Dear wine lovers,
Located 25 miles south-east of Bordeaux is nestled one of its smallest appellations : Sauternes*.
This area, where the soil is composed of gravels and clayey-limestone, is special in the way that it fosters the development of noble rot** (Botrytis Cinerea) which doesn't affect the quality and permits the grape to over-ripen even when the grape looks in poor condition.
This phenomenon is due to the "terroir" where the Ciron River that flows from here to the Garonne, creates fog in autumn when this fungus finds the right conditions for its development.
The legend has it that vintners found out about "noble rot" after of one them spent his summer holidays away and fell in love, eventually returning home, a bit late, after the harvest season... He decided to harvest the over-ripe grapes which were rotten and created a wine that turned out to be very good and very feminine !
Sauternes is actually a lesson in patience. Not only do you need this fog to occur but you want to gather when the grapes are ready, which requires you to come back to the same parcels 3 or 4 times to pick the grapes that eventually will produce one glass per vine.
Mainly made from of Sauvignon with Sémillon and Muscadelle, Sauternes is a powerful and delicate sweet wine that develops pineapple, nut and honey flavors when it ages and turns into this beautiful gold color. Of course, you can serve it with “foie gras” but my preference is to pour it with cheese and dessert or with both, such as this pear / roquefort tart recipe :
Consistent in quality are Château de Fragues, Château Suduiraut and of course Château Rieussec of which I had the chance to sip a glass of 1989 last year. The king of all these Sauternes is Château d'Yquem.
Smaller and family-run vineyards which are worth a try are Château Monteils where Hervé is doing a great job and Château Clos Haut-Peyraguey.
Lastly, note that the good vintages have nothing to do with what the "wine wizards" try to impose on us in the Bordeaux area. The 2002 and 1997 (supposedly average in Bordeaux) are actually nice ones in Sauternes and the good thing is that they are not that reason. The best example is the 1967, a very poor one for regular wines, but the best of the century in Sauternes. By the way, I was born in 1967. So if you are ready to give me a Christmas present, I will bake the pear / roquefort tart and we can share !
Any comments, edits are very welcome at email@example.com
* Listen to "Sauternes"
** Rot = Pourriture
See Sauternes area on a French wine map (use enlarge icon to see it better)
PS : A good Sauternes book :