A gift of sweets is appropriate for all occasions. Giving sweets is perhaps the most time-honored of favorite gifts. In Europe, centuries ago, a special Christmas gift might be an orange, because an orange was a rare, sweet luxury. Perhaps this year as an alternative to the usual fruit or candy you can give a sweet wine as a sophisticated gift.
Sweet wines suit many occasions and compliment many foods. Try one as an aperitif. The French say they open the palette. On another occasion you might end the meal with a sweet dessert wine. A menu starting with Foie Gras, the gastronomic specialty of French cuisine would be ideally accompanied by a sweet white wine from the southwest region of France such as Jurançon or Pacharenc. These wines are less well known outside of France, but a delight to discover.
Another sweet wine from the south of France, from the south-central region (Languedoc), is Maury Mas Amiel. This is a fortified dark red sweet wine that is an excellent match for chocolate and chocolate desserts. If you were driving through the wine country in the south of France, you might see areas of raised soil that seem to be gardens of large glass vessels, covered with a sun-screen. In these bottles, wine is maturing in the warmth of the sun. The process takes several months to complete. The wine is placed in large glass vessels called "demi-johns" and are maintained at a constant temperature by their being half-buried in the earth. The "fortification" process involves the addition of sugar to feed the fermentation and creates the delicious Maury Mas Amiel.
The most famous of sweet wines is Sauternes, from Bordeaux. This wine is not fortified, but rather the result of the wine maker picking grapes as late as possible in the season when the amount of natural sugar in the grape juice is at a maximum level. Then when the micro climatic conditions are right, nature helps out with "noble rot." This is a fungus (Botrytis) that grows on the grape skin. It punches holes in the grapes' skin allowing evaporation of the grape juice, concentrating the sugars, yielding a higher sweetness than normally found in grape juice. The new world's counterparts in California are created in the same way.
Another new world adoption of European traditional wine-making are the "ice wines" famous amongst American wineries around Niagara Falls, the NY State side; or by Canadians on the other side of the Falls. Ice wine was first developed in Germany. When mature grapes are chilled to freezing, with ice crystals forming inside the grape poking holes in the skin, this then mimics the process of the noble rot in sauternes, concentrating the sweetness of the juice inside these grapes. This concentration elevates the sugar levels and when conditions are just right they are ready to make ice wine.
Sweet wines are wonderful with sweet desserts. The key to matching a sweet wine with a sweet dessert is to be sure that the wine itself is sweeter than the dessert to be eaten. The Vinissimo Wine Shops, in St. Martin, St. Barth's and Anguilla always have a nice selection of sweet wines and an attentive staff to help you discover these wonderful treats.
Vinissimo Boutique, 1 Rue de Low Town, Marigot tel/fax 00590-590-87-70-78
Vini's Vino Wine & Spirits Boutique, #105 Puerta Del Sol, Simpson Bay, St. Maarten
Contributor Author Jean Rich has lived in Sint Maarten for over 20 years since she retired from cancer research. She explores her passion for wine, dining and people at Bel Mar Restaurant & Wine Bar on Pelican Key; and Vinissimo's wine stores in St. Maarten and St. Martin. The newest Vinissimo location, Vini’s Vino Wine & Spirits,is located at Puerto del Sol across from the Dolphin Casino in Cole Bay, St. Maarten. Its wine bar features wine experiences and offers for sale the benefits of the Vinissimo Sommelier's efforts to bring fine wine values to its clientele.