Wine with Food: Barsac
By Paul Kalemkiarian Sr. | May 1983
You have held a special luncheon, all the guests have left, and you are ready to take your shoes off, pour a glass of wine, relax on the couch and catch your breath. But, the wine you had at lunch is gone! So you remember that one of your guests had brought a wrapped bottle that looked like wine. You open it: Chateau Climens, a white wine. “Looks good” you tell yourself, while you are looking for the corkscrew.
Hold everything. Don’t open it yet! (Unless you are in the mood for a very sweet wine). This is no ordinary wine. If you know about it, and feel like a dessert wine to soothe the fatigue, by all means open it, there is nobody better than you to enjoy it! After all it was meant for you. (Chill it a little, it won’t taste as sweet when it’s not cold). But if you are not sure what this wine is like, then tarry awhile, and plan a special accompaniment to do it justice.
Chateau Climens is a Barsac. It is a famous one at that! A First Growth, by the 1855 classification of Bordeaux wines. Except for year to year variations in the vintage, it will always be a sweet wine that is made from the Sauvignon Blanc and Semillon grape. In the same region and similar to the famous Sauternes, this group of wines also have the characteristic “botrytis” flavor. The better wines from this region are fermented from grapes whose juice has been concentrated by the natural growth of Botrytis cinerea on the skins. This healthy mold, commonly known as the “Noble Rot”, imparts a unique flavor to the wines of the region. The final product is a marvelous dessert wine of distinction.
Barsac is a village after which this style of wine is named. Wines made in the areas around the village have the right to name their wine as such, as long as they comply with the standards set by the controlling authorities. The better wines will be Chateau named, and the lesser ones labelled regionally as “Barsac”. All of them will carry the byline on the label Appellation Barsac Controlee indicating compliance with the basic local standards.
Good Barsac is a rich, thick, sweet, wine that has a definite botrytis flavor. It can be spicy and show some tartness to its aftertaste. The basic flavor has great depth and shows nuances that wine enthusiasts debate over. The aroma is another great attribute. It usually is flowery and sweet, and becomes caramelly when aged.
So what do you serve with Barsac, and when do you serve it?
First and foremost, with a dessert or for dessert. It is superb with ripe pears, particularly the Bartlett variety. It would be perfect with light pastry type desserts. Fruit tarts that are not too sweet go well. A souffle dessert is the ultimate in my opinion.
Second, it would be fine alone, as a dessert. Much more pleasurable than the liqueurs which have a higher alcohol content and are harsher in flavors.
Third, and rather interesting, is to serve it with liver pate, particularly French foie gras, as an appetizer before the meal. Unusual and different, but a very delightful combination.
Aged, fine Chateau bottled, Barsacs should really be enjoyed alone. They offer so much in their flavor spectrum that it would be a crime to dilute or detract from these.
At all servings, the wine should be well chilled, and preferably served in the traditional tulip shaped, white-wine glass (8 oz. capacity), to allow maximum enjoyment of the aroma.
Twenty-five years ago, a bottle of regional Barsac was the cause of my becoming a student of wine. With a group of friends, we had traveled to San Diego for our annual three days of Shakespeare at the Old Globe in Balboa Park. At lunch one day, I suggested wine to a friend, and we decided to share a bottle from the wine list, rather than the house wine. We looked the list over, (which in itself was not very extensive), and wanting to try something we did not know, we ordered the Barsac on the menu. To say the least, it did not go very well with the roast beef sandwich I had, nor with the ham sandwich my friend had. That was the day I determined to study and taste before making wild selections.