Sauternes, Barsac, Loupiac, Cadilliac, St. Croix du Mont. Not all of these names roll-trippingly-off-the-tongue but all of them do thrill the tongue. All of these are sweet wine appellations in Bordeaux. Sweet wine in Bordeaux? While we think first of the Cabernet-and-Merlot-based red wines and maybe second of dry fresh Sauvignon Blanc-based white wines from Bordeaux, the Sweet Whites – the most famous of which is Sauternes – comprise some of the greatest wines of Bordeaux.
MY SAUTERNES WAKEUP CALL
My wakeup call for Sauternes came at VinExpo a few years back when Archie and Ivanhoe Johnston (two of the three brothers who own Bordeaux negoçiant Nathaniel Johnston) asked me to be sure to stop by their stand at 11am for a glass of Ch. d’Yquem, the most famous of all the great wines of Sauternes. After three days of walking the halls at the world’s largest wine trade fair, I was dragging and as 11am approached, I found myself in the wrong place. But, because they are my friends and because it was Ch. d’Yquem, I slogged almost the length of the enormous Espace du Lac exhibit hall to the Johnston stand. When I arrived the ever-smiling bothers offered me a seat and then a small glass of the nectar that is Ch. d’Yquem. Even as I took the first sip, I began to revive. And yes, I swallowed. The wine was bright and vivid, fresh and refreshing. It combined honey and citrus and exotic spice with power, elegance and vivacity. As I sipped, it revived and re-energized me and gave me a wake up call both for the day and for my wine drinking life. I was refreshed for the day and I was reminded of the great pleasure to be found in fine Sauternes. And that vivid reminder has stuck with me. Sauternes has returned (I hope to stay) to my list of wine drinking pleasures.
A SAUTERNES PRIMER
Sauternes is a sweet white wine from an appellation also called Sauternes which is on the left bank of the Garonne river to south (below Graves) and a bit to the west of the city of Bordeaux. On the west (left) bank of the river are the sweet wine appellations of Ceron, Barsac, and Sauternes. On the east (right) bank are the sweet wine appellations of Cadillac, Loupiac, and St. Croix du Mont. All make fine and even excellent wines but of the six, Sauternes is far and away the best known. In fact, the wines of the next best known appellation, Barsac, may be sold as Sauternes. Between the two – Sauternes and Barsac – come all the best sweet whites of Bordeaux. All six appellations make their wines from the same (mostly rotten) grapes. The officially allowed grapes include Semillon, Sauvignon Blanc, Sauvignon Gris, and Muscadelle de Bordelaise. Unofficially, I’ve heard that some of the oldest plots still feature a few hold out vines of Riesling. (Click Here to Read More)