Tag Archives: Dessert Wine

The Color of an Old Sauternes

You may have heard that Clear Creek, which runs from Bangor Base to the estuary at Dyes Inlet, is getting a new bridge this year. That may have been a shocking discovery about three weeks ago when you would have had to find a new way around the Bucklin Hill while PSE put in some poles during the fish window.  do

In preparation for the big change to the biota of the estuary, the Clear Creek Trail has been monitoring water quality. We’ve been at this since last June, and being a recovering Old Town Silverdale Wine Shop Owner, the color of the dissolved oxygen test reminds me of an old Sauternes.

Sauternes is a special region in southern Bordeaux very near the ocean. In other regions, where dessert wines are made, they are more at the whim of Mother Nature from vines that usually produce drier versions of wine. This region is dedicated solely to the production of unfortified, sweet white wine.

Sauternes winemaking regulations are different also. The appellation is reserved for wines from five communes where regulations stipulate minimum levels of alcohol (13%) and the wine to taste sweet.

This very unique microclimate is close to two rivers and the intertidal waters that create a lot of fog in the fall when the grapes are ripening. This moist atmosphere encourages Botrytis Cinerea or Noble Rot.

Three grapes are allowed, Sémillon, Sauvignon Blanc and Muscadelle. Sémillon is the principal grape mainly because it is more susceptible to Noble Rot than the other two. It is typically about 80% of the blend. Sauvignon’s main role is the acidity to the blend to keep it balanced and Muscadelle is for aromatics.

Noble Rot is a fungus prized in the Sauternes region. Basically, it sucks moisture out of individual grapes thus increasing the tartaric acid and sugars, concentrating the flavors. The result is a wine of distinction, lush flavors of honey, tropical fruit, heady aromas and rich, powerful, creamy mouthfeel. Mainly because of the Noble Rot which has an unique aroma similar to a spice cabinet.

Sauternes are some of longest-lived wines; I’ve admired some and have tasted even fewer. I remember getting to look at a bottle of 1929, all coppery in color that a former chef of the Silverdale Beach Hotel had in his cellar.

Sauternes typically start out a gorgeous light gold color that becomes increasingly darker as it ages. Once a tint of orange appears, it has developed complex and mature flavors and aromas.

Yes, Sauternes is a labor intensive, costly wine to make. For example, Chateau d’Yquem makes at least 17 passes through the vineyards, picking only the best grapes. Botrytis does not just swoop down one day and perform its magic. It tends to be very spotty.

A typical harvest might be picking a patch of botrytis affected grapes for a couple of days and then it rains for a few days; this brings a halt to the picking. When the better weather resumes, grapes affected by the undesirable grey rot are removed, then another bout of Noble Rot appears and picking begins again. Hand picking can go on for six weeks. A long period of time for the team of pickers to be kept waiting.

When this style of wine got its start is not certain however, Thomas Jefferson purchased many a bottle of Sauternes’ most famous property, d’Yquem. He even convinced George Washington to purchase 30 bottles of the wine!

As with dry wines, vintage makes a big difference when buying Sauternes. And the 2011s now on the shelf are from a great vintage. Top Sauternes bottlings include the Chateau d’Yquemdyquem at around $400 or so, Chateau Guiraud for about $85 and Chateau Suduiraut for a mere $70.

There are two other communes to look for that are not quite as expensive as Sauternes. That would be Barsac and Loupiac. The quality is as good because they live by the same rules of the region but they are lesser known. Cadillac is another commune but is small and rarely seen. They only produce wine there, not cars.

Barsac Chateaux to seek out would be Chateau Doisy Daene, Doisy Vedrine, Nairac, and de Rayne Vigneau. These range in price from $35 to $50.

Sauternes can be had in half bottle sizes (375 ml) and given the richness, much preferred. The wines are served slightly chilled. Sauternes can be paired with a variety of foods but by far, the classic match is seared Foie Gras with fresh berries.

And just like the Champagne, American Champagne and Methode Campainoise agreement, Sauternes made anywhere else in the world is spelled Sauterne – without the S. That’s how you’ll know.

Just a reminder that Taste Washington happens at the end of this month. It’s a wonderful opportunity to learn more about the Washington Wine scene. There are some great seminars to attend also, Washington vs. The World, The Chardonnay Revival and a couple of appellation spotlights. The one that caught my attention was Wine Tasting with the Masters – Master Sommelier and Master of Wine. That should be very interesting. Here’s the link for more info: http://tastewashington.org/seminars-2015/

Wine recommendation for Peach Cobbler

For this match, we’ve chosen a wine that meets the rule of thumb when pairing wine with desserts: The wine must be sweeter than the dish.

While we’ve recommended wines from the dessert wine category in the past, for this wine pairing we’re recommending a white wine that has a lineage dating back at least 15 centuries.

Once again we’re off to France for our recommendation, this time focusing on the Loire Valley.

Within the well-known wine region is the Coteaux du Layon Appellation d’Origine Contrôlée (AOC). This AOC is situated in the Anjou district on the Layon river — a tributary of the Loire river. The best vineyards are found on the north bank of the Layon where they get maximum sun exposure on the south-facing slopes.

Chenin Blanc is the grape used to make the sweet white Coteaux du Layon wines. The wines achieve their sweet status because the grapes are kept on the vine longer, allowing them to be affected by noble rot.

Noble rot is not as bad as it sounds. It sucks the moisture out of grapes, leaving a higher concentration of sugar, which results in a more concentrated wine. But noble rot doesn’t always happen, so winemakers use other tactics to achieve the sweetness by allowing the grapes to become very ripe or sun-dried on the vine.

The combination of sweetness and the high acidity of Chenin Blanc, especially when grown in a relatively cool region such as the Loire, allows the Coteaux du Layon wines to be long-lived — some can even withstand several decades of aging.

These wines are never dry, but the sweetness can vary depending on how the grapes are maintained.

With a Coteaux du Layon in your glass, the aromas and flavors of honey, dried apricots, nuts, fig and hopefully, botrytis (noble rot) will compliment Ann Vogel’s Peach Cobbler or her Gingery Rhubarb Crisp with Ginger, whichever you choose to make.

Dessert wine and ice cream, a grown up treat

Our mantra for this recommended pairing: You must keep an open mind.

It’s supposed to be summer, right? And during summer shouldn’t we all give ourselves a little treat every now and then?

We think so.

After reading the June 10 food page, we started thinking about ice cream and wine and how we could marry the two.

Over the years of tasting many glasses of dessert wine — from bone dry to sugar encrusted — there were occasions when it was suggested to pour the sweetest or the most fruit-forward over ice cream.

It’s a great idea, but there’s one rule that should never be broken when considering ice cream and dessert wine: The wine you pour over the ice cream should be as sweet as, or sweeter than, the ice cream.

In the late 1980s, Joann Bentryn of the famous Bainbridge Island Vineyards and Winery strawberry wine, suggested pouring their delightful dessert wine over ice cream.

The fruit-forward flavor of the strawberries is a great topping to a creamy vanilla ice cream.

A few years later, winemakers started adding chocolate to their dessert wines — combining wine and chocolate in a bottle.  Deco, a port-like wine, also has chocolate in it. These too encourage pouring the wine over a good vanilla ice cream.

(To clarify, when describing flavors in wine, experts may say it tastes like raspberries or chocolate, but it doesn’t mean they actually exist in wine. That’s the beauty of a grape, it’s a mimic.)

Chocolate in wine might not hit the mark for everyone’s sweet tooth. Luckily for the non-chocolate lovers out there, there’s plenty of pure berry dessert wines — like the Bentryn’s strawberry wine — to choose from.

Randall Graham has a Bonny Doon raspberry dessert wine and Samson Estates Winery has a selection of berry wines like its Blu, a wine made from Northwest blueberries. They also have a selection of other dessert wines that they recommend pouring over ice cream.

These wines are made without grapes, which means the tannic acid found in grape skins is also absent. Without the tannic acid, the wines should be had sooner rather than later — so don’t wait for that special occasion.

The sweetest wine on the planet is from a grape called Pedro Ximenez. PX is a very sweet fortified style of wine from Jerez, Spain. Most sherry houses make a PX, as it is known. Its caramel, nutty flavors make this match delightfully perfect for a creamy scoop of vanilla — or a scoop of chocolate if you’re longing for that chocolate infusion.

So the next time you want to give yourself a summer treat, consider a grown-up version of ice cream with a dessert wine topping.


Brynn and Mary

Weekly wine defined: Brix

This week we’re defining Brix, which also happens to be part of the name one of my favorite restaurants in Gig Harbor — Brix 25˚.

If you Google the term Brix, you quickly see the Gig Harbor restaurant isn’t the only place capitalizing on this wine term. Cafes, bars, restaurants and cellars from Tacoma to Boston pop up in the search window.

So what does this mean? And how is it pronounced? (Think “bricks”, like what’s used to pave walkways or construct buildings).

The term is used to measure the amount of sugar in wine. You may have noticed this term in winemaker notes, or on the labels of some wines, saying grapes used were harvested at (insert number here)-degree Brix.

Winemakers care about the degree Brix of grapes because they want to harvest the crop when the fruit is at its peak — the sugars are in balance with the acids. Knowing the sugar levels of a grape helps the winemaker during the fermentation process (remember yeast eats sugar, which makes alcohol).

It’s a term also used by the starch and sugar manufacturing industry to measure the sugars in fruits, vegetables, juices and soft drinks.

When it comes to wine, each degree Brix (often written using the symbol: °Bx) is equal to about 1 gram of sugar per 100 grams of the juice produced. Typically wines that could be defined as table variety have a Brix reading between 20 and 25 degrees at harvest. More than half of this sugar is converted to alcohol during the fermentation process.

You’ll often see degrees Brix referenced with dessert wine, which signals its sweetness. For example, Chateau Ste. Michelle’s Eroica (one of its lines of dessert wines produced with German winemaker Ernst Loosen) lists the degree Brix on its wine fact sheet.

For the 2006 Eroica Riesling Ice Wine, the grapes were harvested at 36.7˚ Brix. The wine has an alcohol content of 7.5 percent, and residual sugar of 26.1 g/100ml.

The 2006 Eroica Single Berry Select has an even higher harvested brix at 51.9˚ and 41g/100ml of residual sugar. Its alcohol content is 7.1 percent.