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Edward Peters

Personal Dessert Wines

Sauternes II: Brideshead Revisited  

Sebastian and Charles

setting out for sauternes

          In Evelyn Waugh’s Brideshead Revisited (my candidate for the finest Catholic novel set in modern times, and best film adaptation of a novel) Sebastian Flyte brought along sauternes to share with Charles Ryder on his first visit to the family mansion. More importantly, sauternes set the tone for Sebastian’s afternoon with his cherished Nanny Hawkins, whom I always took as the personification of the Church in Simple Love. But in serving (perhaps too formal a word for what was really a roadside picnic with summer strawberries) the Clos Haut-Peyraguey, Sebastian just opened the bottle and poured. And that caught the eye of Evelyn’s novelist and wine-writer brother Alec.  

          “I have wondered how they managed to get it cool,” wrote Alec in his Wines and Spirits many years later, “but even as I wonder, I remember that a reluctance to cool wines other than champagne was one of Evelyn’s eccentricities.” Indeed, on the last night the two brothers met, Alec recalled, “Evelyn served a very fine sauternes at room temperature. That was the way he liked it….but 99 per cent of wine drinkers are agreed that sauternes should be served cold.”  

           This has worked for us: Chill the sauternes low in the refrigerator for a good hour, and during the same time, place your empty glasses in the freezer. When pouring the wine, handle the glasses by their stems, and you can be sure of experiencing sauternes at its very coldest short of silliness. In a few minutes the condensation will fade from the side of the glass, allowing one to enjoy the yellow-to-gold (depending on age) beauty of sauternes along with its taste.

            Like port, sauternes is considered a dessert wine, but unlike port, which many enjoy with chocolate or tobacco, sauternes’ beauty is so distinctly feminine that it deserves, I feel, from men at least, one’s undivided attention. As for makers, there are many of sound repute, but Rieussec’s is consistently reliable, as is Raymond Lafon. Or, one might cross the Garonne for Cht. la Rame’s Ste-Croix-du-Mont, which upon our serving it to Mark and Deborah Brumley of Napa, won us two more converts to the sweet whites of France. +++

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