Thursday, 21 May 2009

Barbary Duck and Château de Sainte Hélène, Sauternes

Traditionally Sauternes are paired with desserts, crystallised fruits and chocolate but Château Sainte Hélène can accompany rich dishes such as Confit de Canard very well indeed. Sauternes can also be paired with fish such as monk fish, prawns, scallops and sea bass as well as Roquefort cheese. Chicken is very often served with Sauternes and creamy sauces made with ginger, honey and spices bring out the fragrance of the wine.

Château de Sainte Hélène is the second wine of the Second Growth (2ème Cru) Château de Malle (see Discovering M de Malle). Sainte Hélène has the creamy sweet taste of honeysuckle, orange peel, apricots, cinnamon and honey. It is made by the same team as the first wine and the cultivation of the vineyard is carried out with the same measure of rigorous attention and meticulous care. The wine is made following the same classical tradition as for great Sauternes and is the result of a draconian selection process.

Château de Sainte Hélène is produced from vines that are 10 to 15 years old and the grapes are 68% Semillon, 29% Sauvignon Blanc and 3% Muscadelle. However the variations in proportion used in the final blend may fluctuate between 10% and 15 %, depending upon the vintage, in order to benefit from the various characteristics desirable in the wine : youthfulness, freshness and finesse. Only grapes fully infected by Noble Rot, botrytis cinerea, are vintaged by successive selective pickings.

Sauternes is 25 miles south east of the city of Bordeaux and is in Graves and is famous for producing sweet dessert wines. Sauternes lies in the hollow where the river Garonne and its tributary the Ciron converge and its vineyards span 4,500 acres. The source of the Ciron is a spring which has cooler waters than the Garonne. In the autumn, when the climate is warm and dry, the different temperatures from the two river meet to produce mist that descends upon the vineyards from dusk till dawn. The mist helps the development of the botrytis cinerea fungus (known as noble rot). Noble Rot makes the the grape concentrate the flavours and sugars whilst keeping a high level of acidity. By mid day, the warm sun will help dissipate the mist and dry the grapes to keep them from developing less favourable rot.

Making Sauternes is labour intensive - grapes have to be hand picked so that only those with Noble Rot are selected and yields can be low. It is said that one grape vine only makes enough juice to make one glass of wine. Although these are dessert wines their sweetness is not cloying due to their zesty acidity. Flavours can include apricots, peaches, dried pineapple, nuts and honey and the finish lasts on the palate for a long time. Their colour is gold which darkens with time to a deep copper. The wine should be served chilled at around 11ºC. These dessert wines have an incredible ability to age and continue to develop for decades.

1 comment:

joeshico said...

Sauternes is one of only a very few dessert wines I enjoy and only with chocolates. May have to try with my broiled scallops. Have never thought of a dessert wine that way before.