When was the last time you drank a Sauternes? If you're American, your answer is probably "Not recently" or "Been quite a while" or "Was there a first time?" And that's a pity, because the golden, sweet wine is, as Bloomberg's Elin McCoy explains, "simply fantastic, and given the amount of work that goes into producing each bottle, a bargain."
We happily knock back a cocktail as sweet as a Sweetheart. Why spurn the infinitely subtler Sauternes? McCoy gave me three reasons:
1. We think dry wine is sophisticated and sweet wine is cheap. "As people were starting to get educated about wine," McCoy says, "the whole idea that good wine had any sweetness to it marked you as a complete rube."
2. We don't know how to drink it. By the time a meal is wrapping up, she says, "people think: What I really need right now is coffee so that I can get in my car and drive home, not a sweet alcohol." Plus, we aren't used to a wine meant to be sipped, not guzzled.
3. Tastes change. "People have discovered that champagne isn't just for celebrations," McCoy says, "which shows that people can change their habits." Sauternes used to be drunk as an aperitif-- at this point, we simply have a different approach to sweet tastes.
But those are reasons we don't drink Sauternes, not reasons why we shouldn't. Rational people (i.e., people who like sweets) are missing out on an excellent accompaniment to their meal. In France, Sauternes is served alongside foie gras and sharp cheeses. If you do break it out at dessert, the trick is to serve it very, very cold. Baron Philippe de Rothschild famously served viscous, almost frozen Chateau d'Yquem at the end of every meal.
The catch is there's no two-buck chuck of Sauternes, no super-low end that's worth drinking. But in the mid-range, it's hard to go wrong.
McCoy gave me four recommendations. Depending on the vintage, half bottles ofCh. Raymond-Lafon sell for about $30; Ch. Suduiraut for about $45;Ch. de Fargues for $60 or so; and, for the dozen readers who still get bonuses,Ch. d'Yquem goes for about $450.
They're not bargains, but neither is that Rum-Splashed Absinthe Forget-Me-Not you've been nursing for six years. And unlike drinks with the suffix "-infused" in them, Sauternes are something you can enjoy in the comfort of your own home.
James Tarmy reports on arts and culture for Bloomberg Muse, the arts and leisure section of Bloomberg News.