Americans have a difficult relationship with sweet wines, whether it’s the belief by some that all Riesling is sweet (it’s not), or the inaccurate thinking that sweet wines are only for dessert.
A prime example of the latter involves the sweet wines of Bordeaux, whose producers (in the extreme southern part of the region) have redoubled their efforts in recent years to show how well, even ideally, the wines can be matched with a variety of foods that go well beyond the classic foie gras pairing.
I was reminded of all of this recently when I tasted an exquisite sweet Bordeaux: Château Climens’ 2016 “Cyprès de Climens” Barsac. Climens is one of the top wineries of Barsac, which, along with the famed Sauternes, are the best-known sweet wine appellations in Bordeaux.
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The wines are made primarily from the Sémillon grape, with Sauvignon Blanc and Muscadelle sometimes playing supporting roles. The beauty and depth of the wines depends on the unique fall weather conditions in this part of Bordeaux — especially the early morning mists that rise from the Ciron and Garonne Rivers — that allow the development of Botrytis cinerea, commonly known as noble rot, on the grapes.
This fungus gives the grapes their concentrated sweetness without diminishing the all-important acidity that makes the wines so vibrant.
For one thing, they can be paired wonderfully with richer foods. The Cyprès de Climens was perfect with a blanquette de veau — the sweetness complementing the veal and the creaminess of the sauce and the acidity giving it a refreshing lift.
An explosion of tastes includes ripe pear, candied apricot, grapefruit, and orange rind, along with hints of nutmeg, honey, caramel, and minerals — a luscious wine that’s not at all cloying or ponderous, thanks to that balancing acidity. You’ll find several vintages of the wine around, some of them in half-bottles.
This wine pairs well with so many foods, including: a range of goat- and cow-milk cheeses, broiled cockle or clam appetizers, a rich cream of wild mushroom soup, a savory vegetable tart, and even Asian-inspired dishes, including sushi.
Beyond Barsac and Sauternes, other sweet Bordeaux appellations you might come across include Loupiac, Cadillac, Sainte-Croix-du-Mont, and Cérons — offering wines to be enjoyed for dessert, and so much more.