4 Food Pairings That Take Sauternes Beyond Dessert
It's known for sweetness, but the true strength of Sauternes is its versatility
In partnership with Graves-Sauternes
If you’re familiar with sweet wines, you’ve probably heard of the Sauternes region of Bordeaux.
But when was the last time you opened a bottle? If you’ve been saving Sauternes only for dessert, you’re missing out. While these wines do have residual sweetness, they also offer so much more: acidity, complexity, range and flat-out deliciousness. Sauternes’ classification as a sweet wine helps differentiate it from traditional table wine, but it can create misconceptions. Ask any sommelier: Sauternes is one of the most versatile wines you can savor, from apéritif to late-night sipping.
The grape varieties used to make Sauternes are some you might know: Sémillon, Sauvignon Blanc and Muscadelle. But what makes these wines unique is a natural phenomenon: a fungus called botrytis, also known as “noble rot.” The Sauternes region (and neighboring Barsac, also known for sweet wines) is situated about 25 miles south of the city of Bordeaux at the convergence of the Ciron and Garonne Rivers. The confluence of the cool Ciron and the warmer Garonne waters creates a chilly morning fog that blankets the vineyard. Autumn mists followed by beautiful sunny days are particularly conducive to botrytis, which evaporates water from the grapes, concentrates their sugars and elevates their complexity. Expert vineyard workers often pass three to four times to hand-pick only the ripened grapes on each bunch. Small production by nature, a single Sauternes vine will yield only one glass of sweet wine.
The result is a wine that is fresh, zesty and acidic with a good amount of sweetness and strong viscosity — which, as you might imagine, pairs quite well with a whole bunch of options both on and off a dessert menu. In Bordeaux, Sauternes and Barsac are classic apéritif choices to open the palate and, overall, food wines of the first order. A few pairings you might consider.
Salty, briny aphrodisiac, meet sweet, acidic… aphrodisiac. This pairing is all about contrast, and honestly, so is Sauternes itself.
Cheese and charcuterie
Sauternes’ versatility makes it a great choice for pairing with a variety of cheeses. The acidity cuts through to balance rich, creamy cheeses, while the sweet notes contrast the more pungent and powerful options on your board. (If you’ve ever had a strong Roquefort drizzled with a bit of natural honey, you’ll get what we mean.) As for cured meats, the sweet-salty pairing of Sauternes with your favorite charcuterie board is a people pleaser at any gathering.
This one even caught us a bit off guard, but it makes sense once you think about it — or try it. The residual sugars from Sauternes wine calm the heat and complement the hits of umami delivered by spicy dishes. It’s just one more pairing that showcases the underrated complexity of Sauternes.
Another great thing about Sauternes is that its high acidity allows it to age beautifully — you can keep a bottle open for more than a month! This makes for a fine pairing with comfort foods ranging from roast chicken to grilled cheese. It’s all about matching richness with brightness, acidity and a hint of sweetness.
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