Bordeaux wines with sweetness extend far beyond the famous appellations of Sauternes and its neighbor Barsac. Although together they grab 48% of the spotlight, there are eight other areas in Bordeaux delivering super wines with varying levels of sweetness. Also referred to as golden wines, you may not know they all pair particularly well with a variety of savory foods.
An important reason for that fact is this: their styles are as diverse as their amounts of residual sugar. Even though all the styles- from semi-dry to sticky sweet- are indeed nice with dessert, their spectrum of acidity and rainbow of flavors give us many food choices. Have I piqued your interest?!?
If yes, you’re just in time! If no, I hope we convince you, we being the French #Winophiles group who are tasting and talking sweet Bordeaux wines this month. Linda from My Full Wine Glass shares a nice overview of the ten appellations in her preview article here. And scroll down for a list of November articles from the group. We’ve had a lot of fun thinking out of the pairing box this month thus recipes and ideas galore!
Before I get to the wines and savory food examples let’s talk about what makes these wines sweet.
Golden Wines are a consequence of noble rot, also known as botrytis. It thrives under certain conditions: moist and humid autumn mornings where mist develops followed by warm and dry afternoons. This phenomenon often occurs near creeks, streams and rivers in or next to valleys where fog accumulates. It’s essential the afternoons warm up enough to dissipate the mist which limits fungus grown and warms up the grapes. If it remains too moist, botrytis turns into the undesirable gray rot and the harvest is lost.
Botrytis attacks grapes by sinking through the grape skin drawing water out. As the grapes shrivel, their sugar content is concentrated. The process is dependent upon the weather and level of botrytis that develops in the vineyards from August to October or November in the northern hemisphere. The quality of the vintage depends on what happens in the vineyard during this time. These wines are a consequence of botrytis.
The primary grapes used to make them are Sémillon, Sauvignon Blanc and Muscadelle, and depending on the appellation, other white grapes too.
Above I mentioned these wines come in a variety of sweetness levels from semi-dry to sweet. They fall into two styles:
Moelleux (m’wah-lou) – From the French word meaning soft and mellow, these are a combination of ripe, over ripe and some noble rot grapes. The wines contain less than 45 g/L of residual sugar. Expect fruitier, lighter and less sweet wines. Sometimes they are labeled semi-dry.
Liquoreux – Harvesting botrytized grapes is an arduous process with several passes to ensure only grapes with ultimate noble rot are harvested. Grapes always contain more than 45 g/L of residual sugar. As a comparison, Coke has about 108 g/L of sugar per can. Depending on the location of the vineyard, some grapes have higher acidity that makes the wine seem less sweet. All liquoreux wines tend to be more complex with overall sweetness depending on the level of botrytis in a given vintage.
The winemaker’s goal with both styles is balancing acidity and residual sugar such that flavors seamlessly sing. This doesn’t always happen but when it does, it makes them favorably versatile food wines.
Pairing Golden Wines With Food – Complementing and Contrasting
Sauternes and salty, blue-vein cheeses like Roquefort are a classic contrast of flavors that works with every level of golden Bordeaux. If the blues aren’t your thing, stronger washed-rind cheese like Tallegio or Époisses work as long as you don’t mind the stink. Others that play well with include Manchego, Parmegiano Regianno, Brie and aged Gouda.
Savory cheesecake or flan made small and served as pop in your mouth appetizers are super. Adding flavors that echo those in the wine (coconut, vanilla, lemongrass and dates, to name a few) combined with the soft mouth feel of both the wine and food works well. Or contrasting flavors like the cheeses mentioned above, or some found in Asian cuisine.
Here, the cauliflower cheesecakes are set on wheat toast rounds, topped with whipped Gorgonzola and egg whites then finished with caramelized shallot sauce and crispy fried shallots. My idea came from this flan recipe which would also be super with these wines too!
Beyond the above mentioned foods, those having an inherently sweet edge work well and complement flavors in the wines. Think scallops, crab and lobster… especially grilled. And tropical fruits like mango and papaya with meats such as duck, pork, quail and chicken, the later two are nice roasted and basted with the wine while cooking.
Finally vegetables with sweetness or that develop sweetness while cooking. Think corn, carrots, fennel, parsnips, sweet potatoes and winter squash. Preparing these as confit or as sweet relish and including in dishes can help bridge a pairing.
Keep in mind most foods with a caramelized quality work well. An absolutely delicious, easy to make pairing is Duck a l’Orange (photo above left) where the meat is seared resulting in a crusty surface. When you cut into it you get that slightly caramelized crust in every bite with the savory, orange sauce to bring it all together.
A Variety of Bordeaux Sweet Wines
Disclosure: These wines were provided as media samples. All thoughts are my own and I received no compensation.
They take the environment and their footprint seriously undertaking both High Environmental Value (HEV) and ISO certification at Ducourt, the family that owns La Hargue. The Château is located in a small village in the heart of Entre-Deux-Mers, southeast of Bordeaux city and produces just this wine, a blend of Sauvignon Blanc (57%), Sauvignon Gris (29%) and Semillon (14%) bottled as Bordeaux AOC Moelleux. Chatting with Jonathan Ducourt he shared they “…voluntarily keep lower residual sugar (25.1g/l) than the usual Bordeaux moelleux. This is reason why on the label we indicate “Semi Dry” and not “Semi Sweet.”
Pale straw in color, it made me think of dreamsicle (remember those ice cream bars?) with creamy mixed citrus, passion fruit and floral hints. In addition, the palate has peach, papaya, orange hints and a mild steely, citrus character. A nice level of acidity keeps the body spunky in a soft way as the finish lingers. Such a delight it pairs seamlessly with lentil and sweet potato red curry with broccoli and crispy garbanzos.
Price: from $11 to $18 – Alcohol: 11% – Website
The Gonfrier family owns several wineries including Tanesse in the Entre-Deux-Mers. They hold Terra Vitis (from the vintage 2018) and HVE certifications. This wine, made from 85% Muscadelle and 15% Sauvignon Blanc, is darker than the La Hargue pouring pale gold.
The aromas started with ripe stone fruit and light floral notes then moved to honey and slightly burnt orange as it warmed in the glass. On the palate it’s medium-bodied and off-sweet with very mellow acidity and a supple, round texture. It shows flavors of ripe peach, apricot, pineapple, and honey with a hint of spice. Medium finish.
Price: $16 – Alcohol: 12.5% – Website
This is one of two wineries owned by the Armand family, members of Vignerons Independent. This wine is 100% Sémillon from 16 hectares of vines averaging 50 years of age.
Gold in color with pronounced aromas of ripe stone and tropical fruits, honeyed character with floral notes and spicy vanilla. A concentrated, almost full bodied palate with ample acidity and length. Lighter on its feet than I expected and delicious with pear and gorgonzola topped pancakes.
Price: $35 – Alcohol: 13.2% – Website
Château du Cros vineyards spread over the slopes of the right bank of the Garonne in Loupiac, 40 km south of Bordeaux. Established in 1917, the average age of their vineyards are sixty years. The fourth generation of the Boyer family produces fourteen wines on their HEV (Haute Valeur Environnementale) certified estate. This wine is a blend of 90% Sémillon, 5% Sauvignon, and 5% Muscadelle.
Medium gold in color, intense aromas are complex and ripe (citrus, candied stone fruits, caramel, and chamomile). Palate flavors reflect those on the nose. Mouthfeel is velvety soft, concentrated and well-balanced. The wine lingers with dried apricot notes surfacing.
We enjoyed this wine with smoky grilled chicken topped with mango peach relish (see photo above). And also buckwheat soba noodles with caramelized shiitake and cremini mushrooms, and sesame sauce. The wine had ample acidity to cut through the rich, earthiness of the dish. The dish made the wine seem less sweet.
Historic Side Note! A twelfth century castle on the property was inhabited until 1940 when partly destroyed in World War II. The remains, perched atop a hill, are a great place to take in the Garonne River.
Price: $30 (top value!) – Alcohol: 14% – Website
2020 has certainly been like no other, and personally for Mark and me very difficult. It’s our credo to live better, slower, more joyously, and to do it with a glass of Sauternes available at all times. And if we do this with people we love, both friends and family, that’s an excellent pairing!
Join the #Winophiles Twitter chat Saturday, November 18th at 8am PT, 11am ET and 17:00 CET.
- Camilla at Culinary Adventures with Camilla: “Surprise! Pairing Spicy and Savory Dishes with Sweet Bordeaux”
- Terri at Our Good Life: “Spicy Hot Tacos and Sweet Bordeaux”
- Martin at ENOFYLZ: “Pairing Golden Bordeaux with Southern Fare”
- Lauren at The Swirling Dervish: “Golden Bordeaux Meets Savory Pumpkin and Smoked Bacon Tart: a Delicious Thanksgiving Twist!”
- David at Cooking Chat: “Pairings for Sweet Bordeaux Wine”
- Katrina at The Corkscrew Concierge: “Golden Bordeaux Delights in Louisiana’s Cajun and Creole Cuisine”
- Payal at Keep the Peas: “Four Sweet Bordeaux Wines with Four Courses”
- Jane at Always Ravenous: “Golden Sweet Bordeaux Wines: Tasting and Pairings”
- Wendy at A Day in the Life on the Farm: “Hot Chocolate and Halva Pudding paired with Lion De Tanesse L’Amour”
- Jeff at Food Wine Click!: Sweet Bordeaux Meets the Smoke
- Jill at L’OCCASION: Sweet Bordeaux Wines Aren’t Just for Dessert
- Lynn at Savor the Harvest: Sweet Bordeaux Wines Get Savory Pairings
- Rupal at Syrah Queen: Sweet Bordeaux Is A Sweet Delight – Savor These Perfect Food Pairings
- Robin at Crushed Grape Chronicles: “Sweet Bordeaux Wines and pairings from opposite sides of the globe”
- Pinny at Chinese Food & Wine Pairings: Sweet Bordeaux Paired with Asian Carbs – Chinese Sticky Rice and Korean Japchae
- Susannah at avvinare: Delightful Sweet Wines from Bordeaux
- Nicole at Somm’s Table: Château Loupiac Gaudiet with Cinnamon Apple Crème Brûlée
- Gwendolyn at Wine Predator: Successful Pairings of Salty and Savory with Sweet Semi-Dry Bordeaux
- Jennifer at Vino Travels: “A Look Into the Sweeter Side of Bordeaux Wines”
- And our host Linda at My Full Wine Glass: “Appetizers, entrées and yes, dessert please, with sweet Bordeaux”
To read more, here are my previous articles about golden sweet Bordeaux wines:
- Celebrate World Sauternes Day and Portes Ouvertes
- Sweet Secret of Barsac – Château Doisy-Daëne
- Sauternes Style Wines Pair With a Savory Dish
- Wine Scholar Guild, French Wine Scholar
- How Sweet Bordeaux is Breaking Out of the Box
- Vins de Bordeaux
- Oxford Companion to Wine