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Bordeaux Sauternes

Just south of Bordeaux lies the region that sends lovers of fine wines into raptures. Even US president Thomas Jefferson succumbed to the charm of these wines in the 18th century.

Geography

Sauternes is located 40 kilometres south-east of Bordeaux. With a vineyard area of around 2,000 hectares, the appellation extends over five communes: Sauternes, Bommes, Fargues, Preignac and Barsac. Barsac also has its own appellation for its sweet wines, with a vineyard area of around 900 hectares. A small, compact area, Sauternes has retained its rural charm despite its proximity to the metropolis of Bordeaux. It is bordered by the Garonne to the east and its tributary the Ciron to the south east. Estates in the Sauternais are classified, too: there are 11 Premiers Crus und 14 Deuxièmes Crus. The famous Château d'Yquem is honoured with the distinction of Premier Cru Supérieur. While American ambassador in Paris, Thomas Jefferson rhapsodized about the noble sweet wine and bought several bottles.

Terroir

The Garonne brings pebbles and gravel from the Pyrenees into the Bordelais, along with loam and chalk. The soils are permeable, and quick to warm up. Climate is crucial for Sauternes: the cool Ciron river, which flows into the warmer Garonne, causes morning mists in autumn – and the resulting high humidity promotes the growth of the botrytis cinerea fungus on fully ripe grapes, which penetrates the fruit through its skin. Water evaporates through the perforated skin, the sugar content is concentrated and the grape dries out. For the production of Sauternes they can never be harvested all at once. Experienced pickers select only the best grapes on each pass. The quality of a Sauternes vintage is very dependent on the weather. If it rains in late autumn, the grapes become saturated and the sugar concentration is diluted.

Varieties

Sémillon is the main grape variety, plus around 25% Sauvignon blanc and a small proportion of Muscadelle.

Style

Classic Sauternes, golden yellow in colour, plays with the luscious aromas of the two grape varieties: Sémillon brings notes of honey and flowers to the cuvée, while Sauvignon blanc is responsible for its fruity components – at best, exotic fruits like mango and a hint of grapefruit. The botrytis cinerea fungus also has an important role, providing the opulent, creamy feel on the palate and producing various substances and acids that create the very discreet notes of hazelnut and undergrowth.

Best age for drinking

3-8 years for basic wines and those of the Barsac appellation5-20 years for good vintagesUp to 60 years for top crus from outstanding vintages

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