To celebrate my birthday I finally opened a bottle of Chateau d'Yquem I've been hoarding for far to long. In all honesty it had passed it's best, but it was such a grand wine that I'd made the common mistake of holding on to it waiting for an equally grand occasion.
When you have a really good wine the thing to do is drink it, especially if really really good wine is normally outside of your budget (when I started out in wine some 20 years ago you could buy some very good things for around the same price as a decent bottle of champagne (£20-£30). You can still get those champagnes for more or less the same kind of price (£25-£45) but the clarets (especially the clarets) I used to love are now £150 or more a bottle, which is well outside of my budget.
There are still plenty of very good things to be had under £30 though and it's much better to focus on those. Dessert wine is one of them. There's a weird prejudice about sweet wines which helps keep the prices relatively low for the quality that you can get (this is relative, but value isn't directly related to price) which is good news for those of us who appreciate them.
I have an absolute passion for a really good Sauturnes, or Monbazillac if you want a cheaper version. These are sweet wines, but the notes are marmalade, lanolin, and dried fruit - and it's sweet the way marmalade is compared to jam. I love the complexity of these wines, the layers of flavour, and the length of time it lasts. I think they're perfect on their own to end a meal, and better matched with cheese (something like a Stilton would be the classic match) rather than the trickier proposition of trying to find a dessert which doesn't overshadow the wine.
However you choose to drink a Sauturnes though, keep it simple and let the quality of the wine sing out. In terms of buying, do a little bit of research. For the very best Sauturnes the grapes are picked individually when they've achieved just the right amount of noble rot (botrytis). They don't yield a lot of juice, and everything about making these wines will be painstaking.
That doesn't, and shouldn't, come cheap. Around £20 for a half bottle would be the entry point for something good. Waitrose do an excellent in partnership wine with Chateau Suduiraut for about £16 which is tremendously good value. De Bortoli Noble One is an Australian version (same grapes, same process) of Sauturnes also exquisite, and around £20. A good wine merchant will be able to advise on what they have with reference to both vineyards and vintages - just don't be tempted to economise (better to do without altogether) because this should be a glorious, unctuous, golden, treat.
In many ways then a Sauturnes is my ideal wine to match with a book because it's so good without food, more specifically the kind of book which demands a bit of thought, one where you can pause to consider the wine along with the point of what you're reading. Marina Warner's 'Forms of Enchantment, Writings on Art and Artists' is just such a book.
I'm really looking forward to having the time to read this book properly, I'm familiar enough with most of the artists Warner covers to be interested by the ones I don't yet know, and very interested to read her thoughts on the work of people like Paula Rego, Henry Fuseli, Louise Bourgeois, Damien Hirst, and Hieronymus Bosch particularly. The illustrations are excellent quality (and the paper feels particularly nice too). This is exactly what I want to be reading in January when I have time to think again.