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You can sometimes find sweetness in a half-bottle size

The cellar of The Royal Tokaji Wine Company (Photograph supplied)

Before I share a few thoughts on sweet European wines I must clear my mind a little, and think back to a large multilevel, below-ground wine cellar that my wife and I visited many years ago in Paris.

We were guided down the first four floors and then we were shown where the entrance to three more deeper ones had been carefully concealed in 1940. This was where the top wines were hidden from the new occupiers of France.

A very interesting book to read is Wine and War. One particular story in it tells of French resistance fighters capturing a train that was on its way out of the country with the greatest wines from Bordeaux.

Once the cases were unloaded and safely secreted away, they decided to open a couple of bottles to celebrate a little, only to find that others of their group had earlier on mislabelled bottles of pure plonk and hidden the great stuff!

Chances are that you have never tried ratafia, so let me tell you about our Fleurot-Larose Ratafia de Bourgogne. In the central part of Chassagne-Montrachet we find the 1st Cru monopole vineyard Clos de la Rocquemaure, which is owned by the Fleurot-Larose family.

In addition to their white and red chassagne-montrachet wines, they also make the fortified wine ratafia de Bourgogne by adding grape brandy to unfermented chardonnay grape must (juice).

This is a wine, with a lot of sweetness and fullness, which in the glass appears almost completely orange-yellow.

There are notes of orange, figs, dried apricot, apple or pear brandy, aged calvados and a distinctive herbal character.

Drink the wine as an apéritif with an ice cube or with a sweet, full-bodied dessert such as tarte Tatin with glazed apples. You could also go a step further and serve it with classic fried foie gras with figs. $55 for a half bottle. (Stock #7630).

In 2012 2009 Chateau Guiraud Sauternes Premier Grand Cru Classé placed fifth on the Wine Spectator’s top 100 wines in the world selection with a score of 96/100 and this description: “This is a bird of a different feather, with an exotic, vibrant aroma of toasted coconut, followed by an almond cream note that gives way to the core of green fig, papaya, Cavaillon melon and honey. There's stunning richness and mouthfeel, with the power to be one of the longer-lived wines of the vintage. Very impressive. Highly recommended.”

You may be thinking that this is a tad old for a white wine, but sweetness is a great preserver and I venture that this could age beyond 2040. This is an opportunity of tasting one of the greatest wines of France for $50.35 for a half bottle. (Stock #9633).

Another gem is our 2010 Chateau Rieussac Sauternes Premier Grand Cru Classé (Domaines Barons de Rothchild Lafite). This dazzling dessert wine is a blend of 95 per cent sémillon, 3 per cent sauvignon blanc and 2 per cent muscadelle.

Canadian critic Natalie Maclean thinks enough of it to award it 97 points and write, “A stunning sauternes of the finest kind from the spectacular 2010 vintage. Rieussec is known for its top-drawer dessert wines, but this one trumps most of those in known or tasted memory. Gorgeous aromas of peach blossom, apricot preserves and honeyed ginger. Terrific balancing acidity. This would give the coveted Chateau d'Yquem a run for its money, especially when Rieussec is a fraction of the price.” $40.10 for a half bottle. (Stock #7279).

At this point you may be wondering how you can be stepping into this ethedral realm of wine and still get considerable change from a $100 bill. Well … hang on to your hats as I offer a perfect 100 point wine that will cost you $88.30 for a half-litre bottle, that is 50 centilitres compared with 37.5cc in the traditional half bottle.

I am talking about a trip to Hungary for their 2013 Royal Tokaji Szt Tamás Single Vineyard that secured fifth place on the 2020 Wine Enthusiast magazine’s top 100 cellar selections.

The wine garnered this description: “Brilliant gold-flecked amber in the glass, this Hungarian stunner hails from the Szt Tamas vineyard located on one of Tokaj's most iconic hills. It has aromas of wild flower honey, ripe peach, honeysuckle blossom, freshly sliced apricot and acacia flowers. It is an ethereal blend of furmint, harslevelü and muscat. Silky smooth on entry, it offers enticing flavours of white peach, apricot preserves, honeycomb and acacia honey. It has beautiful heft on the palate with balanced acidity and crisp minerality. The elegant sweetness is perfectly foiled by bracing acidity and crispness in the finish. This is how Hungarian Tokaj Aszü wine should be made. Drink through 2045. 100/100.” (Stock #9827).

For me most vintage port reaches a most enjoyable stage at twenty years and so I would like to end with 2003 Taylor’s Port and the review that it received from Wine & Spirits magazine: “The 2003 vintage surrounds Taylor's classically hardcore iron grip with fruit that's generous, succulent, and rich. The aromas of violets and spice seem to rise out of a blast of black rock, the muscular tannin inseparable from the fresh fruit. Though the ripeness and richness of the vintage tends to blur many of the distinctions among the best ports, the relatively dry style of Taylor stands out, the extreme power of its structure bringing to mind a wrought iron fence stretching off into the distance. Likely the longest lived of the '03s, this should be drinking best from 2033 through 2055, then mature into a firm old age for decades after. 96/100.” $106.55 (Stock #3111).

This column is an advertorial for Burrows Lightbourn Ltd. Contact Michael Robinson at mrobinson@bll.bm. Burrows Lightbourn have stores in Hamilton (Front Street East, 295-1554) and Paget (Harbour Road, 236-0355). Visit www.wineonline.bm

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Published March 18, 2022 at 8:08 am (Updated March 18, 2022 at 8:08 am)

You can sometimes find sweetness in a half-bottle size

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