Dessert wines: how to pick the best
How do you pick a wine to go with your pud? Alice King gives the sweet and lowdown on dessert drinking
Mention sweet wines and the reaction you get from most people is invariably yuk. This is mainly because they have probably never had the opportunity to taste a really top quality one. So, what is it that makes a decent sweet wine?
The secret, as with any wine, lies in the balance. It needs a luscious, sweet, grapey flavour but, in order for the wine not to appear cloying, it must also have balancing acidity thats the citrus-like tang you taste on the finish of a good sweet wine.
Sweet wines are made all over the world. The very best and most expensive variety, of which the French Sauternes from Bordeaux is the most famous, are made using a complicated viticultural procedure. Basically, grapes are left on the vines long after the standard harvest time which causes them to shrivel up. If the perfect climatic conditions prevail (foggy mornings, sunny afternoons) they develop noble rot or botrytis. At this stage the grapes have very concentrated sugar levels and the resulting wines are lusciously sweet.
Traditionally, people only drank sweet wines with puddings. But they are far more versatile than that. They taste delicious with all sorts of starters such as liver pâté or smoked mackerel pâté, and theyre superb with foie gras. Surprisingly, certain sweet wines also taste good with some spicy meals, especially Thai dishes using coconut sauce. Many retailers stock sweet wines in half bottles, which is useful as this will serve up to 12 small glasses. If youre catering for a dinner party, this is often just the right amount.
When drinking sweet wine with pudding, its important to be sure that the wine is rich and sweeter than the pudding; otherwise, after one taste of pudding the wine will appear dry. Therefore, when matching wines to chocolate puddings, for instance, one does have to be careful to choose one that makes a robust match.
Next page: Alice King's pick of the best