What to eat with sweet wines

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Illustration by Eleanor Crow

Michelin-trained chef Stewart Turner shares one of his favourite recipes to enjoy with sweet wines: chestnut choux buns with clementine sauce. It’s perfect as a lighter alternative to the classic Christmas pudding.

Dessert wines might not be one of the most fashionable styles, but I can’t think of a better way to finish a meal than with a lusciously sweet nectar – it just rounds it off perfectly. When it comes to dessert at Christmas, it’s hard to look past the classic pudding or bûche de Noël. I’m a big fan of Christmas pudding, but always feel it’s a bit too heavy after a full-on Christmas lunch. In fact, I often save it for Boxing Day.

So, this is my go-to for a slightly lighter alternative Christmas Day pud. Although it may look complicated, all the elements can be prepared in advance – even the choux buns can be piped and frozen, then cooked when needed. It’s also worth remembering that sweet wines are the perfect match for blue cheese.

Chestnut choux buns with clementine sauce

75g butter
200ml water
100g strong plain flour or bread flour
3 eggs, beaten
Craquelin (see below for the recipe)

Preheat the oven to 200°C. Place the butter in a saucepan with the water. Heat gently until the butter melts, then bring to a rolling boil. Lower the heat, add the flour and allow to cook for around 30 seconds, beating continuously until the mixture leaves the sides of the pan.

Allow to cool for a few minutes, then add the eggs one at a time, beating in each egg thoroughly before adding the next.

Remove the craquelin from the freezer. Let it stand for a few minutes, then cut out 8 x 5cm discs. Return to the freezer.

Pipe the choux buns into 5cm mounds onto a parchment-lined baking tray. Make sure you leave space for each bun to rise, then top each with a craquelin disc.

Bake for 20 minutes, until the buns are well-risen and golden. Crack open the oven door and leave for a further five minutes to allow the buns to set. Remove from the oven and allow to cool.

Craquelin

75g butter, softened
75g demerara sugar
75g plain flour, all-purpose

Beat together all the ingredients to form a soft dough.

Place the dough between two sheets of parchment paper and roll out until it’s 3 millimetres thick. Slide onto a tray and freeze.

The filling

200g chestnut puree
30g maple syrup
15ml The King’s Ginger
200g double cream
½ vanilla pod, split and seeds removed
250ml clementine juice and grated zest of clementine
100g icing sugar
50g butter
80g candied chestnut pieces (optional)

Place the clementine juice, zest and 70g of the icing sugar in a small pan and bring to the boil. Simmer the mixture and reduce by half. Lower the heat and whisk in the butter, a little at a time, before setting aside at room temperature.

Place the chestnut puree in a bowl and beat in the maple syrup and The King’s Ginger. Whip the double cream to soft peaks with the remaining icing sugar and vanilla seeds.

When ready to serve, split the choux buns and spoon or pipe in the chestnut puree. Top with the candied chestnut pieces, finish with the whipped cream and place on the top half of the bun.

Spoon the clementine sauce into the centre of your plates and place the choux bun in the centre. Enjoy.

Explore our selection of fortified and sweet wines here.

Category: Miscellaneous

Reasons to drink sweet wine this Christmas

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A watercolour illustration of a cork, with "Sauternes" written across it – the name of the appellation famed for some of the world's most famous sweet wines
Illustration by Eleanor Crow

From the dried-fruit flavours of Port to the honeyed notes of Sauternes, Christmas is the perfect occasion for sweet wines. In our short collection of stories and advice, Alexandra Gray de Walden reminisces on fond memories; and Clara Bouffard imparts her top food-matching tips.

A season of decadence

For Alexandra Gray de Walden, Christmas means snuggling up in front of a roaring fire, with a golden glass of Sauternes in hand.

Christmas pudding, chocolate coins, cranberry sauce oozing over turkey breast; sweetness runs through Christmas like carols and mince pies. From exuberant and energetic demi-sec Champagne to moreish and complex after-dinner Port, there’s a sweet wine to accompany every Christmas occasion.

Yuletide festivities are awash with decadence, indulgence and richness – and sweet wines fit the bill perfectly. Take a golden, luscious glass of Sauternes: full of honeyed citrus peel and orange blossom, it’s a perfect physical representation of Christmas, with its opulent colours, aromas and seasonal sparkle.

Sweet white pudding wines such as Sauternes and Barsac are a perfect match for your after-dinner cheese board, particularly the rich and pungent Epoisses and Roquefort – the combination of sugar and salt is as harmonious a match as sweet and sour. For those of us with a sweeter tooth, let’s not forget the treacle-like viscosity of a Pedro Ximénez Sherry, drizzled liberally over vanilla ice cream – a Spanish twist on a British classic.

But the true joy of any wine comes from the event, the sense of occasion and the company in which it is shared. My happiest memories of sweet wines at Christmas are snuggling with the family dog on a well-worn sofa, savouring a honeyed glass of Sauternes in front of a roaring log fire. It’s about true quality time spent with special people – and special wine.

How to serve sweet wines

Henrietta Gullifer outlines the key things to bear in mind when pouring sweet wines throughout the season.

Whether you love a delicate off-dry Rieslinga honey-soused Sauternes or a sticky Vintage Port, there tends to be a sweet wine for everyone. Personally, I’m a big fan of a sweet Tokaji – even more intense than a Sauternes but with a fantastic, refreshing acidity. It’s a truly special treat.

When considering a sweet wine, the first question is: when do you serve it? You have several options, the most obvious being with dessert. For instance, a Pedro Ximénez Sherry alongside Christmas pudding makes a beautiful match, with those dried-fruit flavours complementing each other. But increasingly, there’s a greater awareness that sweet wine is not just for dessert. Whether you’re pairing Port or Sauternes with cheese, or a sweet Riesling with a seafood starter, sweet wines can be served at various point in a meal.

Often, we tend to serve sweet wine too warm. Ideally, it should be served at 8-10°C, but straight from the fridge will also work perfectly. This prevents the wine from tasting too cloying. The exception to this is Port: serving it too cold would exacerbate the tannins and dull the fruit, yet I still wouldn’t serve Port too warm.

How to pair sweet wine with food

Sweet wine is often associated with dessert, but the truth is that these wines are incredibly versatile. Clara Bouffard shares some helpful tips for food-matching sweet Bordeaux.

Traditionally, sweet-wine pairings with food have been limited to foie gras or dessert. But Sauternes actually has incredible gastronomic versatility, with a delicate balance between sweetness and acidity, earning these wines a place at the dinner table.

I adore sweet wine throughout the year – but I believe Christmas food is perfectly suited to the rich, indulgent flavours of a Sauternes, Cérons or Loupiac. In France, they’re rarely consumed as dessert wines; one can opt to enjoy a glass with a starter, such as foie gras, salmon or oysters. The sweet and savoury combination is just right for a perfectly balanced mise-en-bouche.

Yet the versatility of sweet wines goes beyond the apéritif. They would be a superb match for meats such as turkey, guineafowl or roasted pork, as well as sautéed Grenaille potatoes or truffled mashed potatoes. I would also seriously recommend pairing them with a blue cheese, or a Comté aged for at least 30 months.

The key is contrast and balance. And the beauty is that, once opened, a bottle will easily keep for three weeks in the fridge. With desserts, best practice is to avoid pairing wines with anything too rich or too sweet. Fruit-dominant desserts, such as a lemon meringue tart, will perfectly balance the sweetness and acidity.

Serving Sauternes on ice with a slice of orange, or as part of a cocktail, is a more contemporary approach – a local favourite becoming widely adopted in Sauternes, where hospitality and wine tourism are growing.

Explore our selection of fortified and sweet wines here

Category: Miscellaneous

The Tappit Hen: insights from BBX

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Is there a better time of year to drink Port than at Christmas? It’s just the thing to share around the table, especially when it comes in a larger format. Take this Tappit Hen. As custodians of the world’s largest privately owned collection of fine wine, we often discover bottles that encapsulate the eccentricities of the wine world. The story behind this rare bottle is shrouded in mystery, which is exactly what makes it so fascinating.  

The Tappit Hen is a bottle peculiar to Scotland, where it came into fashion in the 18th century. The measure would originally contain a “Scot’s pint” – equivalent to three modern-day imperial pints – but the agreed size of a Tappit Hen has evolved over the years. Sometimes it was used to refer to three quarts, sometimes as 2.1 litres, but it can most commonly be found as a 2.25 litre measure – also known as a tregnum.  

Although the tregnum and the Tappit Hen both measure up to three standard 75cl bottles, what distinguishes the two is their shape. While a tregnum looks like a conventional bottle shape, the Tappit Hen has a knob on top with an elegant curve reminiscent of a hen’s crest.  

There are multiple other theories as to how the Tappit Hen came to be known as such. Another is that the name is a derivative of the old French word “cuppetin”, as described by T.G. Shaw in his book Consumption of Wine in the United Kingdom, released in 1866. The cuppetin was the barrel carried by the vivandières, the wine-bearing men from the old French regiments.  

Another origin story hails from its native Scotland, where if you were to say you had a “Tappit Hen under your belt” you were guilty of having over-indulged in Claret – three pints, to be precise.   

Whatever the origin of the Tappit Hen, there’s no denying that this elusive bottle is a hard-to-find rarity in the fine wine market. Even more so, considering that only 600 cases of Stone Terraces were produced – barely any were put in a Tappit Hen – which makes the arrival of this bottle on BBX all the more exciting.  

Take a look at the Tappit Hen on bbr.com. For more information on listing your wines, placing bids or purchasing on BBX; please contact the BBX team at bbx@bbr.com.  

Category: BBX Insights

The broadening of the market: insights from BBX

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Each month, the BBX team share the latest market trends and insights from a month’s trading on our fine wine exchange.  

October’s figures for BBX appeared to buck the wider trend that is being seen in the secondary market – more specifically, Bordeaux’s slice of the pie is diminishing. Or, to put it another way: we’re seeing an emerging ‘broadening’ of the market. Bordeaux’s share of total BBX sales actually increased month on month, with notable demand for Château Lafite, Mouton and Palmer. Sales for Burgundy, usually BBX’s biggest monthly mover, were down 4% on the previous month, accounting for 29% of all BBX sales. And Italy, which normally sits comfortably in third place, shifted to fourth to make room for Champagne. Champagne’s rise continues apace and is up almost 3% on last month, to now hold a 10% share of all sales. Spain also saw increased sales thanks to strong performances from Vega Sicilia and Rioja Alta.  

Year on year, Bordeaux has seen both its total sales value and wine prices increase on BBX, but its overall share has been drifting, with a staggering 30% fall since October 2013. This is an undeniable reflection of what is happening in the wider secondary market. Burgundy has been the main winner here, with its share of all BBX sales increasing by 5% in the past 12 months and 13% over the last decade. Other significant gainers include Italy, the US, Champagne and the Rhône. Regions such as Jura, the Savoie, China and Greece – who did not feature on BBX in 2013 – have since joined the mix and now receive regular bids. Burgundy tops the list with almost £40 million worth of bids, but Bordeaux has more actual ‘bidders’. With its high volume of production providing good fluidity on the market plus great aging potential, it stands to reason that Bordeaux will continue to be the popular choice.    

Burgundy’s prices have skyrocketed over the past 18 months, but buying Burgundy is a game of numbers – there will simply never be enough of it. Because of this, savvy buyers are looking elsewhere for value. One such place is Piedmont. The Italian region has often been described as the new Burgundy: very producer-led with a focus on single vineyards (a good example of this are the Barbarescos and Barolos of Luca Roagna).  Tuscany may have led in terms of sales for Italy, but Piedmont has seen some of the biggest price movements.    

With more buyers than ever before, more wines from emerging regions and a relentless search for value, this broadening of the market is surely set to continue.  

For more information on listing your wines, placing bids or purchasing on BBX; please contact the BBX team at bbx@bbr.com.  

Category: BBX Insights