When I say Bordeaux you probably immediately think of big red wine, Cabernet Sauvignon or Merlot. It would be rarer, but perhaps you think of Sauternes, the sweet white wines from the southern part of Bordeaux. Well, we are heading that direction this month with the French #Winophiles.
We are led this month by Linda Whipple of My Full Wine Glass and Jeff Burrows of Food, Wine, Click. You can read Linda’s Invitation post here.
If you are reading this in time, you can join us on Twitter for a conversation on these wines and what each of the French #Winophiles chose to pair with them! Saturday, November 21st at 8 am PST (I know it’s early, but it’s fun!) on Twitter. Just follow and use #Winophiles to join in the conversation.
How Sweet wines began in Bordeaux
Sweet wines find their start in Bordeaux in the 1600s when the Dutch arrived bringing with them a taste for sweet wines and a bit of knowledge from their travel through Hungary where you find Tokaji and Germany with their Rieslings.
43% of the sweet wine in Bordeaux comes from Sauternes, which is delicious, but we are digging deeper and we are talking about the other 57%.
The Grapes of Sweet Bordeaux
White grapes of Bordeaux are primarily Sémillon, Sauvignon Blanc, and Muscadelle with Sémillon being the shining star of the sweet wines. Sauvignon Blanc is added for its citrus notes and Muscadelle in smaller quantities for its floral aromas and smooth texture. You will find areas where Sauvignon Gris is included, a mutation of Sauvignon blanc.
Botrytis Cinerea, the magical fungus that creates these sweet wines, is known as “Noble Rot”. It is actually the same fungus that eats up the oranges that you have left too long in the fridge.
Here’s the deal. When Botrytis Cinerea is in a constantly humid environment, it is Grey Rot (like on that old orange in your fridge), but if, as in this region, you have humid mornings followed by dry afternoons, it becomes Noble Rot. Affecting grapes with thin skins, it grows in the morning humidity and is kept in check by the afternoon dryness. This shrivels the berries, concentrating the sugars and acids, and imparts its own flavors of honey and dried mushroom.
The regions in Bordeaux for Sweet Wines
Head south from Bordeaux on the Garonne River and you will find 8 AOCs with sweet white wines:
- Bordeaux Supérieur, Cadillac, Cérons, Côtes de Bordeaux Saint-Macaire, Loupiac, Moelleux, Premières Côtes de Bordeaux and Sainte-Croix-du-Mont.
Head to SweetBordeaux.com for all sorts of wonderful details on the regions for sweet wines.
Styles of sweet wines in Bordeaux
- Liquoreux – This is the sweeter style. They are more concentrated, sometimes (when the year is right) they are made from grapes with botrytis, that noble rot that concentrates and sweetens the berries.
- Moelleux – These are semi-sweet wines. Here fermentation is stopped when the sweetness level desired is reached, killing off the yeast before it eats all the sugar so that some is left in the wine. This style is its own AOC and covers the entirety of the region.
*We received 4 sample bottles of wine for this tasting. The wines were provided free of charge, all opinions are our own.
In 1954 Henri DuCourt acquired this property with vineyards of white grapes planted on loamy soils, in the Entre-Deux-Mers. They have 26 hectares here at Château La Hargue planted to Sauvignon Blanc, Sémillon, and Sauvignon Gris.
Bottled under the Bordeaux AOC it is made in the Moelleux style. This wine is best enjoyed young and they suggested that it would pair with foie gras, grilled fish, desserts including chocolate desserts, and bleu cheese.
- Moelleux style
- Blend of Sauvignon Blanc, Sauvignon Gris and Sémillon
- Aged in Stainless Steel
- Annual production 80,000 bottles
- ABV 11%
- SRP $15.00
This was the lightest of the 4 wines in color. It was almost clear in the glass with flecks of green. The nose had florals reminiscent of honeysuckle nectar, those tiny sips that we would drink like fairies as a child. There were rocks, and limestone, and pear. It is semi-sweet but very clean and refreshing.
Within the AOC Premières-Côtes-de-Bordeaux Moelleux in the District of Langoiran you find Château Tanesse. This Château is owned by the Famille Gonfrier, who own 19 Chateaux.
“Located on a high hillock among Langoiran’s sloping vineyards, this Bordeaux charterhouse was built during the second half of the 18th century by the Tanesse family. The property is surrounded by 30 hectares of vineyard atop very old foundations. Overlooking Langoiran’s medieval 13th-century castle, a magnificent panoramic view stretches from the edge of the Sauternais to the outskirts of Bordeaux while following the meanders of the Garonne River.”
- Late Harvest
- Moelleux style
- 85% Muscadelle, 15% Sauvignon
- Grapes are destemmed, gently pressed.
- Muscadelle vinified in Stainless Steel, then aged in barrels
- Sauvignon, partially vinified in oak
- Average Vine Age: 17 years
- ABV 12.5%
- SRP $16.00
This wine was a very light clear lemon color. Sweeter on the nose than the La Hargue, I got less floral and more dried apricot. On the palate I noticed vanilla and musky fruit (Muscadelle) with light spices. It reminded Michael of the sauce in a baked apple pie. It had enough acid to make my mouth water.
Produced by Y. Armand & Fils. The Armand family owns Château La Rame and Château La Caussande. This is a family affair. Between the 2 Chateaux they have 50 hectares of vines over 6 AOCs, making sweet white wines from 2 AOC’s Cadillac and Sainte Croix du Mont. Our wine came from Sainte Croix du Mont.
There are 8 hectares of vines in a clay-limestone soil that has a unique sub-soil with fossilize oyster beds dating back to the 1st tertiary era (22 million years ago).
- Licoureux style
- 95% Sémillon 5% Savignon Blanc
- Aged in SS and 30% oak
- Average vine age: 50 yrs
- Production 24,000 bottles per year.
- SRP $35
This wine was a golden yellow color with a nose of caramel, apple, sweet syrup with fruit, and concentrated honeysuckle. On the palate I got more of the spice notes like candied ginger droplets. It was warmer and toastier with fruit notes. Sweeter than the other two being in the liquoreux style, but still light on the palate.
Made by Famille Boyer who own Chateau du Cros in Loupiac, Chateau Haut Mayne in Cerons and Clos Bourbon in Paillet.
The backstory…in 1196 Richard the Lionheart allow the construction of the “Vieux Chateau du Cros. During the Hundred Years’ War, it was partially destroyed. Built back over time it passed finally to Francois Thevenot in 1921. It was inhabited until 1940 when it was requisitioned by the German Army, it was damaged during the German occupation and fell to ruin.
While the Chateau itself is ruined, the estate is thriving. 60 hectares of vineyards surround the medieval castle on the hill overlooking the Garonne.
Francois Thevenot’s Great, great-granddaughter Catherine d’Hulluin Boyer now runs the vineyard, taking over from her father in 2004.
The vineyard is just 80 meters from the Garonne on the right bank. The hill is 90% limestone.
- Liquoreux Style
- 90% Sémillon, 5% Sauvignon, 5% Muscadelle
- Average age of vines 60 years
- Manual harvest with 5 successive sortings
- 12 months aging in barrels
- Production: 22,000 bottles per year
- ABV 13%
- SRP $30.00
This was the darkest of the wines, almost copper in the bottle, appearing more golden in the glass. It had deeper fruit notes of cooked nectarine with spices and vanilla, and poached pear notes. It was very well balanced.
Pairings from opposite sides of the globe
I spent quite a bit of time searching for pairings. Down the rabbit hole of the interwebs, I found all sorts of amazing things and spent hours and hours finding fascinating information. In the end, we settled on two meals. One featuring Asian flavors and the other leaning more French.
Asian inspired lunch of Thai Pumpkin Soup
Spring Onion & Ginger Cod with Fried Noodles
Knowing that Thai food and Riesling are super compatible, I decided to venture to Asian flavors with our sweet wines.
We began with a Thai Pumpkin Soup. I found this recipe at “Dishing Out Health“.
It all cooks in the dutch oven. The quick version: sauté carrots and onions, add tomato paste and cook until it caramelizes, add red curry paste, ginger, and garlic pumpkin spice, and then Pumpkin puree & vegetable broth. Finish with coconut milk and lime juice.
For the cod dish, I riffed off this recipe from Ang Sarap.
It included thinly sliced ginger soaked in Chinese cooking wine, so I used the La Hargue instead!
The fish is marinated and deep-fried which is not something I do very often. This gets tossed with a sauce of fish sauce, soy, sugar, cornstarch, pepper, and chicken stock, as well as the drained ginger, minced garlic, and spring onions.
We served this with fried noodles. Just some good ramen noodles, cooked then fried in oil and tossed with a sauce of brown sugar, soy, and fish sauce.
Asian cuisine pairing with the Sweet Bordeaux
This pairing was good! The La Hargue was fresh with just a touch of sweetness and had enough acid to cut through the thick umami of the fish dish and picking up the ginger in that dish. The acid was just right to pair with the Thai soup and would have been good with this even if it had been even spicier.
The other wines each played off the bit of spice and umami, each was good in its own way. I did find that the Chateau du Cros from Lupiac reached in and pulled out umami notes in the soup.
The wines all went well with the sweetness and umami of the cod dish and the savory noodles.
The French lunch – Gratin de butternut a la d’Auvergne & Carmelized Fennel Salad
I made two small gratins with diced butternut squash, crème, d’Auvergne cheese which is a soft cow’s milk bleu cheese, topped with walnuts and parmesan cheese.
For the caramelized fennel salad, I made just enough for two servings out of one large bulb of fennel. It was really good and I wish I’d made more. Check out the recipe here and feel free to double or quadruple it!
You slice rounds of the fennel and cook the rounds in butter and olive oil. Set those aside and add a mixture of sugar, salt, and pepper cooking for 30 seconds, then toss the fennel back in to coat and cook just a little more.
Scrape this into a bowl, including all the delicious crusty bits. Toss with minced garlic, shallot rings, and some dill.
I plated this on a bed of arugula and topped it with crumbled goat cheese, lemon zest, olive oil and garnished with fennel fronds.
The French pairing with the Sweet Bordeaux
These dishes really won the day. The gratin made the La Hargue appear sweeter, and enhanced the Château Tanesse aromatics. The caramelized fennel salad was delicious and brightened in contrast with the 2 sweeter wines, especially with the Château du Cros Loupiac.
Yes, of course, there was dessert!
Of course the first thing that comes to mind when pairing Sweet Bordeaux wines is dessert. I found a beautiful recipe for Dark chocolate pudding with pears. I made homemade pudding, not the kind from a box. It was my first time and it seized. Oh well, we ate it anyway and it made a pretty picture.
I enjoyed the wines with the pears, which were drizzled in honey as the slices cooked and caramelized in the pan. I found this went best with the two sweetest wines the Château La Rame & the Chateau du Cros.
But my dessert pairings were not done! The next day I made a peach crumble. Here the dessert came out beautifully AND it paired wonderfully.
The French #Winophiles
Check out what my French #Winophile Colleagues thought of these and other Sweet Bordeaux wines and what fantastic things they paired with them!
- Camilla at Culinary Adventures with Camilla: “Surprise! Pairing Spicy and Savory Dishes with Sweet Bordeaux”
- Terri at Our Good Life: “Spicy Hot Tacos and Sweet Bordeaux”
- Martin at ENOFYLZ: “Pairing Sweet Bordeaux with Southern Fare”
- Lauren at The Swirling Dervish: “Golden Bordeaux Meets Savory Pumpkin and Smoked Bacon Tart: a Delicious Thanksgiving Twist!”
- David at Cooking Chat: “Pairings for Sweet Bordeaux Wine”
- Katrina at The Corkscrew Concierge: “Golden Bordeaux Delights in Louisiana’s Cajun and Creole Cuisine”
- Payal at Keep the Peas: “Four Sweet Bordeaux Wines with Four Courses”
- Jane at Always Ravenous: “Golden Sweet Bordeaux Wines: Tasting and Pairings”
- Wendy at A Day in the Life on the Farm: “Hot Chocolate and Halva Pudding paired with Lion De Tanesse L’Amour”
- Jeff at foodwineclick: “Sweet Bordeaux Meets the Smoke”
- Jill at L’OCCASION : “Sweet Bordeaux Wines Aren’t Just for Dessert”
- Lynn at Savor the Harvest: “Sweet Bordeaux Wines Get Savory Pairings”
- Rupal at Syrah Queen: “Sweet Bordeaux Is A Sweet Delight – Savor These Perfect Food Pairings”
- Pinny at Chinese Food & Wine Pairings: “Sweet Bordeaux Paired with Asian Carbs – Chinese Sticky Rice and Korean Japchae”
- Susannah at avvinare: “Delightful Sweet Wines from Bordeaux”
- Nicole at Somm’s Table: “Château Loupiac Gaudiet with Cinnamon Apple Crème Brûlée”
- Gwendolyn at wine predator: “Successful Pairings of Salty and Savory with Sweet Semi-Dry Bordeaux”
- Jennifer at Vino Travels: “A Look Into the Sweeter Side of Bordeaux Wines”
- Linda at My Full Wine Glass: “Appetizers, entrées and yes, dessert please, with sweet Bordeaux”
We traveled virtually to France and Bordeaux with the #Winophiles before. Here are some other pieces you might enjoy!
Robin Renken is a wine writer and Certified Specialist of Wine. She and her husband Michael travel to wine regions interviewing vineyard owners and winemakers and learning the stories behind the glass.
When not traveling they indulge in cooking and pairing wines with food at home in Las Vegas.