Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Dessert Wines

Dessert wines are a staple of traditional dining, and for a reason. They have a purpose beyond simply having something sweet to drink whilst you consume your dessert. In fact, they can actually enhance the taste of your dessert. Whatever the situation, it is important that the right dessert wine is chosen to compliment your sweet, a decision that (when done properly) is guaranteed to satisfy and impress you and your guests.

Surprisingly, sweet wines can be happily consumed with courses other than dessert. For example, they are luscious when consumed with almond biscuits or pâté (the French Sauternes is traditionally partnered with fois gras). Other sweet wines can actually be the dessert themselves: it all depends on the taste you wish to create and the mood you wish to enhance.

The most important rule to remember is that the wine must be sweeter than the meal. Otherwise, after a mouthful of sweet pudding (e.g. chocolate), the wine will taste dry, which is undesired. It is therefore important to sample both dessert and wine (in that order) before deciding on the course of culinary action to be taken. It is for this reason that a sweet wine enhances the taste of the dessert: if the wine is sweeter than the dessert, the dessert will be so easy to eat, not at all sickly, in comparison to the sipped wine. If you have trouble finding a wine sweet enough for certain desserts, such as sticky toffee pudding or sweet chocolate mousse, it may be worth drinking a fortified wine such as Port or Madeira alongside them instead of a dessert wine.

Perhaps the most famous dessert wine is "Sauternes" from the Bordeaux region of France. The winemaking techniques employed at the vineyards here are some of the most complex on the planet, as they use a method called "noble rot". Sounds disgusting...but it is this noble rot that produces a naturally sweet wine, with no added sugar or alcohol. Grapes are left on the vine for much longer than is usual, allowing a fungus (Botrytis cinerea) to develop. This fungus ‘extracts’ water from the grapes, giving them an extremely high sugar concentration, whilst imparting flavours of honeysuckle and peaches to the must. The conditions needed to produce such a phenomenon must be exact, usually entailing misty morning and hot afternoons.


Another recommended dessert wine to be explored is the Hungarian Tokay wine (Tokaji). Tokay is in fact a much older noble rot wine than Sauternes, and is world famous for being produced only in small quantities, and for its distinctive flavour and sweetness. Throughout history, Tokay has been the favourite of many notable people, including the composers Haydn, Beethoven, Schubert, Liszt, and Johann Strauss.