Yesterday had been planned-out far in-advance. A gathering of friends and family had been scheduled, arrangements made, expectations set. But tropical storm Irene had other plans - and as is always the case - Mother Nature won.
The anticipated lovely late-summer day quickly gave way to powerful winds and torrential rain, and in the name of safety and common sense, our plans were cancelled and everyone wound-up hunkered-down in their respective homes for the duration.
And as luck would have it, just as dusk was settling over us, we lost electrical power. There would be no cooking of dinner, no TV or radio - nothing of the modern world. And this was pure serendipity.
Out came the candles, and we sat together contemplating our options. It was then that we remembered the bottle of Sauternes and tin of Fois Gras purchased earlier this year while on a tour of the Bordeaux vineyards. Either one of these would've been a treat, but together they result in one of the truly great culinary indulgences imaginable.
The Child of Noble Rot
Surrounded on three sides by the red wine producing district of Graves, and by the Garonne River on the other, Sauternes is home to (in my view) the best sweet wines in the world. The secret to the production of Sauternes is the presence of the warm Garonne on one side and its smaller tributary, the Ciron, with its much cooler waters, on the other.
If taken too far - the rot is simply rot - and the grapes are useless. But if the process develops in just the right way - it leads to the growth of what is called Noble Rot. And from these grapes drips the nectar for which the vineyards of Sauternes are justly famous. It is a delicate balancing act that is very hit or miss - and leads to great differences from harvest to harvest. But to my rather un-trained palate, it is simply a difference in degrees of deliciousness.
The Sauternes wine
The Sauternes region is quite small and divided into five communes; Barsac, Sauternes, Bommes, Fargues, and Preignac. Only wines produced here may bear the name Sauternes.
Production of this varietal is subject to the rigorous rules and guidelines which characterize all Bordeaux wine making. Each vintage must pass a "tasting exam" to gauge its sweetness, and is required to have a minimum of 13% alcohol before it can sport the appellation Sauternes.
The entire process results in a rather expensive final product - but my only reaction to that is to say, "you get what you pay for". Sauternes usually come in half-bottles. And holding a glass of Sauternes to you nose yields the scents of honey, apricots, and peaches. It is best served chilled between 52 - 55° F, and can be paired with many foods with delightful results.
But the classic pairing is with the utterly decadent and completely delicious Foie Gras de Canard. And mind you, I am normally a vegetarian. But as the French love to say - il y a des limites !
All in all - an absolutely wonderful evening. Thus proving that a little break from social obligations and electricity can yield some of life's simplest and most sublime joys.