On a recent trip to Bordeaux, I had the extreme pleasure of exploring a particular group of appellations. A very particular group.

This is the group of appellations where botrytis-covered grapes are the bread and butter for many wineries. Botrytis Cinerea, also known as "noble rot," is a favorable mold that grows on ripe wine grapes. This growth happens in the vineyard under specific climatic conditions. They rely on the right amount of fog, which helps the botrytis grow, producing wines that are rich and complex. Many are high in residual sugar.

But that doesn’t mean you can’t pair them with savory foods!

Wines from this area are often misunderstood. Some believe that they must age to get better. Others believe they should only be enjoyed at the beginning or end of a meal. But winemakers here are producing these late harvest wines in fresh styles that are light and airy. They are meant to be consumed young, and enjoyed often.

These are the wines of Golden Bordeaux.The Bordeaux areas that are producing these botrytized wines include Sauternes, Cadillac, Barsac, Loupiac, Cérons, Graves Supérieures, Sainte-Croix-Du-Mont, and Premiéres Côtes de Bordeaux. Some of these may be familiar to you as the region has a deep history in late harvest wine production. The ten appellations have 3,000 hectares of vines growing on each side of the Garonne River. Each area has its own unique characteristics due to the terroir differences, and it’s said that the vines must suffer to produce great wine. The poor soils here force the vines to sink their roots down into the ground for nourishment. It’s amazing to see how vastly different the Semillon, Sauvignon Blanc, and Muscadelle grapes grow in this region. Normally on a wine list or in a wine store, you will find these “golden wines” in the dessert wine section. This is a very common misunderstanding due to the wine’s sugar levels, which makes it prone to being categorized as a sweet wine. These wines are full of fruit, and may feel sweet, but that does not mean they’re only suitable for dessert. In fact, it’s just the opposite!

The wines are begging to be paired with savory snacks and dishes including cheese, French cuisine, Japanese cuisine, and healthy vegetarian options. These brilliant Bordeaux wines are perfect for all occasions and are commonly consumed in France as an aperitif, as a cocktail, or with savory food.

If you find yourself sipping wines from the Loupiac area, try Château du Cros with Japanese cuisine. I had the pleasure of joining world renowned Chef Junko Sakurai, who showcases these wines with traditional Japanese cuisine, and highlights that the saltiness in this style of food works very well with the fruity flavors and honey characters in the wines. The 2015 Château du Cros pairs nicely with Salmon Tataki topped with Yuzu sauce, ginger, and shiso. The smooth texture of the salmon combined with the pungent ginger and sweet yuzu sauce brings out the mineral notes and saltiness in the wines. Dashi stock is a big part of the Japanese cuisine, and is a salty stock full of wonderful flavors that work well with the honey, vanilla, and balanced citrus zest in the Chateau du Cros wines.

Due to the high sugar content, these wines naturally play well with salty and spicy foods. It’s no surprise because we pair other sweeter style wines with spicy food, but many don’t put these particular wines into that category. It’s time to change that!

If you want to enjoy this wine as an aperitif before dinner, with cheese, Cadillac is a great area. There are a lot of varieties when it comes to French cheeses, so don’t be too overwhelmed when trying to choose which pairing is best. Goat cheeses from the Loire Valley work well with Golden Bordeaux wines, as well as more pungent cow milk cheeses from Burgundy and Grenoble. French cheeses are pungent but not overpowering, giving the wines their time to shine and express their fruity characteristics. This is good for those who are adventurous when it comes to cheese, but don’t want to dive into the stronger cheese options. When pairing these wines with Roquefort and blue cheese, you will find a harmonious pairing full of complexity and minerality, due to the honey and spice aromas and flavors in the Bordeaux wines. The cheeses are strong, but when paired with golden wines from Cadillac, they soften and seamlessly work together thanks to the wine’s acidity, fruit flavors, and freshness.  
While eating and drinking our way through Bordeaux, we stopped in Bommes (a commune in the Sauternes area) to meet Laure de Lambert, owner of Château Sigalas-Rabaud for lunch. Renowned Chef Olivier showcased how easily these wines can be enjoyed with gluten free and vegetarian meals, which is not often thought of. The wines show their best when in contrast with other flavors, so when Chef Olivier presented 5 courses of root vegetable and mushroom inspired dishes, it was a delightful surprise. The 2016 Château Sigalas-Rabaud Sauternes paired with mushroom bruschetta and hazelnut oil is a prime example of a great pairing. The wine is fresh and vibrant, expressing notes of honey and stone fruit, which pair nicely with raw mushrooms on crusty French bread topped with just a touch of seasoning. The complexity in these wines, especially the 2017 Le 5 Sauternes, also paired well with Greek mushrooms, cooked in olive oil and tossed in thyme, onion, salt and pepper.

The golden wines from Bordeaux marry well with a number of other dishes including oysters, fish, seafood, and white meats. Some of the best pairings I had during my stay were at Chateau de Fargues, where we enjoyed their wines with oysters, fish, roasted fennel, and of course, blue cheese. At Chateau de Fargues, their only caveat is to avoid overly sweet desserts, and in fact they don’t classify their wines as dessert wines. They believe the wines show best when they are paired with opposing flavors and textures. I couldn’t agree more!

Wines from these appellations in Bordeaux will make you think differently about the region and hopefully expand your wine pairing options. Don’t shy away from these wines, instead, bring them to your holiday gatherings where they can be enjoyed with meats and savory sides. Thanksgiving is an ideal food pairing holiday to start your journey towards appreciating the beauty of these wines. Turkey is lean, gravy is salty, and if you add in some creamy sides, you have a perfect pairing with honey-driven, fresh wines like Golden Bordeaux. Experiment and open your palate. You won’t be disappointed.