Those who know me well are familiar with my ravenous affinity for all things sweet, sugary and syrupy. So it should come as no surprise that one of my most anticipated food and wine tastings of the year, which took place this last Friday night, happened to be titled “Sweet Tooth Pairings”. Put together by my good friend Sylvain “Frenchie” Courel of Bin 905 Distinctive Wine and Spirits, this tasting featured some of the world’s most unique and interesting dessert wines, each paired with loving care to a culinary delight created by chef Alison Bieber of CRMR at Home Catering.
Unfortunately sweet wines seem to generally get a bad rap in the eyes of the general public. While I will admit there are some pretty crappy examples out there (wines which are unbalanced, cloying and which can occasionally taste like syrup blended with brandy) there are also many outstanding and delicious examples. Making a great dessert wine is truly a labour of love. Often the process is much more complex than making a normal “table” wine and requires a greater deal of risk and patience. Dessert style wines are often made from grapes that have shrivelled down to raisins or have been affected by rot, creating berries with a very low water content and concentrated sugars. As a result of this, the yield a winemaker gets from each grape is comparatively miniscule, delivering just a fraction of the volume of juice of a “normal” wine grape. This means of course that you get less bottles of wine from each grape vine, making it much harder to make dessert wines commercially viable.
At the end of the day the proof is in the pudding, and this outstanding tasting delivered the goods…and then some. Here is the line-up of wines that left my teeth quivering, my dentist with dollar signs in his eyes and a smile on my face.
2008 Charles Hours “Uroulat” Jurancon Moulleaux – Jurancon, France
Paired with Foie Gras Torchon with Jurancon Jelly
Even in the midst of an obscure line-up of wine…this is about as obscure as it comes. From the shy region of Jurancon in the Pyrenees foothills of South-West France, this is made entirely from the equally obscure Petit Manseng grape. Late harvested and aged for 11 months in barrel, this was the lightest and driest wine in the line-up. The nose delivers notes of toast, mango and lemon drop and the lifted acidity leaves the impression that this wine is almost dry.
As for the food pairing, the Foie Gras Torchon was amazing. Sitting on a bed of puff pastry and carmelized onions, this was the very definition of opulence. Although this wasn’t necessarily the wine and food highlight of the evening, it was a great start!
2003 Weinbach Gewürztraminer “Furstentum” Grand Cru – Alsace, France
Paired with Blue Cheese Cheesecake with Apricot Jelly
Bam! This was my 2nd favourite pairing of the evening. The wine was worthy of its grand name. From one of the hottest vintages in recent memory, this was richness piled upon decadence topped with more richness. The nose displayed classic Gewürztraminer spice, with notes of nutmeg, clove and marmalade. The palate followed through, with layers of dried apricot, chutney and decadent spice flowing over the palate like waves.
The blue cheese cheesecake was spot on. Soft and creamy, with a salty edge delivered by the blue cheese and a delicate balance of sweetness and spice assisted by the chutney. The beauty of this pairing was that the food made the wine seem lighter, fresher and less cloying. Truly a match made in heaven…I am definitely harassing Alison for that recipe!
2000 Oremus Tokaji Aszu 3 Puttonyos – Tokaji, Hungary
Paired with Profiterole with Honey Mascarpone Cream & Brown Butter Caramel
This is one of the world’s classic dessert wines, consumed by nobility throughout Europe for centuries. This example, from one of the top wineries in the region, was delightful. Packed full of honey and dripping with ripe tropical fruit, this was a feast for the senses.
This won my vote for dish of the night on its own. The surface was delightfully crisp and the brown butter caramel was orgasm inducing. The mascarpone cream exploded upon first bite, assaulting and massaging the taste-buds at once. Awesome.
2007 Rabl Traminer Trockenbeerenauslese – Kamptal, Austria
Paired with Lemon Crème Brulee
Trockenbeerenauslese…if that isn’t the greatest word in the history of man kind, I’m not sure what is. TBA, as it is commonly known is the rarest and most sought after level of dessert wine in Germany and Austria. Bursting with a classic “Szechwan” spice classic to the great white wines of Austria, this also had aromas of warm lemon, perfume and fresh flowers.
As far as wine and food, this was the highlight of the night hands down. While the lemon crème brulee was great on its own, when paired with the wine it reached another level. This was seamless. The kind of wine and food pairing every sommelier aims to deliver and every connoisseur longs to experience. It was if the wine and food were one, so effortless was their waltz across the palate. Every bit of food made me want another sip of wine and every sip of wine made me long for another bite of food. Perfect.
1999 Fontodi Vin Santo
Paired with Prosciutto, Fig & Pecorino Romano
This classic dessert wine from the Italian region of Tuscany was my highlight of the night for wine alone. The colour was a beautiful amber/tawny and this smelled just like butter…more specifically my Grandma’s butter tarts! Unbelievable.
I thought the wine and food pairing was great, but Chef Alison wasn’t happy and she came out with yet another pairing. These were little chocolate/fudge squares with a fig center. I enjoyed both!
Alvear Solera 1927 Pedro Ximinez Sherry – Jerez, Spain
Paired with Pecan Pie with Orange Maple Glaze
Even though I have an insane sweet tooth, this was pushing the limits! Aged using the classic Solera system, Pedro Ximinez is the grape variety used to make sweet Sherry. In theory a small proportion of this wine is in excess of 80 years old! That time in barrel concentrates the already rich Sherry even further, causing the palate shattering 405 grams/litre of residual sugar in the wine. To put this in context, the Jurancon that was the first wine of the evening had 35 grams/litre of residual sugar…crazy.
This wine is a monster. The consistency of molasses, the wine showed aroma’s and flavours of raisins, fresh figs, toasted nuts, maple syrup, orange rind and dark chocolate. The finish of this wine literally lasts for minutes, clinging to the teeth and gums like Nicholas Cage attempting to hang on to his career.
The pecan pie was delicious, however at the end of such a crazy tasting and paired with such a face destroyer, it was a little too much. In my experience the best wine and food pairing for this is to pour a little bit chilled over vanilla ice cream or gelato and have an ounce or two of the Sherry on the side. That is heavenly!
In the end this tasting definitely lived up to my expectations. There were also 3 bonus wines poured, which I will not include here for sake of time and the risk of a severe sugar flashback. Although everyone involved would likely have benefited from an insulin shot afterwards, it was a night that will not soon be forgotten.