Muscat Beaumes de Venise is a light and sweet nectar of the Gods, with an aroma of rose petals and tropical fruit and a taste of candied oranges dripping with honey. It makes me glad for summer, because it is the perfect summer dessert wine.
Hailing from the Rhône, Muscat Beaumes de Venise is made from the highest quality Muscat grapes, Muscat Blanc À Petits Grains, and the best producers grow at higher altitudes. The sweet grapes grow even sweeter high on the sunny hills, taking on exotic qualities that make for a compelling drink in the glass.
Muscat Beaumes de Venise is classified as a “Vin Doux Natural”. I put that in quotation marks as it seems a misnomer to me. Instead of the fermentation stopping naturally as the term suggests, fermentation is stopped at about 15% alcohol by the addition of alcohol, which kills the yeast. This leaves residual sugar in the wine, making for a sweet dessert wine. The secret to this wine, however is that it has a bit less residual sugar than some other Muscats, making it lighter on the palate and very amenable to food pairings.
I’ve always enjoyed dessert wines, but have usually found Port to be too rich for my taste. I first tasted Beaumes de Venise at Etta’s, a restaurant in the Pike Place Market. They make wonderful salads in the summer and we had stopped in after doing our shopping to rest up before heading home to make jam. Wanting something a bit sweet after lunch, our server recommended this wine. I caught the heady aroma as she placed the glass in front of me and leaned forward to breathe deeply, enchanted by the floral and tropical fruit notes as well as an ineffable refreshing top note that I could not describe. The first sip was transformative, the kind of rare bliss that literally sends a shiver down my spine. Oranges, honey, passion fruit and… orange blossoms – that was the note I found in the aroma. It reminded me of a spring evening that I spent wandering through flowering orange groves in Phoenix.
I still feel this way when I drink this wine. A wonderfully refreshing dessert by itself, it sings when paired with summer fruits. My favorite pairing, which I always have for my birthday is so simple – the first local strawberries, a drift of whipped cream and a glass of Beaumes de Venise. The wine sweetens the berries; the acid in the berries brings out the fruit in the wine and the whipped cream smoothes and melds with them both.
Fruits match so well with this wine, particularly berries. Drink the wine with the berries, or macerate the berries in the wine – both ways are delicious. Make a trifle with ladyfingers drizzled with the wine, berries and pastry cream, or just dip classic Madeleines in the wine. The floral aspect of Beaumes de Venise compliment caramel flavors beautifully. You can bring this flavor to the table in golden brown pastries, tarts, ice cream, crème caramel and flan. One of my favorite ways to do this is to caramelize halved peaches, nectarines or figs either on the grill or under the broiler and serve with good vanilla ice cream and almond cookies.
Want to have even more fun? Instead of having Sauternes with a bleu cheese, try Muscat Beaumes de Venise, Black Mission figs and caramelized hazelnuts with that bleu. This mind blowing combination is a hands down favorite at my table, one of those few times when everyone is silent and contemplative. Not a bad way to end a summer evening.