Average consumers often have this love-hate relationship with sweet wine - be it German Auslese, sweet Bordeaux or Douro Port. They love it but never buy it. Most of them are unsure when and/or during what occasions to enjoy it. Besides, one can only have so much sweet wine so consumers always worry that the bottle will be unfinished, further deterring them to buy or open one.
In fact, sweet wine has every right to be on dinner tables and to be served with main meals. Chinese food is diverse with a wide array of aromas and flavours that go well with an equally wide range of wine including sweet wines. We don’t have a wine drinking history like the Europeans so we can be creative rather than restricting ourselves to only white or red wines on dinner tables. We drink sweet lemon tea and soft drinks with food so why can't we can have a sweet wine to go along with our dinner?
Sweet wine producers have spotted this and have been encouraging the pairing of their wines with Chinese dishes and with positive feedback. My favourite pairing is a young vintage port with Shanghainese sweet and vinegary spare ribs (糖醋排骨). The strong flavour of the sauce overpowers any red wine leaving only tannin behind but the similar robust flavour of a young vintage port would stand up to it. Equally, a 20-year old twany port matches well with roasted pork belly (燒腩肉) and so is a Riesling Auslese with spicy prawns (宮保蝦球).
However, I have to say that the most proactive is Union des Grands Vins Liquoreux de Bordeaux (Sweet Bordeaux Association) created in 2009 representing the 10 appellations of Bordeaux sweet wine. Like all sweet wine, sweet Bordeaux has been losing customers because today’s consumers prefer drier wine and the young generation think sweet Bordeaux is old-fashioned. The association aims to engage young consumers by presenting them with new and trendy ways to enjoy sweet Bordeauxs from cocktails with ice cubes to having it with savoury dishes such as tapas and curries. In addition to Europe, the association is also active in America and Asia by taking part in various trade and consumer festivals as well as hosting wine and food pairing dinners.
I attended one such lunch tasting recently, presented by Wendy Narby, a Bordeaux-based educator, and was pleasantly surprised by the clever pairing. Most people might pair sweet wine with meat dishes because of the strong flavour but this lunch took the pairing a step further. The starter included delicate raw scallops with wasabi purée and they were paired with a lighter style 2013 Chateau du Pavillon from Sainte-Croix-du-Mont AOC. The wine was elegant and complemented the fragrance of the raw scallops. The wasabi purée enhanced the ginger and spice aromas in the wine. The main course was sea bass served with quinoa and yellow carrots with sour cream and black curry. I liked it with the denser 2012 Petit Guiraud from Sauternes AOC. The wine’s freshness cut through the fish’s oiliness while the heavier fruit aromas in the wine were in perfect harmony with the sweet and not too spicy curry sauce.
Wendy also reminded the audience that an opened sweet Bordeaux can be kept for up to two weeks. Similarly, port wine (except vintage port) can be kept for 6-8 weeks after it is opened. This is definitely an incentive for all of us to indulge in a little sweet moment, with food or on its own, without worrying about the bottle being unfinished and wasted.
Check out the Sweet Bordeaux website for more inspiring pairings.