Sauternes wines are known for their mellow sweetness and complexity, and fall under the common category of dessert wines. Produced in the vineyards of Sauternes and Barsac, near Bordeaux, these exceptionally sweet wines come from grapes grown in the gravelly soil of the region.
Botrytis, long known as 'noble rot' among vintners, is the secret to the composition of Sauternes wines. Flourishing in the heat and humidity of the region, the botrytis bacteria tends to concentrate the 'noble', or balancing elements of the grapes along with the sugars, the result being the rich, honey-sweet flavor that has made Sauternes wines world famous. Let's look at some of the classic Sauternais wineries of the region.
Of all the Sauternais wineries d'Yquem is the considered the crown jewel. Chateau d'Yquem has built it's fame on being the only wine to be awarded the rank of Grand Premier Cru, the very best of all wines being considered in the famous classification of 1855.
Today Chateau Yquem 2000 is setting a new standard. Chateau Yquem 2000 is prized for it's complex, full bodied flavor. This extravagant Chateau Yquem 2000 has a rich golden color that captivates the eye. Chateau Yquem 2000's flavor carries notes of tropical fruit with a honey and oak bouquet. Because Yquem selects only the premier grapes from the vineyard for it's Chateau Yquem 2000, only one glass of this exceptional wine is produced from each vine.
This premier winery is named for the famous Suduiraut family who occupied the chateau in the 18th century. The chateau has passed through a number of hands over the centuries, but in 1940 Suduiraut came into the hands of Leopold Fonquernie, who revitalized Suduiraut's vineyards, laying a fresh foundation for the Chateau Suduiraut we know today.
Chateau Suduiraut has long been the star of this premier winery, however Suduiraut has introduced a second wine of very high quality, yet priced within reach of the common man, Castelnau de Suduiraut 2001. Castelnau de Suduiraut 2001 holds the sweetness of a true Sauternes, with a slight cidity for balance. Castelnau de Suduiraut 2001 gives a hint of botrytis evidenced by an apricot undertone.
Chateau Climens made it's mark in 1855 when it was classified first vintage. Today, Chateau Climens 2000 is a great favorite. Chateau Climens 2000 has a rather creamy pineapple bouquet, but enough acidity to keep it from being cloying. Chateau Climens 2000 is an exceptional wine, and considered one of the greatest Sauternes wines in the world.
The pledge at Guiraud is that no artificial procedures will be used to concentrate or enrich the noble elements of their wines. Simply Mother Nature's own sunshine, rain, with a little botrytis thrown into the deal.
Chateau Guiraud vintages of 1986, 1996, 1999, and 2001 are all considered outstanding. Chateau Guiraud has a rich honey flavor, and the natural wine making process allows for subtle changes in flavor and texture based on conditions during the growing season.
Chateau Rieussec has been one of the leading producers of Sauternes wines for centuries, and were at one time declared to produce the closest quality to Yquem wines, possibly because the estates abute each other. The quality of Chateau Rieussec's soil earned it a ranking as first growth in the classification of 1855. Chateau Rieussec 1980, and 1983 are both highly prized Sauternes wines with varying degrees of honey and marmalade notes dependent on the levels of botrytis.
The Sauternes wines today remain unparalleled for their mellow sweetness. Isn't quality that has been sustained for hundreds of years worth giving a try?