If there’s one category of wine that confounds American consumers, it’s sweet wine. Do we like it? Don’t we? What are we calling sweet, here?
When the results came in from the 2018 American Wine Consumer survey—conducted by Dr. Liz Thach, MW and Dr. Angelo Camillo at Sonoma State University’s Wine Business Institute—they proved once again that “wines that are little sweet, have a smooth texture, and taste fruity continue to score high,” according to a summary report of the project.
This is a style preference. There is also a survey category pertaining to type, which divides wines into four categories: red, white, rosé, sparkling and dessert. 16% of respondents claimed to prefer dessert wines (the top option: red wine).
Sweetness is interpreted differently by various pockets of drinkers. Some say they prefer sweet table wines, but don’t drink dessert wines. Others say they only do dry table wines, but will enjoy a dessert wine. Others say: whatever, as long as it tastes good.
There’s a category that has, thanks to careful farming and generations of experience, something for everyone all along the scale of sweetness: Golden Bordeaux. These are wines (enchantingly gold in color) that come from appellations on the Right Bank of Bordeaux: Barsac, Bordeaux Supérieur, Cadillac, Cérons, Côtes de Bordeaux-Saint-Macaire, Graves Supérieures, Loupiac, Premieres Côtes de Bordeaux, Sainte-Croix-du-Mont and Sauternes.
I recently had an opportunity to explore Golden Bordeaux wines with Snooth and Jean K. Reilly, MW, who says there’s much more versatility at play than rudimentary sweetness: “If you start thinking of these wines as just dessert, it limits them.”
Golden Bordeaux growing regions are a favorable climate for botrytis, or noble rot, a fungus that can be beneficial to sweet wines. Misty morning allow the fungus to form, while clear, warm and dry afternoons keep it in check. This balance causes the fungus to make tiny holes in the grape, permitting minuscule amounts of moisture to escape. The grape becomes shriveled but doesn’t break. What’s left behind is a concentrated berry with pronounced sweetness.
Because “botrytis is uncooperative,” and prevailing humidity is difficult, according to Reilly, “people trying to make sweet wine are more at the mercy of Mother Nature.” Even so, Reilly says, it’s quite rare that sweet wines will have a bad vintage. Because cultivation is labor intensive and producers work by hand with small yields, the product is often consistent.
And bonus: aging Golden Bordeaux is part of the fun, with decades of development available in the bottle. Sémillon, a dominant variety in the category is “hugely age-worthy,” according to Reilly. She feels strongly that the profile of this grape is in a position to become a crowd favorite. “Sémillon is going to have it’s day,” says Reilly. “There’s going to be a craze.”
Get in on the excitement with Reilly’s tips for enjoying Golden Bordeaux:
One of the most iconic pairings in the wine world is sweet Bordeaux and foie gras, but Reilly suggests that it also mates well with unexpected flavors such as popcorn, barbecue and even fried chicken. “The sweet acidity cuts through the fat,” says Reilly.
She also suggests “anything cheese—sweet wine with cheese is proof there’s a god.” Also favorable are charcuterie selections with smoked and cured meats.
And don’t forget the enticement of the spicy-sweet combo.
Don’t Wait Until Dessert
Pull out sweet Bordeaux as an aperitif to wow guests when they arrive at your home or party. Because “the aromatics aren’t subtle, there will be an immediate reaction,” which Reilly says is the perfect conversation starter.
Dessert wine, in Reilly’s opinion, isn’t meant to pair with dessert, it’s meant to be dessert. Don’t go for sweet on sweet—that’s just overload. She brought up this concept: you may like chocolate chip cookies and you may also like orange juice, but there’s a hefty chance you won’t like them together. Right? If you simply must pair Golden Bordeaux and dessert, serve something fruit-based.
Though serving temperature advice varies, Reilly is strict about this: serve Golden Bordeaux icy cold. There’s a practical reason for this. Because these wines are generally sipped slowly, they can be in the glass for an extended period of time. They taste best with a bit of chill throughout the full experience.
There’s another way that Reilly keeps these wines cold while in the glass—not ice, but frozen, dried fruit, such as orange rings or hunks of crystallized ginger straight from the freezer.
Golden Bordeaux cocktails lend an ounce of complexity with a single ingredient. Because the wine is by nature highly aromatic, Reilly says these bottles “already smell like a cocktail.” Layer the wine with brown spirits, such as Amaro, to reach a different dimension or simply enjoy them as a sipper.