All too often dessert wines are a wine category which get left on the shelf – literally; to us this is a perplexing situation. There are not many wines out there which are the result of such unique climactic conditions, have the same care and attention in the vineyard and winery and offer the same level of richness and complexity. Whatever the reason, here in the UK On-trade we simply do not drink enough of these fabulously moreish wines.
There are many possible reasons for this – its true they can be expensive, they are undoubtedly sweet and it’s also very often the case that they are presented at the end of a hearty meal to pair with a similarly rich pudding. Not always what we want when we are feeling like Daniel Lambert after olives, bread and two previous courses! With this in mind, we assembled a crack team of Matthew Clark wine lovers to taste a selection of dessert wines from our list.
Our simple goal to experiment with pairing these wines with savoury foods, to dispel all notions that these wines are strictly for cakes and pastries and to bring them into the light, banishing them from the back of the fridge for good – the results proved very interesting indeed.
Ok, not a dessert wine in the strictest sense but the demi-sec style does illustrate quite nicely the possibilities for greater food matching where a little more sugar is involved.
Demi-Sec styles of Champagne include a little more dosage than regular Brut (32-50g sugar per litre versus less than 12g per litre respectively) and the Sublime from Piper is a top example. For the record, Champagne is a great food wine, but here the presence of a little more sugar opens up a wider range of pairing possibilities. We found that seared duck with a tropical chutney was a lovely match, the richness of the duck matching the extra richness of the Champagne wonderfully. Similarly, the aromatic spices present in Moroccan grilled chicken worked well, but the top match was certainly smoked salmon pâté, the richness of the pâté and the smokiness a perfect foil for the Champagne’s rich, toasty flavours. Though we didn’t do so on this occasion, we'd recommend further experimentation with Scallops, Sushi, lighter nut flavours and fruit based starters.
A multi-award winning stickie from South Africa, the Nederburg Noble Late Harvest had to be included – this is the wine that seduces all who taste it!
Produced mainly from noble rot affected Chenin Blanc with a dash of Muscat de Frontignan, at 200g per litre residual sugar, this is a rich and luscious concoction offering the full complement of tropical fruits, apricot and honey and a delightfully refreshing acidity driving the flavours along. We found that it was a superb match with goat’s cheese (not surprising as Chenin Blanc heralds from the Loire Valley a source of some of the world’s greatest goat’s cheese), a lovely accompaniment to chicken liver parfait and delicious paired with blue cheese.
A real treat, the second wine of Chateau Climens 1er Cru Classe situated in Barsac, essentially if you were to remove Chateau d’Yquem from the equation this is the de facto greatest wine estate producing Sauternes today.
Cypres de Climens is produced from younger vines on the estate but offers all the concentration, depth and complexity you would expect from such a hallowed terroir. The ideal match, the Bordelais would have us believe, is Foie Gras but more modest pâté and terrine work equally well – a duck liver pâté was a delicious partner, goat’s cheese and blue cheese unsurprisingly equally delicious. Most unexpectedly on the day, we found the intense saltiness of tapenade paired well with the sweet honeyed marmalade flavours of the Sauternes though more investigation is needed here perhaps. As a final note, a Bordeaux speciality is roast chicken basted in Sauternes!
The famous ‘holy wine’ of Tuscany, a fascinating dessert style wine produced from dried Trebbiano grapes – the bunches are suspended from the ceiling near the rafters or dried on straw mats above the barrels in the cellar for several months, the drying process leading to dehydration and concentration of sugars.
Ageing in oak barrels without topping up leads to gradual oxidation resulting in dried fruit flavours and nutty complexity. The nuttiness of the wine lends itself well to savoury pairings especially those where there is a nut element. We found seeded spelt bread topped with goat’s cheese a fabulous pairing and also that a mild spice element can pair with the sweet savoury spiciness of the Vin Santo. Any complex, nutty cheese such as Ossau-Iraty, Pecorino or Gruyere would similarly work wonderfully well.
A less commonly appreciated style of Port, unlike a true vintage Port which spends most of its life in bottle, the tawny style is cask aged allowing interaction with oxygen while in the barrel and leading to a nutty, oxidative flavour profile and the famous tawny colour.
Unlike the other dessert wines here, it is worth mentioning that this is a fortified wine, the fermentation arrested by the addition of grape spirit, the inherent sweetness of the final wine the result of unfermented sugars. It is classically served with cheese, mature cheddar and stilton are winning partners though it is a great match with walnuts and pecans, indeed if they are a key element of the dish we would encourage experimentation here. The nutty sweet complexity works well with rich game dishes and we would also look to pair with wild mushroom risotto or savoury tarts – a glass served with a cheese board is perhaps the true home of this particular style.
These wines and many of the world's best dessert wines tend to carry a premium price tag but they are truly some of the finest and rarest wines produced anywhere in the world, and if people can't indulge this Christmas, when can they?
Discover more about our range of dessert and fortified wines by clicking here and be sure to find out more about how we can help with your wine range by getting in touch.