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Matching Sauternes and Barsac with food

Two of the world’s greatest wines, Sauternes and Barsac, are in danger of falling off foodie radars. So, Ian D'Agata has rounded up a group of sommeliers, winemakers and chefs to bring you their best tips for matching Bordeaux's premier sweet wines with food.

  • Sandrine Garbay, winemaker at Sauternes premier cru supérieur Château d’Yquem, advises overall: ‘When matching Sauternes and Barsac to foods, just remember to consider the vintage, age of the wine, presence or not of noble rot, and specific estate style, then you’ll never go wrong.’
  • Alexandra de Vazeilles, owner of the outstanding Château de Bachelards estate, says ‘When friends come over, I often offer a glass with thin slices of Parma ham or jamón ibérico puro. The alliance of the Sauternes’ sweetness and ham’s saltiness is optimum, as one balances the other perfectly.’

  • De Vazeilles also suggests ‘You can also pair it with pizza, as the tomato’s acidity will be balanced by Sauternes. Fresh vegetables as finger food (carrots, raw broccoli, celery) also work well.’
  • Think about the presence of noble rot in each vintage; heavily marked vintages include 1976, 1989, 1997, 2001 and 2007, which are complex, deep and delicious, with notes of varnish and smoke, says Ian D’Agata. In vintages where there is little or none (1983, 1992, 2004), the wines have a more straightforward character – therefore what you might pair with one food in one vintage may require a totally different match in another.

Chateau d'Yquem

  • Bear in mind that acidity levels are also vintage-dependant: in high-acid vintages, wines seem much lighter and fresher. Gianpaolo Paterlini, chef/coowner of San Francisco restaurants Acquerello and 1760, says: ‘During a meal, I prefer vintages that are lower in botrytis and higher in acidity – 2010, 2006, and 2004 are all recent vintages that offer more freshness than concentration. I would liken the experience to drinking a German spätlese Riesling with high residual sugar, a more common food pairing in California.’
  • Will Predhomme, one of the best sommeliers in Canada and director of wine consultancy Predhomme Inc, underscores the importance of wine age. ‘I would reserve the youngest Sauternes for the aperitif and serve wines with age throughout the meal. Youthful Sauternes will have taut acidity and freshness driving flavours, while at 10, 15 years or older, wines evolve and become more complex as the meal progresses.’
  • Don’t be afraid of hot food – ‘At our new restaurant 1760, while we call the food “modern, ingredient-driven”, dishes have an Asian influence and therefore spicy heat,’ says Paterlini. ‘Sauternes from lighter vintages complements some of our food well. Right now we have 2006 Rieussec on the list.’
  • Griselda Rehe, head sommelier at Juvia in Miami, suggests an old reliable: ‘Oysters! Perk them up with a little spicy chilli black bean sauce and crispy shallots, and try a mediumrich Lafaurie-Peyraguey. The acid balances the sweetness and richness, making the wine more accommodating than you might think.’
  • Kathy Morgan MS, wine director at Bryan Voltaggio’s Range and Aggio restaurants in Washington DC, adds: ‘Dishes of the American south often have sweet ingredients. I recall having a maple-glazed pork belly with candied pecans in a restaurant in South Carolina that made all the dry wines at the table taste thin and unpleasantly sour. Sauternes would have been a perfect match; the 2004 de Fargues, a rich wine from a lighter vintage, would have had the elegance to match the savoury elements of the dish.’

So it should now be clear that matching food to your choice of Sauternes/Barsac isn’t the one-way street of cheese or dessert it used to be. There are myriad possibilities, provided you do a little homework and know a thing or two about the bottle you are planning to uncork.

Award-winning wine writer Ian D’Agata covered Sauternes and Barsac for Decanter in the 2014 vintage en primeur tastings. The full version of this article appeared in the Decanter Bordeaux 2015 guide – subscribe to Decanter magazine here.

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