I had my first Sauternes recently, and I was in seventh heaven. Succulent aromas of honey and dried pineapple with beautiful acidity balancing out the sweetness.
In this article, I’ll provide some Sauternes 101 but will devote the bulk of my attention to our wonderful Sauternes and food pairing experience.
Sauternes is a sweet French wine made from Sémillon, Sauvignon Blanc, and Muscadelle grapes that have been affected by Botrytis cinerea (a.k.a. noble rot). Noble rot causes the grapes to become partially raisined, resulting in concentrated, distinctively flavored wines.
Sauternes comes from the Graves section in Bordeaux France, where noble rot infection is a frequent occurrence. Even so, production from year to year varies widely. Because of this, and the high cost of production, the wine is very expensive.
Sauternes’s notable aromas include honey, dried pineapple, peaches and apricots.
Sauternes has long been paired with dishes like foie gras, asparagus, lobster and trout. On the cheese plate, typical pairings include just about anything blue.
The Sauternes We Tasted
Thank you to Sandra Limbach, our gracious host, for selecting these two wines:
- 2009 Chateau Gravas
- 2009 Chateau Grillon
The Chateau Gravas was like liquid gold. It went down incredibly smoothly and do I dare say was almost quaffable. The Chateau Grillon was richer, more savory and slightly less sweet. We loved both of them.
While Sauternes is sweet, it is complex enough to pair with all kinds of savory dishes. According to Marcia Kiesel in a wineandfood.com article, “The right match–a sip of Sauternes followed by a bite of something, say, buttery and salty–is a wonderfully intense experience.” Kiesel continues by saying that “dishes with components that are creamy (cream sauces, high-fat cheeses), salty (cured hams), briny (seafood), minerally (oysters), acidic (lemons) and even spicy (chiles) make fine matches. Similarly, the right textures cut through the wine’s honey-like body: dense, flavorful fruits (pineapples, apricots), beef, meaty fish and crunchy fried foods all do the job beautifully.”
Here is what we paired, along with our reviews:
- Pumpkin cheesecake with apple topping – great with Chateau Gravas
- Smoked salmon with gorgonzola – great with Chateau Grillon
- Artichoke lemon spread – incredible with both wines; our favorite
- Lemon cilantro hummus – great with both wines
- Caramel toffee chocolates – not good with either wine; too much sugar
- Baba ghanoush – good with both wines, but better with the Chateau Grillon
We had a wonderful evening of gastronomic discovery. Just about everything was great. We found that the lighter, sweeter dishes paired better with the sweeter wine, and the heavier dishes paired better with the more savory wine. We were surprised to find that the caramel toffee chocolates were too sweet to pair well with either wine.
I would love to hear about your experiences with Sauternes. Please share them with us. Merci!