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By Roberto Viernes, Master Sommelier

Settle In To Sauternes

IF YOU ASK MY WIFE WHAT HER FAVORITE WINE IS, she would probably offer up a 1967 Chateau d’Yquem. (She has great taste, of course.) And while sweet wines are among the most remarkably complex wines in the world, they are often overshadowed by their dryer siblings. Yet there are a few sweet wines that consistently rise to the top. They are highly prized jewels; liquid gold to the wine enthusiast.

The region of Sauternes is hallowed ground when it comes to dessert wine.

This area on the left bank of the Garonne River in Bordeaux, France, is home to the most sumptuously sweet grape cultivation.

Lending its name to the class of dessert wines produced here, Sauternes are made primarily from Semillon grapes, and traditionally blended with Sauvignon Blanc and Muscadelle. What makes this appellation so prime for these blends is its climatic conditions-ideal for the growth of a particular mold.

As unappetizing as it reads, truth be told: Some of the best dessert wines are made from moldy grapes. Botrytis cinerea requires a humidity that is naturally present along the riverbank. The special confluence of the smaller Ciron River (an estuary of the Garonne), brings warm to mix with the cold, deeper waters of the Garonne-creating the ideal conditions. The French call this pourriture noble or “noble rot.”

So how does a rotting mold become so noble? Reducing the water volume intensifies the concentration of wonderful sugar and acidity within the grape. It also changes some of the molecular compounds in the skins to bring a complexity to the wine. The result is a wine with luxurious sweetness and buttery rich texture, yet balanced by a keen acidity, and the ability to age for decades.

Ports To Call

Hugh Duncan, Director of Beverage Sales, Fujioka’s and Times Supermarkets, discusses his favorite digestifs.

* Smith and Woodhouse 2003 Vintage Port

“This one earned 91 points in Wine Spectator. It’s very powerful and rich. This port features tightly packed layers of bright berry fruits with hints of dark chocolate and a long, persistent finish. It will mature through 2012.”

* Fonseca Vintage 2003 Port

“This vintage port was awarded 96+ points by Wine Advocate‘s Robert Parker. It has an amazing depth and richness-with a mass of dark fruits spice. This port has an exceptionally long finish and will mature through 2035.”

* Alvear Pedro Ximenez 1927 Solera Sherry

“This sherry earned 96 points from wine advocate Robert Parker. I taste crème brulee, marmalade and maple syrup, yet it’s not overly sweet or heavy. This rivals the best stuff coming out of Portugal. And, at $21.99 for a 375mL bottle, it’s a great price for a high-quality product.”