Thu 26 Nov 2015

Finding the Perfect Mince Pie Wine

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We’ve often said that sweet wine is not just for Christmas, but it would be churlish to deny that there are many ways in which these wines come into their own during winter time.

You needn’t confine your accompanying food to sweetmeats, of course – a point well made by Janet Wynne Evans in her amazing new resource, Fresh Thoughts on Food for Sauternes and Barsac; but when thinking about what to drink with mince pies, a degree of sugar in the accompanying liquid becomes all but essential.

Finding the perfect mince pie wine is a daunting task, but your Society is keen to help at the time of year when these delicious morsels begin to be deployed more regularly!

Our Food and Wine Matcher offers a number of candidates by price range, of course, but a recent tasting gave us the opportunity to test the compatibility of three classic sweet wines with Lottie Shaw’s ‘Seriously Good’ Mince Pies (the chosen brand of our food buyer and whose pies are available in our Cellar Showroom this Christmas).

Mince pies tasting

Several members of the team tasted the pies alongside a trio of celebrated sweet wines: a Sauternes, a sweet sherry and a Vin Santo.

Wine 1: Sauternes

What: Half bottle of Château Raymond-Lafon, Sauternes 2010 (£13.50)

Where: Bordeaux, France

How: The wine is made from 80% semillon and 20% sauvignon blanc grapes, all affected by noble rot. The grapes are harvested one by one, ensuring only those with the right level of rot are selected, in between three and 10 successive pickings. The wine was then aged for three years in barrel.

Why: This particular Sauternes has been a huge hit with members having earned its stripes in our Wine Champions blind-tasting competition last year. Lusciously sweet but balanced with a seam of freshness, it seemed potentially a worthy foil for the bittersweet acidity of the mincemeat whilst carrying enough opulence to stand up to the pastry. There was, however, only one way to find out.

The verdict: Our tasters were unanimous in their approval of the wine on its own, but, crucially, not its affinity with the pies.

Harvesting noble-rot affected grapes in Sauternes is a painstaking task. The grapes for Raymond-Lafon are harvested one by one.

Harvesting noble-rot affected grapes in Sauternes is a painstaking task. The grapes for Raymond-Lafon are harvested one by one.

‘A little too clean,’ said one, ‘something didn’t quite work’ another. It was clear that something was getting in the way of what looked on paper a promising union. An older vintage may have been a better bet, as these wines put on weight over many years and gain depth and body that could have fared better with the spiciness of the pies.

Compatibility: 6/10
Moving swiftly on…

Wine 2: Sweet Sherry

What: Half bottle of Williams & Humbert As You Like It Medium Sweet (£22)

Where: Jerez, Spain

How: Made from the palamino grape, this wine, like all amontillados, started life as a fino sherry but the protective layer of flor yeast was allowed to die off, exposing the wine to the air and imbuing a deeper colour and nuttier flavour. This delicious sweet wine was a rediscovery that came about as Williams & Humbert prepared for its big move to its new bodega. Before transporting their soleras to the new premises the cellarmaster was instructed to blend the different barrels to facilitate transport. However, one particular solera of 27 butts included wine that stood out head and shoulders above the others. It was bottled intact and untouched under the name ‘As You Like It’.

Why: Back in 2012, on this very blog, my colleague Paul Trelford mused on the ‘wow’ factor of this wine with mince pies. A shoo-in. Or so we thought…

As You Like It AmontilladoThe verdict: A wonderful wine and a much better candidate for the job than the Sauternes. David Mitchell, whose recent post on sherry has garnered a lot of interest from members, noted: ‘the wine has some nuttiness which goes well with the mincemeat.’ This was the main feather in As You Like It’s cap versus the previous wine.

Some, however, were less keen on the match. Though an intensely sweet wine, it finishes with a slightly dry appetising tang – no bad thing at all when sipped with cheese, for example, but for some this clashed a little with the sweetness of the pie. Nitpicking perhaps, but this remarkable sherry is perhaps better suited to blue cheese or a fresh-tasting frangipane tart than Lottie Shaw’s treats.

Compatibility: 8/10

Wine 3: Vin Santo

What: Half bottle of Vin Santo del Chianti Classico, Isole e Olena 2006; currently available in a gift set with cantucci biscuits for £39

Where: Chianti, Tuscany, Italy

How: Made from c60% malvasia del Chianti and 40% trebbiano Toscano (with a tiny smidgen of petit manseng), harvested by hand before being dried on reed trays and pressed. The thick must is added to small barrels containing a layer of the ‘mother’ Vin Santo left over from previous vintages, which starts fermentation. The barrel is sealed and left for eight years before bottling.

Why: We tend to sell this Chianti nectar with cantucci at Christmas as it’s a match made in Italophilie heaven; but the richness and fruitiness of the wine merited its inclusion in this trio to see how it went.

I’m very glad we did.

Paolo de Marchi of Isole e Olena, pictured earlier this year with his Vin Santo barrels

Paolo de Marchi of Isole e Olena, pictured earlier this year with his Vin Santo barrels.

The verdict: ‘I think it’s a dried fruit thing!’ said one taster, perfectly summing up a nigh-perfect match. The spice, rasiny and cinnamon flavours of the pies demanded something equally fulsome and spice infused, qualities this wine has in spades. The concentration and the spiciness bonded just perfectly, and every single taster voted it the best match of the three.

Compatibility: 9.5/10

Do you have a mince pie ‘staple’ wine? Have we been guilty of overlooking a wine that would have triumphed over even the Vin Santo? Do let us know…

Martin Brown
Digital Copywriter

You can find more festive matchmaking suggestions on our Practical Tips at Christmas page.

Categories : Miscellaneous

Comments

  1. Dougie says:

    PX sherry, surely.

  2. Iris Lane says:

    Isn’t £39 too expensive for a half bottle to go with mince pies? Well, it is for me. I will have to do some research on more options and get back to you.

    I tend to pour a thimble full of brandy over my mince pies and heat them for a few minutes. They are so tasty then and you can have a coffee with them. Or more brandy if you have an idle few hours ahead!

    • Philip says:

      I agree with you, Iris. My budget won’t stretch to this, I’m sorry to say. A good compromise for me would be a PX sherry and for a different flavour, a drop of brandy sounds great too, with or without cream and coffee!

  3. MDE says:

    PX sherry definitely

  4. John Suter says:

    My Father’s favourite recipe for mice pies was to lift off the lid, pour over the exposed mince meat one carefully measured forkful of brandy, followed by a large spoonful of cream before refitting the lid. It never fails.

  5. John Rudling says:

    My favorite desert wine having been introduced to it by a friend.
    Trockenbeeren Auslese. I recently managed to purchase a case of 12 quarter bottles which worked out at £12 per quarter bottle. I have converted many people to drinking desert wine by offering them a glass

  6. Mark Brandon says:

    Our favourite has always been Bual Madeira as pudding wines don’t usually have the acidic tang needed to balance the complex mince pie flavours.

  7. David Ling says:

    Graham’s 20 year old Tawny surely?!

  8. David Wright says:

    I agree about PX sherry – ‘Triana’ PX by Hidalgo is perfect for the job – but another good choice is “The Wise One” Grand Tawney, a sweet muscat from Bleasdale Vineyards, Langhorn Creek in Australia. I first met this at a Wine Society tasting in 2014, and have been a fan of it ever since. It’s like drinking raisins – but more alcoholic!

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