Saturday, 20 October 2012

sweet gold for sweet teeth...

With company coming earlier this week, I decided to make a nice bread pudding for dessert. It's that time of year where autumn winds sweep in from the Pacific with foreboding signs of impending winter; a time that calls for belly-warming comfort food.  Slow cooked in an oven that doubles as a heater for my tiny flat, bread pudding is just such a comfort food. Soak stale bread in kahlua and cold coffee in a baking dish, fill the dish with a 50/50 blend of milk and cream, 3 beaten eggs, a tablespoon or two of sugar, a teaspoon or each of nutmeg, cinnamon, and cardamom and my standard pudding is ready to go. For fun, this time I also added a bit of homemade chestnut puree for a dessert that is like me; a little sweet if but slightly nutty.

Lovely though the pudding was, it was the accompanying wine that lifted the humble bread pudding to new heights. Slowly sipping my way through my wine collection, I decided to open a bottle of Austrian Ausbruch from my trip 2 years ago.  Ausbruch is a style of sweet wine particular to the town of Rust (roosht), with a honeyed-apricot character tempered by refreshing acidity. Matched with the bread pudding, it reminded me that a high-quality sweet wine is the perfect choice to pair with a dessert or stand as a dessert all unto itself.

After the Ausbruch, I decided to explore other sweet wines during the week to match with leftover pudding.  First, a Sauternes, which is of a similar sweetness but hails for Bordeaux.  Later in the week, a revist to my all-time favourite, Tokaji Aszu, from northeastern Hungary. Both Sauternes and Tokaj are considered to be international standards in sweet wines, although the Germans/Austrians may beg to differ with their Beerenausleses and Trockenbeerenausleses (Ausbruch is only found in Austria). The effect of the Sauternes and the Tokaji on my dessert was the same as the Ausbruch; a perfect balance of sweetness, acidity, body, and flavour (though my preference, as always, falls with the Tokaji).

The unique feature of these wines is that there sweetness is not doctored to meet the masses; masses who were introduced to wines with the White Zinfandels, Mateus/Lancers, Baby Ducks, and Black Towers of the world. In the case of the latter, I actually had to write a paper for my Diploma exam on Black Tower; I said it was suited for the consumer new to wines or one who still drinks like it's 1973. Instead, sweet wines from Tokaji to Trockenbeerenauslese (while the former is my favourite wine, the latter is my favourite wine word) achieve their intense flavours and sugars by botryitis cinerea; a.k.a. "noble rot."

Noble Rot occurs when cool September mists give way to warm afternoons. Microscopic moulds appear on the grapes and suck out the water content, leaving behind shrivelled, furry grapes with concentrated sugars.  Botrytis cinerea can happen anywhere in the world, but proximity to shallow, warm bodies of water help assure an annual harvest; the Bodrog and Tisza Rivers in Tokaj, the Garonne and tributaries in Bordeaux, the Neusiedlersee in Austria. However, it is imporant that the grapes are healthy. Should damaged grapes be attacked these spores, the end result is Grey Rot. The photo to the left is of a Riesling bunch effected by Grey Rot in the Rheingau, Germany. (The same vineyard as my backdrop for this blog, incidentally). A hailstorm damaged these grapes as botrytis set in, resulting in damaged grapes that started to ferment in the vineyard itself.
But it is to Noble Rot we owe the great sweet wines of the world, and they are the perfect companion to the comfort desserts of the coming months. I highly recommend trying any of the above wines as they are absolutely worth their price in sweet gold; your sweet tooth will thank me for it.

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