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Sauternes or tea with pancakes?

Sauternes labelAs you squeeze the lemon juice over your pancakes tomorrow will you be contemplating an accompanying glass of wine or a nice cup of tea? Because wine isn’t the natural partner of choice for the traditional Shrove Tuesday meal. Adding lashings of sugar as well will almost stop the taste buds registering anything else – unless it’s even sweeter or more acidic than each of the pancake toppings. So what wine, if any, matches these criteria?

marmaladeWell it’s got to be a wine that is both sweet and sour at the same time. What seems like an impossible combination comes together in the sweet French wine Sauternes. Named after the region where it is made, Sauternes is a blend of the white grapes Sauvignon Blanc and Semillon. When these are fermented this results in a drink tasting of butterscotch and Seville orange marmalade.

But how is this unusual flavour combination achieved? Sip a straight Sauvignon Blanc and you’ll be met with the unmistakeable flavours of gooseberry, and Semillon wines often taste of peach and runny honey. But in Sauternes they add mouldy grapes to the fermenting brew and this changes the chemical mix and the resulting final flavour.

The chosen grapes exhibit the ‘good type’ of mould botrytis cinerea, commonly known as noble rot, a fungal infection provoked by the humid conditions found in the vineyards next to the cold River Ciron. This gets to work on the grapes and shrivels them into an unappetising grey fluffy mess.

But this unpromising mess does have life and drops of concentrated grape juice. Which turns into Sauternes wine after fermentation in a process that even the experts don't quite understand. Which is why this wonderful tasting wine is so expensive.

dessert wineChateau d’Yquem is famous for turning these botrytized grapes into something worth paying for, about £400 a bottle. But there are cheaper supermarket alternatives starting at about £10 – and the best are reviewed below.

PG Sauternes Tips

Chateau Haut Bergeron Sauternes

£9.97 (50cl) Asda

Smaller bottles are a usual feature of dessert wines and this Sauternes is no exception – two-thirds of a standard bottle for a tenner. But you won’t want too much of a good thing, or will you?

St Amand SauternesChateau Saint Amand

£9.99 (37.5cl) Morrisons

Rich and luscious with peaches and cream flavours.

Chateau Liot Sauternes 2008

£12.49 (37.5cl) Ocado

A high quality blend of 85% Semillon, 10% Sauvignon Blanc and 5% Muscadelle.

Sainsbury’s Taste the Difference Sauternes

£12.99 (37.5cl) Sainsbury’s

Pretty good.

Chateau Bastor-Lamontagne Sauternes 2004

£25 (75cl) Ocado

Double the amount for double the price with flavours of orange peel and melon.

And if you do want a cup of tea instead, try

Robert Wilson’s Ceylon Tea Brunswick Estate (125g loose tea)

£5.04 Robert Wilson's Ceylon Tea

Clean, crisp and fragrant.

More related articles can be found here: It doesn't have to be pink with pancakes, Top Eight After Dinner Reds of 2011, Marmalade recipe for bears and writers

This article has also appeared as Paula's Wines of the Week on MatureTimes.co.uk