Golden Bordeaux, Wine of Royalty (and me)

This Thanksgiving weekend, half the country is snowed in while the lucky eastern states, where I’m gobble-gobbling, are draped in sunshine. In any weather extreme, serving Golden Bordeaux is an elegant way to end a meal–but these wines are a great deal more.

GoldenBordeaux

Considered a delicacy, these wines were favorites of Europe’s elite for centuries. They’re called “Golden Bordeaux” because…well, look at them. Produced along the Garonne River near the city of Bordeaux, their colors range from pale corn-silk yellow to deep amber. They’re made from white grapes–think Sémillon, Sauvignon Blanc, Muscadelle, Sauvignon Gris–and always at least slightly sweet.

That’s because they’re made under conditions that encourage Botrytis cinerea, often called “noble rot.” Botrytis is a “benevolent mold,” actually a gray fungus which, like a typical mold, thrives on moist air. The most famous example of botrytis wine is Sauternes, also from France; others include Tokaji Aszu (Hungary) and Spätlese (a German Riesling).

The misty mornings along the banks of the Garonne allow the fungus to grow. If the air were to stay moist all day, the grapes would simply rot–but in Bordeaux (and select other wine regions), the mist “burns off” with the sun. In the meantime, the fungus bores tiny holes in the skin and, during the growing season, the juice inside the grapes evaporates. The grapes shrivel up, concentrating the aromas and flavors inside the skins. Not all botrytis-affected grapes in a vineyard are ready at the same time; in some vineyards it can take three hand-harvestings before the picking is done.

I’ve written about Golden Bordeaux before, and thanks to the good folks at Smooth.com,  I get to explore them again. Last time, I didn’t say much about what to do with these wines. They’re affordable (typically $15-25 for a split, or half-bottle) so you can pick up a bottle for the cook. Here are a few ideas:

  • Roast vegetables–carrots, yams–or glaze your ham with Golden Bordeaux instead of honey.
  • Go herbal: pour several ounces in a glass and garnish with a sprig of rosemary or basil leaf. Go crazy and let some herbs de Provence dance on the surface.
  • Make a wine cocktail! Keep it simple; pour some Golden Bordeaux in a martini glass, add a splash of Prosecco or other sparkling wine, and toss in a piece or two of dried, frozen fruit: pieces of Mandarin orange, perhaps, or unsweetened mango.
  • Mix it with a still white wine. Try half Gewürztraminer, half Golden Bordeaux. To make it less sweet, use a dry white (Pinot Gris or white Burgundy/French Chardonnay would work) and less sweet wine.
  • If you’re serving a cheese plate (before or after dinner–it doesn’t matter; cheese works anytime nowadays), dessert wines pair well with Gorgonzola or stinky blue cheese. Golden Bordeaux also calms down spicy foods such as Thai or Indian cuisine, and pairs well with preserved meats and briny shellfish.
  • I haven’t tried this, and I’m not sure I want to, but a colleague suggested a cocktail with Golden Bordeaux and brown spirits. It seems an unkind thing to do to a glass of great bourbon or rye, but it could work.

Serve dessert wines icy cold. I know, you’re not supposed to serve white wines too cold because then you miss the subtle tastes and aromas–but there’s nothing subtle about tasting and smelling Golden Bordeaux. Unless they’re served cold, these dessert wines can seem syrupy.

Serve them in a regular wine glass. Once you open a bottle, keep it in the fridge and it will be good for a month (or six). And if someone gifts you a bottle and you aren’t ready to open it, no worries–these wines can last a decade or more and still give you plenty of fruit.

Wine Lingo:  Meniscus = the wine’s rim inside the glass. Experts can tell you a wine’s age and other characteristics simply by looking at the rim.

Loupiac small

Vino ‘View: Chateau Dauphine Rondillon Loupiac 2009, 375 ml (13 percent alcohol, $28) is everything I look for in a dessert wine–floral, tropical, somewhat intense. The honey and apricot aromas come through in tasting, along with some hazelnut, coconut and a dash of white pepper, and the finish is long and fruity with a subtle, pleasant bitterness, like a melon peel. Loupiac is a small region north of the Garonne where vines grow on slopes of clay and limestone, giving the wine a slightly mineral undertone. 

[Chateau Dauphine Rondillon Loupiac 2009 was sent to BigSexyReds for review.]

Cheers!

Mary

Dessert Wine? Sure, But Let’s Skip the Dessert

You’ve heard the so-called cardinal rule about dessert wine: “The wine should be sweeter than the dessert.”

That’s fine, but do we always have to pair sweet wine with sweet food?

Cheese plate

No way, say a growing number of dessert-wine producers–who, by the way, have convinced me that a plate of lip-smackin’ salty cheeses and cured meats can be a terrific light dinner, especially paired with a fine Sauternes from the Graves region of Bordeaux.

So, the question for wine lovers is, do we want our pairings to match or contrast? For eons, it seems, dessert wines have been served with dessert so they could match the food. But the new thinking is, if we plan our wine pairing to contrast with the food, the wine can fill in and enhance flavors we can’t taste in the dish. Instead of pairing our chocolate mousse with Madeira, let’s try some spicy salami with Sauternes.

I did just that, and was surprised at how the meat tamed the sweetness of the wine, and the Sauternes gave the salami a depth and richness it didn’t have otherwise. So I conducted further research (i.e., eating savory foods and drinking dessert wines, guided by the experts at Snooth.com) and came up with five sweet-and-savory points for your next dinner party:

  • “Dessert wines are not meant to be paired with desserts,” one expert wrote on Wine-logic.com. “They are meant to be desserts all on their own.” On my palate, sweet anything goes down better after the meal is finished and the dishes have been cleared away. I like to serve dessert wine after dinner, with a cheese course.
  • Unlike most fortified wines (think Port or Sherry), white dessert wines, such as Sauternes, are relatively low-alcohol. Still, their intense flavors and aromas might surprise you. Serve them in small glasses and take small sips.
  • Experiment before you serve dessert wines to your guests, because they won’t expect the savory pairing. Order some spicy takeout, maybe Thai or curry, and try a few dessert wines with the food. Go creamy, briny, fried, salty, hot, sour. Try any savory cheeses, deli meats or even spiced nuts that you think might work. If you don’t like it, don’t serve it.
  • Salty foods can make a sweet wine taste sweeter, but they might clash with high-alcohol fortified wine, giving it a bitter taste. But don’t take my word for it; try it for yourself. The taste might appeal to you.
  • If you choose a Sauternes, which is my favorite dessert wine, try pairing it with foie gras. The wine will taste less sweet and the foie gras will seem less fatty.

If “dessert wine” to you means Port, here’s a tip for pairing it with cheeses: Port is actually a “fortified” wine. Brandy is added during fermentation to boost its alcohol level, and styles of Port can range from slightly sweet to cloying. Keep that in mind for serving it with a cheese course, and try the various styles–ruby, LBV, Vintage, tawny–with different cheeses. The Ports won’t all taste the same, just as some of the cheeses will taste smokier, saltier, or richer than others.

The only rule is, don’t be intimidated by pairing dessert wines with savory foods. There’s no wrong way to do it! Have fun, take some notes, and surprise your guests with a new taste adventure!

Wine Lingo:  Botrytis (“bot-try-tis”) cinerea, or “noble rot” = what happens to grapes when morning mists are followed by warm, dry afternoons. These are perfect conditions for a fungus to flourish, but then the vines dry out in the afternoon, preventing the fruit from totally rotting. Over the summer, the grapes dry even more, reducing their water content as the sugars and flavors become concentrated in the shriveled-up grape. The grapes look spoiled, but in fact they are golden for producers of quality dessert wines; that’s how the wines get their intense flavors and sweetness.

Sauternes med

Vino ‘View:  Castelnau du Suduiraut Sauternes 2006, 375ml/half bottle (14 percent alcohol, $20). I tasted this wine with several friends, and one declared before the glass reached her nose, “Wow–the apple aroma knocks you over!” This light-bodied Sauternes is as fruit-forward as wine gets, with strong banana and apricot aromas, followed by cantaloupe, pears and peach brandy tastes and medium acidity. As the wine sat on my tongue, I also detected green tea, cinnamon, white grapes and a hint of licorice. This is really a delightfully complex sipper, not terribly sweet, a great way to end a meal. Sauternes, by the way, is usually a blend of Sémillon, Sauvignon Blanc and Muscatel.

Cheers!

Mary