It never ceases to surprise me that retailers put all their efforts into selling sweet wines at Christmas, when in fact the best time to enjoy them is right now, in the summer. The supermarkets say that’s because no one buys sweet wine at this time of year, but I wonder how much of that’s because no one ever mentions how great they go with summer fruits.
Take sauternes. The usual food pairings that are cited, especially in France, are foie gras and roquefort, but the former is pretty well unacceptable, if not unaffordable, these days and the latter something of an acquired taste. But sip sauternes with a peach or apricot tart, or even just strawberries and cream, and it’s sublime. The same applies to other sauternes-like wines from in or around the Bordeaux region such as cadillac, loupiac and monbazillac, and to late-harvest sauvignon and semillon wines from elsewhere – the 2017 Corney & Barrow sauternes in today’s panel is a textbook example.
Other wines that share that seductive combination of lightness, sweetness and refreshing acidity – much like biting into a ripe peach, in other words – are chenin blancs from the Loire (côteaux du Layon is one of the world’s great wine bargains) and late-harvest rieslings that can retain their acidity for a miraculously long time. Bear in mind, however, that age isn’t an automatic asset with dessert wine, any more than it is with reds: they may be interesting, intriguing even, but if it’s fresh rather than cooked fruit you’re eating, it’s better to go for a more recent vintage.
That isn’t necessarily easy to find, though. One of the downsides of being hard to sell is that there are a fair number of older vintages kicking about, particularly of sauternes, so it will pay to buy from retailers who are sweet wine enthusiasts and therefore have a good turnover. Also, in terms of finding interesting bottles, wine merchants are generally a better bet, which is one reason I’ve recommended two from the Shropshire-based Tanners this week.
Don’t overlook the muscat family, either, especially gorgeous, light, fizzy moscato d’asti, which is the perfect wine for sipping on a sunny afternoon. At £7.50, the Michele Chiarlo Nivole Moscato d’Asti 2019 (5%) is a good buy from Booths, and very prettily bottled, too.
Why are we not all drinking these delights? Possibly because we’ve been told that sweet wine is unsophisticated, but forget that! It’s simply one of the most joyous, hedonistic experiences in the wine world – and, given that you don’t need a full-size glass, far from the most expensive.
Four wines to sip with summer fruits
Corney & Barrow Sauternes 2017 £14.25 a half-bottle, 13%. A gorgeous, young sauternes, as seductively smooth and creamy as a lemon posset.
Seifried Nelson Sweet Agnes Riesling 2018 £16.29 a half-bottle Waitrose Cellar and amazon.co.uk, £17.49 by the mixed case from Laithwaites, 10.5%. This New Zealand riesling is consistently one of my favourite dessert wines: thrillingly sharp and sweet.
Domaine des Forges Coteaux du Layon St-Aubin 2018 £13.50 Tanners, £14.50 Stone, Vine & Sun, 12%. An opulent dessert wine that tastes of ripe apricots, and brilliant value for a full-size bottle (easily enough for six to eight).
Santa Julia Tardio 2018 £7.96 for 50cl Weavers of Nottingham, £8.50 Tanners, 8%. A pretty blend of viognier and Argentina’s floral torrontés (similar to a muscat). Would be lovely with a fresh fruit salad.