To Sip All Year Round
Written by Lauren Denyer
When we think about sweet wines, many think of Californian medium-sweet rosés or the semi-sweet Liebfraumilch. But these are just a drop in the ocean for what the world of wine produces.
Historically, many sweet wines have been the most sought after and coveted wines in the world. So why is it that some modern day consumers are still unaware of the quality and potential these highly delicious, exciting, sophisticated and labour-intensive wines offer?
Here is a selection of different styles and production methods for some of, in my opinion, the best sweet wines on the market. These varieties are affordable and widely available and make great pairings with your favourite dishes.
One of the most famous sweet wines is Sauternes. Made in Bordeaux from the Semillon grape, this wine relies on precise weather conditions and can only be made in very specific places. Perhaps you’ve heard of Noble Rot, or botrytis? This is when misty morning air starts a rotting process of the grapes. Then a sunny afternoon halts the rot, and stops it from having a detrimental effect on the grapes.
Believe it or not, the end result is a pleasant type of rot that perforates the skin of the grape enabling the water in the flesh of the grape to evaporate. This leaves the grape with highly concentrated natural sugars and with less, but more concentrated, juice.
During the winemaking process the yeasts can’t convert such high volumes of sugars into alcohol, and the fermentation process stops naturally at 13% alcohol. This means there is lots of sugar left over after the fermentation
– generally more than 120g of what is called residual sugar per litre of wine. This makes for a creamy wine with notes of honey, apricot and nuttiness, particularly with age. Younger styles have more citrus and freshness due to their high acidity.
Château Guiraud, a highly regarded top producer, creates one for Sainsbury’s which is certainly a treat for the taste buds. Considering the labour costs and age at just £12 for a 37.5cl bottle from 2011, that my friends is a bargain! I personally love this wine with Foie Gras, and for the ethical non-veggies amongst us, it is now possible to get Foie Gras from geese without them being force-fed: http://sousa-labourdette. com
The acidity in the Sauternes cuts so well through the fat of the Foie Gras and there is a beautiful synergy that the combination of sweet and savoury can occasionally bring – this is one of those moments.
Pop the Foie Gras onto a piece of brioche accompanied with some fruit marmalade, jam or chutney and you’ve got some sublime taste sensations going on. If you’re a veggie do not despair, goat’s cheese and honey or Stilton are also a match made in heaven!
“With sweet wine and food pairing, there is a general golden rule – never pair your wine with a food that is sweeter than it…”
If your wallet doesn’t stretch to Sauternes, another of my favourite wines made using the same method is Monbazillac. It is made just down the road from Sauternes. Lidl sells a 2015 edition by Chateau Birondie at £9.99 for a 75cl bottle.
Other methods of producing sweet wines are to stop the fermentation before the wine can reach dryness by adding alcohol, which kills off the remaining yeasts. In this case you will get a fortified wine. Think of Port, Sherry or Madeira. One of the most sweet, luscious wines I know is a type of sweet sherry, but I’m not talking about Harvey’s Bristol Cream here. Pedro Ximinez, otherwise known as PX. PX is a grape variety, so you can find dry wines made from it, but its best use is in PX Sherry. The grapes are dried out in the sun, effectively on the path to becoming raisins. This makes this otherwise white grape turn brown and the resulting wine is a dark brown, almost black colour. The combination of sun drying and adding alcohol means this wine is the sweetest of the sweet. With flavours of chocolate, coffee and sweet spices, a popular use for this wine is to pour it like a sauce over ice cream!
With sweet wine and food pairing, there is a general golden rule – never pair your wine with a food that is sweeter than it as it will make the wine seem less sweet and more bitter; you will never have that problem with PX.
Sainsbury’s has come up trumps again with a 12 year old 50cl bottle for £8. Another great fortified wine to have with sweet desserts is Tawny Port. In my opinion, the older the better. With toffee and nutty notes, this for me goes so well with something caramel-based, either Banoffee Pie, salted caramel ice-cream or millionaire’s shortbread. Graham’s 10 year old Tawny Port is always a winner and retails at around £18-£20 for a 75cl bottle. It is available at most supermarkets and wine merchants.
A lovely and light sweet wine that you can have either as an aperitif or with a summer dessert would be a Moscato d’Asti, or the slightly less complex Asti. This is one Italian fizz that looks to be making a bit of a comeback. Again, with this wine the fermentation process is stopped before the wine can ferment to dryness. To keep this wine extra sweet the fermentation is halted very early on, so the resulting wine is pretty low in alcohol, usually around 5.5% for the Moscato and a bit higher for the Asti ( 7-9.5%). The peachy and floral flavours in this wine lend well to a fruit salad or apricot tart, but you’d be pleasantly surprised pairing it with salami or light cheeses, like Burrata.
My recommendations would be Saracco Moscato D’Asto for £16.99 at Selfridges (75cl) and Waitrose sell San Leo Asti NV for £9.99 (75cl).
It is recommended that sweet wines are served at around 6-10°C. Cheers!