Sauternes Wine Region Summary
Sauternes is home to the finest and most famous sweet white wines in Bordeaux, or, indeed, anywhere in the world. Royals and nobles have prized this ‘liquid gold’ for centuries, for its special tropical, honeyed fruit bouquet and silky mouthfeel.
Semillon grapes are particularly susceptible to attack from botrytis, a fungus prized for the way in which it causes grapes to become shriveled, leaving behind a concentrated juice with a very high sugar content. In order for this ‘noble rot’ to take place, the combination of atmospheric conditions must be just right; a warm autumn with morning mists that encourage botrytis especially crucial.
No Sauternes wine is ever guaranteed – if the weather in unkind, then there may be no vintage at all. This is winemaking of painstaking effort. Producers must pay close attention to the progress of ‘noble rot’ among their vines and perform multiple sweeps at harvest, removing by hand just the bunches that are ready. Yields are far lower than in the rest of Bordeaux. These factors are all reflected in the high market price of the unique finished wine.
The luscious juice of Semillon grapes affected by noble rot is blended with Sauvignon Blanc, imparting balancing acidity, and sometimes Muscadelle. The wine matures in-barrel for longer than the reds and dry whites of Bordeaux and it may be years after harvest that a vintage finally comes to market. Once bottled, it continues to mature, visibly changing from light gold, to amber, to toffee-coloured, as it develops ever more layers of fragrant perfume.