Fresh Thoughts on Food for Sauternes and Barsac

Catering for the Savoury Tooth

Fine Wine Editor Janet Wynne Evans suggests reviewing our approach to food pairing with Bordeaux's famous sweet wines and shares some tapas-style savoury dishes to put ideas into practice

Janet Wynne Evans

Nobody would argue with the heavenly combination of Sauternes with tarte au citron, foie gras or Roquefort. It is, after all, one of the immutable pillars of any temple of gastronomy.

But man or woman - especially one who produces nectars like Sauternes and Barsac - can't live by pudding, blue cheese and goose-liver alone, and research has been ongoing into other corners of the repertoire, notably that tirelessly topical grazing option we know as tapas.

Inspiration from the traiteurs of Bordeaux

The creative juices commissioned by the producers to extend the appeal of their sweet wines are not those of stellar restaurant chefs, of which Bordeaux has a canny few, but of four prominent private caterers, or traiteurs of the region. They operate in a quieter universe than their exalted counterparts in the Guide Rouge, and their names will be unfamiliar to any member who has not tried to organise a very upscale event with nibbles on the banks of the Gironde.

Delicious, tapas-style appetisers

Yet, who, gazing longingly through the shop-window of a traiteur in any French town, has not wondered how the country developed such a legendary restaurant scene when takeaways this good are on offer? From scallop shells piled with oven-ready coquilles Saint-Jacques and, beautifully cushioned paupiettes of veal to the kind of gratin dauphinois or celeriac rémoulade I can never manage to match at home, choosing dinner is tough.

A reassuring aspect of the French way with national standards, and catering is no exception, is that you can get the same stuff, to a very high standard, wherever you happen to be, but this is by no means at the expense of individual inspiration.

Matching dessert wines with surprising ingredients

The best Bordelais traiteurs naturally revel in matching their local dessert wines, both simple and stellar with any number of surprising ingredients and their logic is impeccable. Simple combinations like, scallops wrapped in top-notch smoked bacon, smoked salmon atop a dark, Scandi-noir crispbread or toasted pumpernickel, or cured ham with a ripe mango really work.

Scallops wrapped in bacon

The common elements in their craft, smoke, spice and salt are all the better for a soothing dab of sweetness, while the richness of luxury shellfish and the fat in cream and cheese benefit from the racy acidity that underpins the lusciousness of the best of these wines.

> Browse our full list of Sauternes & Barsac

You'll find more inspiration, and more conventional dessert matches too, on

Recipes & matching tips for Sauternes & Barsac

Tripping the light taptastic

The recipes that follow are inspired by the ideas explored in a Sweet Tapas workshop laid on by the Comité Interprofessionnel des Vins de Bordeaux (CIVB) and the Union des Grands Vins Liquoreux de Bordeaux. I am indebted to my Fine Wine team colleague Simon Gatley, who attended the presentation, for bringing home the bacon with such enthusiasm and for road-testing the recipes. We have been hoarding them until such time as we could line up a royal flush of wines to go with them.

Choosing the right wine

Sauternes and its magical enclave, Barsac constitute a close-knit family with genes in common but they're not all the same. Some, like Climens, are almost ethereal, others, like Rieussec are rich, intense and mouthfilling.

The level of botrytis, too is significant when it comes to food. While we rightly rave about those blessed vintages that deliver a full house of noble rot to the sauternais, the lush, marmalade-infused intensity of such wines may slightly restrict their versatility when it comes to savouries. Hence the appeal of those lighter years, like 2004 or 2008, when the magical alchemy of humidity, heat and mysterious sporedom doesn't quite happen. For these, roast pork with crackling or a mild, coconut-based curry are perfect companions.

The array of Sauternes and Barsac on offer in the current Fine Wine List offers any number of different possibilities for savoury applications. The lighter botrytis vintages 2004 and 2008 Château Coutet is available in both vintages) behave very much like a chenin blanc - a Vouvray moelleux, for instance - with rich, meaty fare, like roast pork with crackling and apple sauce, or its Chinese incarnation with five-spice powder.

In the same vein, spiced duck responds very nicely to the delicacy of Climens and its second wine Cyprès, and Sigalas-Rabaud. Smoky flavours seem to appreciate more full-on sweetness: a really peaty smoked salmon, for example, worked beautifully with Clos Haut-Peyraguey 2009. Deeply salty, fruity flavours like sun-dried tomatoes and pronounced curry spices are well absorbed by the mid-range lushness of Raymond-Lafon and Doisy-Daëne, while the very richest wines, Rieussec and Guiraud are the ones to deploy if blue cheese is involved.

The Society's November Fine Wine List offers a number of these wines in a mixed case for optimum experimentation: if you've room for just one bottle, The Society's Exhibition bottling from Château Cantegril, fresh and racy in the 2009 vintage, is a versatile choice.

Tapas-style recipes for serving with Sauternes or Barsac

One Man's Meat

Wasabi-Spiced Duck

Wasabi-Spiced Duck

Strips of duck-breast crusted with sesame seeds and bracing green wasabi powder.

> View recipe

Garlic Cream Tartlets with Jamón

Garlic Cream Tartlets with Jamón

Vol-au-vents or tartlets filled with garlic-infused crème fraiche and topped with a snippet of fine ham.

> View recipe

Soy-Marinated Chicken Wings

Soy-Marinated Chicken Wings

Easy and quick recipe for chicken wings marinated in soy sauce, vinegar and olive oil.

> View recipe

Another Man's Poisson

Georges Gotrand's Sweet Bordeaux Oysters

Sweet Bordeaux Oysters

Oysters poached in cream & Sauternes with a hint of lemongrass & ginger.

> View recipe

Georges Gotrand's 'Gambas 'Snackés' with Lime and Honey

'Gambas 'Snackés' with Lime and Honey

Caramelised, nutty, lime-licked prawns.

> View recipe

Fishy Tomato Tartlets

Fishy Tomato Tartlets

Tasty tartlets made with sun-dried tomatoes and topped with a dainty morsel of smoked mackerel.

> View recipe

Dejeuner Sur L'Herbivore

Georges Gotrand's Sweet Roots with Golden Sultanas and Sauternes

Georges Gotrand's Sweet Roots

Wine-spiked caramelised roots to serve as canapés, side-dishes or mains.

> View recipe

Olivier Straehli's Roquefort and Pear Verrines

Roquefort and Pear Verrines

Dainty shot glasses with a winning sweet-salty combination.

> View recipe

Franck Bordat's Crackling Cabécou

Crackling Cabécou

Crunchy filo triangles stuffed with goat's milk cheese and sun-dried tomatoes and thyme.

> View recipe

Roquefort and Cheddar Sablés

Georges Gotrand’s Cheese Sablés

Made with Roquefort, or a mixture of Roquefort and Cheddar, these crisp, tasty little biscuits are delicious with a glass of chilled Sauternes.

> View Recipe

> View all recipes

> Browse our current fine wine list selection of Sauternes & Barsac Wines

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