A Few Tasty Sauternes

As promised in the last two posts on a tasting event I attended called, Discover Bordeaux, I will talk about a few of the wines from the Sauternes region of Bordeaux that I tried.  (See also my post on some good value Bordeaux from the same tasting).

The sweet wines of Sauternes are sublime, complex, delicious, and actually pair well with a number of foods, and are not as well known as they should be.

It’s not too long ago that sweetness in a wine was valued not just for its flavour, but for its nutritional value too.  Unfortunately, truck loads of poor quality, sickly sweet wines were produced all over Bordeaux, which quickly undermined the excellent quality of many wines from Sauternes.  By the 1960s the damage was huge.  Even some of the prestigious estates of Sauternes began to take less care with their wines.  It wasn’t until the 1980s that the revival began.

Sauternes was included in the 1855 classification of Bordeaux indicating how highly valued these wines were in the mid 19th century.  The famous estate, Chateau d’Yquem was even given the lofty status of Premier Grand Cru, not just a Premier Cru.  While the classification is not entirely valid anymore, as some properties have split up or been absorbed by others, it remains the same.

There are 5 communes within the region:  Sauternes, Bommes, Fargues, Preignac, Barsac.  Barsac has a distinctive citric character and is lighter in colour and texture.

The wines are made with grapes infected with Noble Rot (the scientific name is Botrytis Cinerea).  Noble Rot is a fungus that attacks the grapes causing them to shrivel, inducing a chemical reaction within the grapes that ultimately produces a very complex wine.  The location of Sauternes is perfect for the development of the fungus.  Its proximity to two rivers gives it a humid microclimate that frequently produces morning mists.  The mists usually burn off by the afternoon when the warm sun then dries the grapes.  In order for Botrytis to be beneficial to the winemaking process, it must attack ripe, undamaged grapes.  If the grapes are damaged, unripe, or conditions are unfavourable, the resulting wine can be quite unpleasant.  Please read my article on Suite 101 called, “What is Sauternes?” for more information on the production of these delicious wines and some ideas for food pairings.

Tasting Notes:

Chateau Doisy-Daene 2007: The property, located in Barsac, was probably first planted in the early 18th century and is currently planted with 87% Semillon, 12% Sauvignon Blanc, and 1% Muscadelle.  The soil is a mix of red sand and clay with a solid limestone bedrock.  In the 1855 classification it was designated a 2nd growth.  The grand vin is a blend of 80% Semillon and 20% Sauvignon Blanc.  After fermentation in stainless steel, the wine goes into new oak barrels.  The 2007 vintage has an intense nose with aromas of ripe peach, honeysuckle, honey, apricot, pineapple, and vanilla.  It has succulent flavours of ripe tropical fruit, honey, and peach.  The long length seems to go on forever.  A truly amazing wine! ($62/750ml bottle).

Chateau La Tour Blanche 2007: This property was established sometime in the 18th century and was classified as a Premier Cru in the 1855 classification of Sauternes and Barsac.  The wines are fermented in oak.  The nose is not as intense as the Doisy-Daene, but there still  pleasant aromas of beeswax, honey, apricot, and peach, along with a floral note.  I also detected a hint of nail polish remover.  It has a luxurious texture with concentrated flavours of honey, apricot, and peach with a good streak of acidity to help balance the sweetness. ($46/375ml bottle).

Chateau Guiraud 2007: This property was also classified as a Premier Cru in the 1855 classification of Sauternes and Barsac.  The vineyards are planted with 65% Semillon and 35% Sauvignon Blanc which seems like a high % of Sauvignon Blanc, but most is used to make a dry white wine.  The grapes are picked at a yield of about 12hl/ha and are fermented separately by block.  The finished wine then goes into new oak for up to 2 years.  The 2007 vintage has elegant aromas of apricot, honey, orange blossom, pineapple, beeswax, and a hint of nail polish remover.  The beeswax and fruit follow through onto the palate where there is a long luxurious finish. ($72/750ml bottle).

Yes, most Sauternes is quite expensive to buy but that’s because of the stratospheric production costs of these wines.  The labour required to pass through the vineyards several times looking for perfectly rotten grapes and the extremely low yields that are harvested all contribute to making this a very expensive wine.  Some years the weather doesn’t cooperate and the development of Noble Rot hindered, so less wine is produced in those years.  A few vintages have been so bad that some estates have made no sweet Sauternes at all.  However, if you do have a few extra dollars to spend and you have never tasted a sweet Sauternes, I recommend that you give it a try.

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