THIS post is a longer version of an article published in the Irish Examiner on Wednesday July 27
While we’re at it, here’s an earlier post along with the accompanying column in the Weekend section of the Irish Examiner in praise of sweeter wines — both the slightly off-dry styles (sweeties) and fully-fledged dessert wines (stickies). It includes a shopping list of accesibly-priced sweet wines and, I hope, adds a useful dimension to a colourful, fun story which is really more about PR than wine.
A FRENCH wine expert has splashed out a staggering €85,000 on a bottle of wine — a Chateau d’Yquem 1811 — making it the most costly bottle of white wine ever sold. The buyer, Christian Vanneque, is a sommelier and restaurateur but the bottle is unlikely ever to be troubled by a corkscrew, serving instead as a talking point at his new restaurant in Bali which opens on Monday.
While ancient red wines — particularly from high-end parts of Bordeaux — do change hands on the millionaire market, It’s rare to see a white wine fetch such prices, or even to remain drinkable at such an advanced age. The explanation seems to be that the bottle in question is a Sauternes (made with semillon, sauvignon blanc and muscadelle grapes) which, being a dessert wine, would have naturally contained both high acidity and a lot of sugar, which may prolong its life.
The same vintage has attracted top marks in wine magazine reviews as recently as the 1990s. It was awarded 100 points by Robert Parker in The Wine Advocate, and by Per-Henrik Mansson (The Wine Spectator)
To put all this in perspective, the price of this particular bottle is of the order of 10,000 time the price we normally pay for a bottle of wine. The chairman of the Irish Wine Association, Philip Robinson (he’s also and marketing director at the Findlater Wine & Spirits Group) estimates that in the last two years, the average sum we in Ireland spend per bottle of wine has dropped from €9.20 to €7.70 — due in part to the 2009 reduction in excise duty, but mainly because we’ve been ‘trading down’ to lower-priced wines.
The fuss about this record-breaking bottle may encourage more wine fans to broaden their horizons and try out dessert wines. Dessert wine is an acquired taste, coming across more like liqueurs than what we’re used to: intense sweetness balanced by natural acidity and fruit flavours. Whether in a restaurants or at home, a small glass — perhaps alongside cheese and good coffee — is one of the most delicious ways to end dinner.
Australia has led the way — particularly with producers in Victoria and in South Australia’s Clare Valley, making wines whose quality matches precious European styles such as Sauternes and Hungarian Tokaji.
The idea that dessert wines from the ‘new world’ might attract such kudos shouldn’t come as a surprise to new owner of that €80k bottle of Sauternes. In 1976, then a fresh-faced young sommellier, Mr Vanneque was one of the tasters who took part in the now-famous Judgement of Paris wine tasting when — for the first time, and confounding all expectations — wines from the new world won the top place in every category ahead of all the more expensive wines from France.
Should you feel like toasting 200th birthday this autumn, you might try, for example, two of the most widely available and accessibly priced dessert wines — Thomas Barton Sauternes at around 20 (750ml) and, from Victoria in Australia, Brown Brothers Orange Muscat and Flora at around 10 to 12 (375ml). ♦