Sauternes is a complex dessert wine from the Bordeaux region of France. It can be enjoyed as an apéritif with fois gras to wake up the palate before a rich meal or as a digestif along with a cheese course. It is elegant enough to replace champagne as a celebratory toast, and in some traditions it is used to sweeten the lips of a newly christened infant and those of a person on their deathbed. You certainly don’t have to wait until your last days to enjoy a glass of Sauternes. Follow these tips to get the most out of this intricately sweet wine.

Like most white wines, Sauternes should be served slightly chilled, around 45 degrees Fahrenheit. Refrigerate it, but let it sit out for 10 to 15 minutes before serving. Sauternes served ice cold will obscure the subtle spice notes this wine is known for.

Sauternes can be enjoyed young or it can be cellared for generations. A young bottle should be uncorked and allowed to breathe for 15 minutes before serving. If you have an aged bottle be sure to decant it. This process aerates the wine releasing its complex aromas and flavor notes.

Tips

Allowing a young bottle of Sauternes to breathe also gives it time to lose the chill of the refrigerator.

One of the leading glassmakers has designed a piece intended specifically for Sauternes and other dessert wines that bring out the apricot aromas in the wine. If you serve Sauternes frequently, a set of these glasses would be a valuable addition to your home bar.

If you don’t drink enough Sauternes to warrant buying special glasses you can serve it in a glass designed for white wine or a digestif glass. White wine glasses are typically narrower than those meant for red wines, but not as thin as champagne flutes.

Sauternes is a big wine — both in terms of flavor and alcohol content. It is meant to be sipped and savored, and the ideal portion size of 2 to 3 ounces reflects that intent.

Pair Sauternes with foods that can stand up to its bold personality. Try these suggestions:

  • Serve Sauternes with Thanksgiving dinner: The sweetness and velvety mouthfeel will contrast with the dry turkey meat and sweet-tart cranberry sauce.
  • Raw or grilled oysters make an elegant accompaniment.
  • Roquefort cheese and walnuts.
  • Cured ham baked with leeks and pistachios in a cream sauce will balance the wine’s sweetness.