Revealing Roussillon’s Sweeter Side

How often do you enjoy dessert wine? I hope you said frequently. If not, the holidays are the perfect time to welcome this habit into your life. A prominent wine and food pairing rule of thumb is a wine should always be sweeter than the food pairing. When this rule is not followed both the food and the wine taste bitter. Therefore, to get full enjoyment out of a delicious holiday dessert sweet wine is a must! This month the Winophiles are making life sweet by exploring the sweet wines of France.

When thinking sweet wines of France it is no secret that Bordeaux, with its golden delight of Sauternes, reigns supreme. To learn more revisit my article from early November, “Bordeaux: Making Life Sweet.” However, Bordeaux is not the only region in France to produce high quality sweet wines. Rivesaltes is the perfect sweet wine for the holiday season.

Roussillon PDO Rivesaltes is one of the largest sweet wine appellations in France and has been producing sweet wines since the 13th century. Utilizing seven different grape varieties, Rivesaltes is crafted into six different styles of wine. Languedoc-Roussillon is a patchwork of grapes and terroir. This holds true with the blend of Riversaltes; however, the main focus is black, white, and grey Grenache, while Macabeau, Tourbat, and Alexandria Muscat join in the fun.

Rivesaltes is a fortified wine of the Vins Doux Naturels category. As the grapes are undergoing alcoholic fermentation neutral grape spirits are added to halt fermentation and preserve some of the grape’s natural sugars. The result is wine with a lush texture that is high in alcohol and sweetness. Essentially it is the same method used to craft port with one important distinction, the spirits used to fortify VDN is 95% ABV, yet less is used (5-10%) than in port.

Rivesaltes is crafted in six distinct styles.

  1. Rivesaltes Grenat: crafted of Grenache noir, full-bodied with notes of rich cherries and blackberries.
  2. Rivesaltes Rosé: crafted of Grenache noir, light and crisp with notes of currants and raspberries.
  3. Rivesaltes Tuilé: intense, crafted of red oxidized wine, notes of roasted cacoa, coffee, tobacco, and dried figs.
  4. Rivesaltes Ambré: complex; crafted predominately of white oxidized wine, notes of orange rind, spice cake, dried fruit, and caramel.
  5. Rivesaltes Hors d’Age: this is the reserve of the Tuile and Ambre, aged for a minimum of five years, cuvee made by blending of years, youngest vintage added is listed on the label.
  6. Rivesaltes Rancio: also a reserve of the Tuile and Ambre with an added nuttiness resulting from 5+ years of maturation.

Here are three different Rivesaltes, each crafted in the Ambré style that make perfect pairings with the holidays, or any time of year.

Disclaimer: media samples; all thoughts & opinions my own

NV Terrassous Vin Doux Naturels Hors d’Age 6 Ans Rivesaltes France ($30): deep amber with notes of dried orange rind, honey, dried apricots, candied walnuts; plush with an elegant richness yet restrained and balanced; medium body, well integrated. Great with blue cheese.

2001 Domaine de Rancy Ambré Rivesaltes France ($30): bottled at the end of 2008; complex notes of dried figs, quince paste, caramel, toffee, baking spice, dried nuts; sweet and elegant, beautifully balanced, rich yet has nice lift on the palate; well integrated. Ideal holiday dessert wine for bread pudding, fruit cake, and pumpkin pie.

1985 Arnaud de Villeneuve Ambré  Rivesaltes France ($60): bottled in 2012; this wine’s long maturation in oak has given it complexity and intensity with layers of dried figs and aprictos, candied orange peel, roasted walnuts, beeswax; elegant, balanced, well integrated, this is a wine of finesse and sophistication. Ideal with rich desserts, better yet just sip and enjoy the decadence.

I wanted to pair these wines with a holiday meal and dessert. Many think of sweet wines as strictly dessert wines; however, often this is not the case. Think about it. How many of you drink a soda with a meal? Many sweet wines, including Rivesaltes, are much more balanced with roundness on the palate and dazzling acidity, making these wines versatile enough for meal (sweet wines pair beautifully with spicy foods), as well as dessert.

My pairings included a delicious dinner of Butternut Squash and Apple Stuffed Chicken Breast with Sweet Potato and Fig Ravioli. I hoped the sweetness of the wines would balance well with the sweetness of the food. It worked!

For dessert I paired the Rivesaltes with a Rustic Apple Galette. Another great pairing.

Here are some additional delicious French sweet wine pairings from my fellow #Winophiles for your holiday enjoyment:

My Song Selection:

I hope you will enjoy some delicious French sweet wines this holiday season. Rivesaltes is not only great to enjoy with friends and family, it makes a wonderful gift. To learn more about Rivesaltes and Roussillon visit Wines of Roussillon.

Happy Holidays to each of you. Cheers!


17 responses to “Revealing Roussillon’s Sweeter Side”

  1. So glad you highlighted Rivesaltes, and that these sweet wines are not just for dessert. I stumbled upon them a few years ago and grab a different type whenever I can find one. Love your pairings!

    • Thanks Lynn. I participated in a Bordeaux sweet wine tasting recently that was focused on how sweet wines are not just for desserts but careful pairings make them great with meals as well. I think the same goes for all sweet wines. Cheers!

  2. What an interesting and informative article. Although this wasn’t my first foray into sweet wines, I feel like I have a far better appreciation of them.

  3. Thank you for introducing me to Rivesaltes VDN and describing the six styles. Your pairings look delicious, I am curious about pairing “dessert wines” with main course entrées.

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