Drinking Honeyed Sunlight

The Savoring of Sauterns

By Mike Rosenberg

Close your eyes. Picture standing in the middle of a field of honeysuckle. Breathe in that scent. Now, imagine someone’s picked all of the flowers and drained the nectar into a glass, added a little apricot essence and given it to you to drink.

Sip. Taste it. Let it sit on your tongue like a honey comforter. Swallow. Let the honey and fruit dissolve in your mouth for the next two or three minutes. Focus on the blissful. Then look at the bottle of Sauternes you’ve dropped some serious coin on and smile.

I really didn’t expect to spend $70 on a bottle of wine. Really.

I’m in the midst of putting together a three-part series of columns on wine and cheese, as you’ll find out over the upcoming months. The cheeses I picked for this column were Taleggio, Stilton and Roquefort.

I have a great book, What to Drink with What you Eat by Andrew Dornenburg and Karen Page. I call this my “Book of Armaments” for wine pairings. There have been a few times I’ve disagreed, but for “classic” pairings, the book is spot-on.

It made some suggestions – the Taleggio called for an Italian red, which I didn’t want, so I went with Riesling. The Stilton’s classic was port and the Roquefort – labeled in bold, all-caps, with an asterisk (translation: make sure to try before you die) – was Sauternes.

I gulped a bit. Sauternes is a sweet, white wine made in Bordeaux from Semillon, Sauvignon Blanc and Muscatel grapes. Because of the climate in this region of France, there’s a fungus called Botrytis cinerea (also known as “noble rot”) that attaches itself to the grapes, causing them to partially raisinate while still on the vines. There’s not nearly as much juice. An entire vine might yield enough juice for a single glass of wine. The wines taste sweet and have basic flavors of apricot, peaches and honey.

Because the yields are so small from the concentrated juice, Sauternes and other “botrytized” wines are ridiculously expensive. Bottles of Château d’Yquem (the most famous Sauternes producer) will set you back $200+. More “pedestrian” versions can be had for around $70.

Considering the high cost, just realize that this wine exists only because some lazy winemaker with baskets full of moldy grapes said, “Screw it…let’s press these bad boys and see what we come up with!”

I had no intention of purchasing a Sauternes. I consider a bottle a ridiculous luxury, since I’m not a huge fan of dessert wine. I went back to the book and found that Riesling and late harvest Zinfandel were acceptable with the Roquefort.

A’ wine-shopping I went. Picked up Riesling and headed over to the dessert wine aisle to get a bottle of tawny port. I snagged it and happened to glance at the next rack of bottles. There they were, the Sauternes, beckoning. I must have stared at these bottles for 10 minutes until the epiphany came: “Go big or go home.”

I picked out a bottle in the middle price range. Chateau Clos Haut-Peyraguey 2001 1er Cru Classé Sauternes.

There are maybe a dozen bottles of wine that have left me utterly speechless. I simply closed my eyes, slowly rolled my head side to side like Stevie Wonder, contemplating the fruity silk explosion rolling across my palate.

I couldn’t imagine just drinking a bottle of this by itself. Along came the cheeses. The Roquefort and the Sauternes were every bit as heavenly as I thought it would be. Roquefort is a powerful bleu cheese, but the Sauternes was strong enough to hold up solidly as the thick wine and the creamy cheese worked together.

The port was listed a classic pairing with the Stilton, but something about the combination of the Stilton & pears with the honey of the Sauternes was one of the most unique, wonderful flavor combinations I’ve tried.

Then came the topper. The “perfect pairing” with Sauternes is foie gras. Not exactly something you can snag at Kroger, but I was able to find a substitute that was slightly less expensive and close enough. I almost fell over in delight.

The combination of those flavors – sweet, savory, salty, bitter, sour, fruit, meat and depth were like perfectly cooked steak and cabernet. This pairing was nothing short of sexy, causing me to think, “Holy crap! That tastes like sex feels!”

Seriously, it tasted naughty. Foodgasm.

Sauternes isn’t going to make my regular wine rotation anytime soon. I go through a lot of wine and Sauternes is too delicious to be anything but savored. I also have no idea where this Sauternes ranks on the “absolute scale of Sauternes” and I don’t care. More please.

Reach DCP freelance writer Mike Rosenberg at thenakedvine@yahoo.com or visit the blog at www.TheNakedVine.net

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