Sauternes & Barsac
Sauternes is 25 miles south east of the city of Bordeaux and is in Graves. It produces the famous sweet dessert wines such as Château d'Yquem. Sauternes lies in the hollow where the river Garonne and its tributary the Ciron converge and its vineyards span 4,500 acres. The source of the Ciron is a spring which has cooler waters than the Garonne. In the autumn, when the climate is warm and dry, the different temperatures from the two rivers meet to produce mist that descends upon the vineyards from dusk till dawn. The mist helps the development of the botrytis cinerea fungus (known as noble rot).
Noble Rot makes the the grape concentrate the flavours and sugars whilst keeping a high level of acidity. By mid day, the warm sun will help dissipate the mist and dry the grapes to keep them from developing less favourable rot. Sauternes has 5 communes - Barsac, Sauternes, Bommes, Fargues and Preignac. All 5 can use the name Sauternes but Barsac also has its own appellation. Click here for the 1855 Classification of Sauternes and Barsac listing the Chateaux.
Terroir and Grapes
Being from the Graves region the terroir of Sauternes is gravel, clay and limestone but Barsac ( which is in the north west of Sauternes) has a red, sandy alluvial limestone base and its wines have a different character. The grapes grown in Sauternes are those which make White Bordeaux – Sémillon, Sauvignon Blanc and Muscadelle. Unlike White Bordeaux Sémillon,makes up most of the blend as it is easily infected with Noble Rot. Sauvignon Blanc provides acidity to counter balance the sweetness and Muscadelle contributes fragrance.
Sauternes is expensive due to the labour intensive methods of its production. Grapes have to be hand picked so that only those with Noble Rot are selected and yields can be low. It is said that one grape vine only makes enough juice to make one glass of wine. Although these are dessert wines their sweetness is not cloying due to their zesty acidity.
Flavours can include apricots, peaches, dried pineapple, nuts and honey and the finish lasts on the palate for a long time. Their colour is gold which darkens with time to a deep copper. The wine should be served chilled at around 11ºC. Wines from Barsac are lighter and have a fresher style. These dessert wines have an incredible ability to age and continue to develop for decades.