Ordering a dessert wine AS your dessert is always such a sweet, decadent treat. I have to admit I feel a little less guilty ordering a glass of an indulgent elixir instead of a chocolate torte – although I’m sure the caloric difference is negligible. One of my favorite choices is often a honey-sweet Sauternes.
On a recent Friday night, my husband and I treated ourselves to a light dinner at Seattle’s 35th Street Bistro. Located in the Fremont neighborhood, this slice of European country cuisine boats your typical bistro fare: mussels with pommes frites, bouillabaisse, braised short ribs, and foie gras among other choices. While the service on each visit has been spotty at best – this most recent visit resulted in ordering an obscure dinner wine about which the sommelier had neglected to educate the staff about, which lead to a so-so wine education experience (in spite of our awesome waitress’ attempts to make it up to us) and a way overdue apology from the owner while we were on our way out the door – the bistro does indeed boast a lovely wine selection both by the bottle and glass. My mystery selection was a Gros Manseng, Domaine des Cassagnoles, Gascogne – a crisp, dry white that left a lingering mineral complexity on the tongue and which I found the perfect complement to my moules fritte (delicious).
Given our dubious dinner experience (which also took way to long to be served; but I digress…) I treated myself to a glass of heaven with a Sauternes from Chateau Suduiraut Castelnau. This 90% Semillion, 10% Sauvignon Blanc blend was caramel smooth and thick on the tongue. Some experts recommend accompanying this wine with a foie gras or a fruit tart.
So what denotes a Sauternes? Located in France’s Bordeaux region, Sauternes’ damp weather conditions and location create a prime breeding ground for the lovely noble rot, or botrytis, fungus we’ve mentioned in previous articles. Basically, noble rot causes grapes to dehydrate and concentrate their sugars for sweeter flavor. In many dessert wines, noble rot is added strategically as part of the wine making process but in Sauternes, Mother Nature lends a hand.
Semillion grapes are the predominant players in a Sauternes, sometimes blended with other grapes like Sauvignon Blanc. The Semillon grapes used in Sauternes are carefully picked at just the right time to ensure the perfect level of alcohol and thus,for the final product,.
I love Sauternes for its creamy honey-sweet qualities. If you like cream soda you’ll really like this wine. It’s layered as well with scents and flavors of honey, vanilla and lush sweet fruits. It tends to feel thick on the tongue, but still balanced– not quite molasses but not far off. If you don’t like sweet wines in general, you will not enjoy Sauternes. If you do love this sweet gem, then really treat yourself sometime and order a Château d’Yquem, classified as a Premier Cru Superieur, which, according to Wikipedia, means "Great First Growth" or "Great First Vintage.” Château d’Yquem is the only Sauternes with this distinguished honor. And its price tag surely reflects this!
Next time you are enjoying a lovely meal, skip the tarts or tiramisu and indulge in a little Sauternes. This tasty treat is sure to please if you’re looking for a can’t-miss dessert wine choice. As for 35th Street Bistro, my advice is to keep your hospitality and hosting up to the same standards as your lovely food and wine selections. The owner should have been all over making sure we, and his staff, had the information we needed - not waiting until we were putting on our coats and grabbing us as we left like an afterthought. God bless the wonderful Kristin our waitress, who did all she could given the lack of tasting notes from the sommelier, including looking up the wine in a book! Remember, we are guests in your “home” so make sure we’re getting everything we need.
Maria Ross is a freelance writer who also runs Red Slice, a branding and marketing agency that helps emerging businesses, including wineries and wine bars, tell their unique story and attract new loyalists. She is based in Seattle.