By Elspeth Brown
My husband’s best friend took me as his date to a benefit dinner in Asheville many, many years ago. It was a fabulous event with decadent food, interesting people and beautiful wines. The best part of the evening was when they brought the dessert course out. I have no recollection of what they served, but what I do remember is the wine that was paired with the dessert: Sauternes. I was beyond in love.
I asked the server to tell me everything he could about this nectar from the gods. It was the most beautiful and delicate wine I had ever consumed. I wanted to drink as much as I possibly could and kept asking for more bottles for the table. Finally, my husband’s friend thought it was about time for us to leave, as did the servers because they handed me an unopened bottle and wished me well.
Sauternes is a district in the Bordeaux region of France. French Sauternes are always sweet, white wine. The flavors can range from peach, pear and apricot to caramel and butterscotch with a touch of acidity. They are produced from Sémillon, Sauvignon blanc and Muscadelle grapes.
A type of fungus called Botrytis, or noble rot, forms over the grapes during more humid nights. The addition of this mold does not, in fact, make the fruit rot, but does cause the water in the grape to evaporate and shrivel, leaving a much more concentrated amount of sugars, acid and flavor. Unfortunately, this also makes for much smaller production. There’s a real art, or some would say risk, to growing these grapes. If the grapes are picked too early and Botrytis has not settled in, the winemaker will not get that beautiful, sweet wine. If the grower waits too long or experiences very humid weather, the mold can turn to gray rot, which is bad for the grapes.
Sauternes is expensive, but well worth it. In 2004, at the Zachys Wine Auction in Los Angeles, a bottle of 1847 Château d’Yquem Sauternes sold for $71,675, making it one of the most expensive bottles of wine ever sold. Fortunately, most Sauternes don’t cost anything near that price, and now is the time to be drinking this sweet, soft juice with the most recent vintages, 2013–16, producing outstanding high scores.
Even as a sweet wine, Sauternes goes well with a long list of foods. Some of my favorite pairings with this wine are really rich foods such as foie gras, strong blue cheese, dark chocolate and roasted duck or goose. Indulge, this holiday season, with a bottle of Sauternes, a true treat!
Elspeth Brown is the owner of Maggie B’s Wine & Specialty Store, 10 C South Main Street in Weaverville. For more information, visit maggiebswine.com or call 828.645.1111.