, Côtes de Bordeaux Saint-Macaire
, Bordeaux Supérieur
and Sainte-Foy Bordeaux
Roquefort butter cookie
Sweet Bordeaux had invited me to a trendy pop up dinner cooked by Bordeaux Celebrity Chef Georges Gotrand
, in an extremely hip and design private apartment in Paris. The unusual but beautiful setting perfectly matched the amazing dishes Gotrand had created for the sweet Bordeaux wines we tried. We started off with a Roquefort butter cookie
paired with the “Sweet Bordeaux – Chateau Fayau 2009 (Cadillac)”
– a combination I definitely prefer to cookies and milk
We continued with a fresh salmon dip
which was paired with the Chateau de Garbes 2009 (Cadillac)
, and it was amazing how the pairing took the some of the sweetness away from the wine and replaced it with more body and a fatter mouth feel.
Georges Gotrand in his pop up kitchen
The next few dishes were a little more exotic and played with the citrus characteristics which are often present in sweet Bordeaux. The quinoa tabuleh with giant shrimp from Mozambique
brought out the herbaceous lime notes of the Chateau Grand Peyrot 2007 (Sainte-Croix du Mont)
.The next dish was a delicious morsel of scallop on a bed of Pinot de Charente jelly , with some raw ham and some Combabas peel
, which was paired with the 2008 Chateau du Cros (Loupiac)
. The dish brought out a sweet spice (nutmeg, cardamom) characteristic in the wine which left the palate clean and a little tantalized – ready for the next sip. We continued with poached oyster
paired with a Sauterne Promesse de Rabaud-Promis 2008
Sweet Bordeaux surprises in a good way!
The next 3 dishes had an Asian twist and worked really well with the rich Sauternes they were paired with. We first tried the Chateau de Malle 2006 (Sauterne)
with little drum sticks in a oyster, soy and sesame oil sauce with fresh coriander, ginger and spring onion. We paired the same wine with spicy Thai sausage as well. The drum sticks accentuated the more gooseberry and grassy flavours as well as some candied ginger in the Sauterne, whilst the sausage emphasized warm spices such as nutmeg, smoked paprika, curry powder and cloves. Amazingly the sweet characteristic of the wine was totally integrated by both pairings. The last savoury dish was a pork fillet,with a ginger, lemon grass honey and coriander sauce which was paired with Castelnau de Suduiraut 2005
. By itself the wine was quite cloying but paired with the Asian pork fillet dish it became a lot fresher,lemony flavours were enhanced and the the finish was a little spicier.
I skipped the desert, as I was still so caught up in how well these wines had paired with this variety of savoury dishes. I really liked the combination with the more spicy dishes and the Asian dishes using some fresh lemon grass, ginger or coriander – it seemed these ingredients totally lifted the overly sweet characteristics of the wine and instead brought out the acidity, fresher citrus flavours and a myriad of spices. At the same time the wine added an almost velvet texture and a delicate richness to the food. This is why I believe that a Sweet Bordeaux would be the perfect pairing for any fresh yet spicy Asian dish, whether it is a Thai curry, a Malayan laksa or Sechuan ribs. As illustrated the wines also matched beautifully with richer dishes with a lot of butter, as they lifted the heaviness that butter often brings and replaced it with a more subtle richness.
I hope this article has inspired you as it has me to become a little more creative and daring when it comes to sweet wine and that you will try some of the cocktail and food pairings at home. And I invite you to share your favourites with the rest of the Vinogusto community!