Sweet full bodied dessert wine by the glass as an aperitif is perfect for topping off an evening of fine dining in a restaurant or at home. White dessert wines, like those from the Bordeaux region are nice with certain savory seafood and poultry entrees. Sweet White Bordeaux is a classic choice of wine for accompanying a gourmet French cheese tasting platter.
Champagne by the glass is my personal choice for accompanying a rich cheese souffle, especially if the souffle is made with one of the many classic French bleu cheese varieties. Some people prefer a dry acidic white wine, like chablis or chardonnay with a fine cheese souffle, because acidic wine thoroughly clears the tasting palate. Dry champagne with its sparkling essence clears the cheese souffle tasting palate in an elegant way.
Sweet crisp fruity young White Bordeaux region wine is also a great pairing for a rich cheese souffle. The acidity level is much lower in sweet White Bordeaux wine and the residual sugar acts as a liquefier which melds with rich cheese flavors. Instead of effectively clearing the tasting palate, sweet White Bordeaux carries the rich flavors. The fruity nature of the wine compliments and combines with rich cheese souffle flavors in a way that is so pleasant, that one wishes to allow the flavors to linger on the tasting palate, rather than to be cleared and refreshed.
Many people are intimidated by the interpretive language on French wine labels. Every word on a French wine label is loaded with in depth meaning and clear specific definition. A good way to learn about French, Italian, Spanish and other European wines is to attend a formal Wine & Beverage class or seminar. I just completed a Wine & Beverage Management class in the Le Cordon Bleu Associates Degree Culinary Operations program. I am not boasting, but of course, I scored another 4.0 A grade in this class. As an experienced chef who has been in the hospitality business for a long time, anything less than an A grade would be unacceptable, especially when the topic is French wine.
Basically, the key words on a French wine label refer to:
• The region of origin
• The specific AOC area of the region
• The estate that made the wine
• The type of wine
• Definitions of class, quality or variety (Certified Bordeaux, Grande Crux, Beaujolais Villages are examples of indicators that provide information for quality, class and how long a wine can be aged.)
• Words that define whether the wine is a specific blend of grapes grown on a single estate or several estates appear on certain labels. Domaine is a word that means wine made only with grapes grown on the estate
• Words that specify the exact area of the estate or regional zone that the grapes are grown (For example: A Domaine wine with a Vin de pays du Valle de Cesse designation can mean wine grapes grown on the estate along the border of the finest wine grape growing valley of the Languedoc region.)
• The intended usage for marketing purposes or rating of the wine (For example: Vin de Table is common everyday table wine. Vin de Pays is country wine that is rated higher than table wine.
There are many more words and phrases on French wine labels than the examples shown above. French wine labeling is very specific. After learning the language and definitions of French wine label words, a consumer can look at a label and know exactly what is in the bottle. The consumer will know the wine's heritage, origin, quality, aging potential and the specific grapes that are used to make the wine. French wine label information is superior to most California wine labeling. California wine labeling tends to not be specific, but there are exceptions. A few old California wineries that make traditional French wine do make use of the French wine labeling language.
The abbreviation AOC appears earlier in this article and it appears in nearly every French wine literary work. AOC stands for appellation d'origine contrôlée which means "controlled designation of origin." The AOC protects and preserves the originality and heritage of French wine, cheese, butter and many other agricultural products. The AOC protects and specifies the exact geographical origin that certain wine grapes can be grown on, for producing specific wines. The AOC defines which grape varieties can be grown and which grape varieties are part of French heritage. The AOC officially determines whether a winery is worthy of producing wine that can be sold in France or whether the wine produced is not well defined and must be sold in bulk to a foreign country. The AOC provides all official quality and origin information that is found on a wine label.
AOC regulations are based upon the concept of "Terroir." Terroir is the concept of how the climate, geology and geography of a certain place can interact with a plant's genetical make up to achieve the the best expression of an original agricultural product, like wine, cheese or tomatoes. Terroir defines the exact environment that specific grapes varieties are grown on to make specific original wines. If a person values preserving quality, tradition, originality and authenticity, then the AOC and the concept of terroir should be given the highest respect.
Back to the topic of French Sweet White Bordeaux wine! Bordeaux is a wine grape growing region in southwestern France. The climate of this region is known for temperature and humidity conditions that allow noble rot (Botrytis cinerea) to grow. Noble rot grows on clusters of maturing grapes close to the time of harvest. The fungus softens the skin of the grapes and allows the grapes to quickly shrivel and dry like raisons. Because the drying occurs quickly, while the grapes are on the vine, fruit flavors are well preserved and the sugar content is high. Noble rot is what makes white wine in the Bordeaux region taste rich and sweet. Noble rot does not occur every year. During years when no noble rot occurs, the white grape varieties that are grown on Bordeaux region estates are used to make classic dry white wines.
Bordeaux is a region that contains several AOC's and most of them refer to classic red wines. The AOC appellations for sweet wine in the Bordeaux region are: Barsac, Bordeaux Haut Benauge, Bordeaux Supérieur, Cadillac, Cérons, Côtes de Bordeaux Saint Macaire, Graves Supérieures, Loupiac, Prémieres Côtes de Bordeaux, Sainte Croix du Mont, Sainte Foy Bordeaux and Sauternes. By far, Sauternes is the most famous sweet white Bordeaux AOC appellation. Sauternes wine is considered by many to be the highest quality definitive sweet white wine of the Bordeaux region.
Sauternes do command a higher price, because Sauternes wine is always fermented in oak barrels, then it is matured in more oak barrels. Most Bordeaux AOC sweet white wine appellations do require oak barrels to be used for fermenting the wine, but not all of them do.
Because Sauternes are always in the spotlight and the prices tend to be higher, the sweet white wines AOC appellations in or near the Bordeaux region can be a real bargain. Many of the lesser known sweet white Bordeaux wines are just as high in quality as Sauternes and during some years, a few lesser known vintages exceed the quality of sauternes.
There are some Sauternes that are rated higher than others. Classic sauternes are made with a high percentage of Sémillon grapes blended with smaller percentages of Sauvignon blanc grapes and Muscadelle grapes. A sweet white Bordeaux that is made with only Sauvignon blanc grapes or only Sémillon grapes is subject to criticism for having a one dimensional character that strays from tradition, but the wine is still very good. Not every sweet white Bordeaux is meant to be a Sauternes. Not every Sauternes follows classic grape blending tradition.
The 2010 Chateau de Grande Carretey Sauternes in the pictures above has the classic Sauternes characteristic dark golden color. Some wine experts criticize the blend of grapes used to make this Sauternes, but that is a matter of personal opinion. Because fine dessert wines tend to be expensive, they are offered in small 375 ml bottles as well as standard 750 ml bottles.
The 2010 Chateau de Grande Carretey Sauternes is one of the lowest price Sauternes, yet the quality rating is very high at 89 to 92 points out of 100. This is a young Sauternes that is tasty now, but it is best if aged for at least four years. Sauternes take on a well balanced creme flavor characteristic when aged for at least four years.
Sauternes are designed to be aged and many say that there is no limit for how long a Sauternes can be aged. When aged, the price goes up. A 375 ml bottle of 2010 Chateau de Grande Carretey Sauternes that sells for about $15 that ages for 25 years, may end up being worth more than $100. Many $35 to $75 Sauternes in 750 ml bottles that age for more than 25 years have values of well over $1,000! Sauternes can be a great investment in time.
The 2009 Chateau Belingard Monbazillac in the pictures above is a prime example of a sweet white wine that is produced in an AOC of the village of Monbazillac that is located near Bergerac, France just outside of the Bordeaux region. This high quality wine is made exactly like a classic Sauternes and it is one of the highest respected sweet white wines in France. Because this wine is not made in Sauternes, it does not command a high Sauternes price. The price of 375 ml bottle of 2009 Chateau de Monbazillac is a good bargain at about $12 per bottle. This wine is usually rated as being 83 to 89 on a scale of 100 and this rating is way above average. Just like fine Sauternes, this wine increases in value when aged and the flavor takes on a creme characteristic.
The 2011 Cheval Quancard Premières Côtes de Bordeaux is a nice example of a standard Semillon and Chenin Blanc grape blend that produces a sweet white Bordeaux flavor that tastes very nice when the wine is young. This dessert wine has a lighter body than many of the other sweet wines of the Bordeaux region. Every wine critic describes this sweet wine as having interesting complex fruit and candied fruit flavors with a long finish. I agree with this description. I opened the 2011 Cheval Quancard Premières Côtes de Bordeaux with friends who happen to be wine snobs from Europe and they were truly impressed by this wine. The 2011 Cheval Quancard Premières Côtes de Bordeaux rates a solid 85 points out of 100 and that is impressively high, especially when considering the price. A 750 ml bottle of 2011 Cheval Quancard Premières Côtes de Bordeaux sells for about $11 and this wine is the best bargain of the bunch, especially if a palatable young dessert wine is desired.
Lillet Blanc is a classic sweet white Bordeaux aperitif wine that is in the tonic wine category. Lillet is available as a blanc or rouge wine and both are made with Bordeaux region grape blends. Lillet Blanc is made with a classic Sauterne grape blend that includes 15% macerated liqueurs of sweet Spanish and Moroccan orange peels combined with bitter bigarade green orange peel from Haiti. A small percentage of Peruvian cinchona bark liqueur (quinine) is added the create the bitter tonic flavor. Lillet was very popular during the roaring 1920's. Lillet Blanc is a nice sweet aperitif wine that has complex tonic flavor accents. Lillet is also one of the ingredients in a Vesper Martini, which James Bond made famous.
Many French chefs that I have worked with used Lillet Blanc for making sweet dessert sauces, pastries and sweet souffles. Lillet Blanc can be used to saturate japonaise for complex tortes and gateaus. Japonaise is a rich hazel nut meringue that is piped as a thin layer for a cake and baked till it becomes crisp. An example of how japonaise is used can be seen in my Chocolate Butter Cake article.
All of these sweet Bordeaux wines are available at the Total Wine & More store. Total Wine ¶ More is located at 730 South Rampart near Charleston in Summerlin, Las Vegas. Total Wine & More is a very impressive large wine store that offers a great selection of fine wines from around the globe. There are thousands of fine wines in this store and more than half of the wine is French. There are many sweet white Bordeaux wines in stock and the finest Sauternes are offered at current market value. Total Wine also does business on the internet and this is good for those who have no access to a store that stocks fine French wine. Here is the link to the Total Wine & More Site: Total Wine & More
For snuggling under a blanket near a fireplace on a chilly evening, sweet dessert wines from Bordeaux add to the romance. For late night after hours conversations at pubs and restaurants, sweet dessert wines are nice. As an aperitif or a dessert accompaniment, sweet white Bordeaux is a classic choice. Yum! ... Shawna