Jun 03 2012
Sauternes is a wine producing area just to the south of Bordeaux, known for its sweet white wines. It consists of five villages; Sauternes itself, Bommes, Fargues, Preignac and Barsac. Barsac is also an appellation as it stands and, uniquely, wine made in Barsac can either be described as Barsac or Sauternes Wine.
the Vineyards of Sauternes
The vineyards are located on a low lying plateau sloping towards the river Garonne some 35km to the south of Bordeaux. The diversity of soils and sub-soils give the varied Sauternes vineyards their unique character. There are many complex layers of gravel above base layers of limestone and sand. The gravel was dumped thereby the river Garonne Centuries back and contains a whole range of minerals and rocks from as far away as the Pyrenees.
Barsac vineyards have a little different geological make up to the rest of Sauternes, with clay top soils over the limestone footing, the remains of a very old sea, and less ancient alluvial soils nearer Barsac itself and the River Garonne.
The majority of Sauternes vineyards are planted with Semillon vines, with up to 40% Sauvignon Blanc in a number of vineyards and small quantities of Muscadelle and Sauvignon Gris.
The Making of Sauternes Wines
Sauternes wines are principally sweet, although some dry white wines are produced also. To make the renowned sweet wines the grapes are left on the vines until a grape mould known as Botrytis affects them.
At harvesting time, picking is done by hand and several passes are made thru the vines to both eliminate poor grapes and select ones that have attained the necessary shrivelled stage which is also known as the roti stage.
When sugar levels are high some plain or golden grapes will be picked alongside those impacted by Botrytis to attain the required balance between sweetness, acidity and the serious fruit flavours created due to the natural desiccation of the grapes by the Botrytis.
After pressing the grapes, musts are typically fermented in oak barrels, although some wine makers like stainless-steel or concrete tanks where temperatures can be better controlled.
Usually wines then receive between 6 and 18 months aging in oak barrels with some wines spending extra time in stainless steel tanks before bottling.
The results are amongst the best white wines on the planet, dry or sweet! They could be drunk young however best wines from the best vintages also have the ability to age for many decades, gradually changing in style while keeping amazing freshness. In contrast to the opinion that Sauternes is merely a pudding wine, it can be drunk as an aperitif, all through a meal or as a digestive and, maybe shockingly, goes very well with spiced foods.
The way in which the Chateaux are Classified
The Classification of Sauternes wines was done in 1855 and hasn’t modified noticeably since, with Chateau d’Yquem being the only Exceptional First Growth wine. Next up is the First Growth wines; Chateau Guiraud, Clos Haut-Peyraguey, Chateau Lafaurie-Peyraguey, Chateau Rabaud Promis, Chateau de Rayne-Vigneau, Chateau Rieussec, Chateau Sigalas-Rabaud, Chateau Suduiraut and Chateau La Tour Blanche.
The Second Growth wines include; Chateau d’Arche, Chateau Filhot, Chateau Lamothe Despujols, Chateau Lamothe-Guignard, Chateau de Malle, Chateau Romer, and Chateau Romer du Hayot.
Special Cuvees are a separate classification and include; Chateau d’Arche-Lafaurie, Chateau Gilette Creme de Tete, Chateau Suduiraut Creme de Tete and Dulce Vita de Clos Dady.
There are well over 100 Unclassified Sauternes; some such as Chateau de Fargues, Chateau Gilette, and Chateau Raymond Lafon are of a regularly top quality to rival some of the Classed Growth Wines.
Best Vintages This Century
Since the beginning of the 21st Century Sauternes has produced a series of good vintages, some of which are exceptional, rivalling the best wines ever made in Sauternes.
Stephen Webb runs the Sauternes Specialist Blog Bordeaux Gold alongside Bordeaux expert Bill Blatch who is widely recognised at the worldwide expert on these wines. Get a free, detailed guide to the 2011 Sauternes vintage and videos about Sauternes and Barsac wines when you visit the Blog.