It’s a New Era in Sweet Bordeaux


The golden wines of Bordeaux are a sweet force with which to be reckoned. While Sweet Bordeaux white wines are revered for quality they’ve been pigeonholed as “dessert wines”. This is beginning to change. I do not mean to imply that these wines are completely unsuitable for dessert. It would be folly to make the suggestion. What I wish to illuminate is that the sweet white wines of Bordeaux can be enjoyed during all phases of a meal and on their own. The timing couldn’t be better as American food tastes trend away from the bland and overly filling toward the textured and spicy; the golden wines of Bordeaux are a slam dunk pairing for savory dishes with a dash of heat. Sushi is an excellent choice, not to mention a wide range of cheeses. This is just the beginning.

Admired wine educator Fred Swan and I recently tasted a selection of eight Sweet Bordeaux wines in the virtual company of top sommeliers, wine writers, and wine influencers. Fred toured a few sweet wine producers in Bordeaux just last month, experiencing the harvest first-hand, if you will. Read on for more details. You can click here to watch the full virtual tasting now.
Sweet wine production makes up less than three percent of Bordeaux’s total vineyard area. The development of Sweet Bordeaux is both tedious and magical. Morning mists hang over the vines and encourage the development of a special fungus known as Botrytis Cinerea or "Noble Rot". The fungus causes each and every grape to shrivel thereby concentrating sugars and acidity. New chemical compounds are created in the process, bringing yet more unique delights to the eventual wine.

Sweet Bordeaux wines are a blend of the following three grapes: Semillon dominates the blend, followed by Sauvignon Blanc, and just a dash of Muscadelle. It’s rare to see more than 25% Sauvignon Blanc and 5% of Muscadelle used in a blend. The thin-skinned Semillon grape is the perfect playground for Botrytis.

The harvesting process is long and arduous. Sweet Bordeaux wines bring new meaning to the term "hand-harvested". Pickers may take multiple turns through the vineyards as they seek perfectly desiccated grapes. Some grapes are less desiccated than others, bringing small differences that shine in each individual wine.

Each grape experiences desiccation at the hands of Botrytis in a different way. In the end, it comes down to sugar content, or how much sugar has been concentrated in the berry during the desiccation process. While a standard wine grape contains about two hundred grams of sugar per liter, a Sweet Bordeaux grape can have up to 400 grams per liter or more.  

There are ten regions to look for on your bottle. Some of these names are synonymous with superior quality sweet wine – and with good reason – but I encourage you to explore additional sweet wine regions. They are widely available at great values. The regions are: Sauternes, Barsac, Sainte-Croix-du-Mont, Loupiac, Cadillac, Premières Côtes de Bordeaux, Graves Supérieures, Côtes de Bordeaux Saint-Macaire, Cérons, Bordeaux Supérieur.

I can’t think of a better way to jazz up a holiday table than a few bottles of Sweet Bordeaux. These wines will be inviting to newbie wine drinkers thanks to a mineral-rich sweetness. The veteran wine drinker will be impressed with your ability to spot a growing trend, especially when it comes to pairing. Here are eight selections that are sure to intrigue your guests, plus some suggested pairings for your holiday table.

Chateau Manos Cadillac 2015

Apple, Blue Cheese, and Hazelnut Salad on Endive Leaves
Chateau du Cros Loupiac 2014

Crispy Buttermilk Fried Chicken
Chateau La Rame Sainte Croix du Mont 2014

Autumn Squash Ravioli with Sage Brown Butter Sauce
Chateau Filhot Sauternes 2009

Creamed Oysters in Acorn Squash
Chateau Lapinesse Bordeaux Sauternes 2014

Root Vegetable Gratin
Chateau Lauvignac Cuvée Sahuc Sauternes 2014

Barley, Butternut Squash, and Shitake Risotto
Chateau Dauphine Rondillon Loupiac 2009

Creamy Parmesan Polenta
Haut Charmes Sauternes 2015

Crispy Braeburn Apple & Almond Sheet Tart

Click here to watch the virtual tasting and learn more!

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