Sauternes is a wine producing appellation, or area, just to the south of Bordeaux famous for its sweet white wines. It consists of five communes, or villages – Sauternes itself, Bommes, Fargues, Preignac and Barsac. Barsac is also an appellation in its own right and, uniquely, wine made in Barsac can either be labelled as Barsac or Sauternes.
The vineyards are situated on a low plateau sloping towards the Garonne some 35km to the south of Bordeaux. The diversity of soils and sub-soils give the various Sauternes vineyards their special personality. There are many complex layers of gravel above base layers of limestone and sand. The gravel was deposited by much larger Garonne many years ago and contains a wide range of minerals and rocks from as far away as the Pyranees. Barsac vineyards have a slightly different geological make up to the rest of Sauternes with clay top soils over the limestone bedrock, the remains of an ancient ocean, and more recent alluvial soils nearer Barsac itself and the River Garonne.
The majority of the vineyards are planted with Semillon vines with up to 40% Sauvignon Blanc in some vineyards and small amounts of Muscadelle and Sauvignon Gris.
Sauternes wines are mainly sweet, although some dry white wines are made too. To make the more famous sweet wines the grapes are left on the vines until Botrytis affects the bunches. Picking is by hand and several passes or ‘tries’ are made through the vines to both eliminate poor grapes and select ones that have reached the desired shrivelled or ‘roti’ stage. When sugar levels are high some plain or ‘golden’ grapes may be picked alongside those affected by Botrytis to achieve the desired balance between sweetness, acidity and the intense fruit flavours acquired as a result of the natural desiccation of the grapes by the Botrytis.
After pressing musts are mainly fermented in oak barrels although some prefer stainless steel or concrete tanks where temperatures can be more easily controlled. Typically wines then receive between 6 and 18 months aging in oak barrels with some wines spending extra time in stainless steel tanks before bottling.
The results are some of the best white wines in the world, dry or sweet! They can be drunk young but the best wines from the best vintages also have the potential to age for many decades, gradually altering in style whilst retaining incredible freshness! Contrary to perceived opinions they can be drunk as an aperitif, throughout a meal or as a digestif – “From Soup to Nuts!” according to the Michelin starred chef, Hélène Darroze.
Premier Cru Supérieur (Exceptional First Growth) – Chateau d’Yquem
Premier Crus (or First Growths) – Chateau Guiraud, Clos Haut-Peyraguey, Chateau Lafaurie-Peyraguey, Chateau Rabaud Promis, Chateau de Rayne-Vigneau, Chateau Rieussec, Chateau Sigalas-Rabaud, Chateau Suduiraut and Chateau La Tour Blanche
Deuxièmes Crus (or Second Growths) – Chateau d’Arche, Chateau Filhot, Chateau Lamothe Despujols, Chateau Lamothe-Guignard, Chateau de Malle, Chateau Romer, and Chateau Romer du Hayot
Special Cuvées – Chateau d’Arche-Lafaurie, Château Gilette Crème de Tête, Chateau Suduiraut Crème de Tête, Dulce Vita de Clos Dady
Unclassified (considered of consistent top quality) – Chateau de Fargues, Chateau Gilette, Chateau Raymond Lafon
Unclassified – Chateau l’Agnet la Carriere, Domaine de l’Alliance, Cru d’Arche-Pugneau, Chateau d’Argilas le Pape, Chateau d’Armajan des Ormes, Cru d’Arrancon, Chateau des Arrieux, Chateau Augey, Domaine de Baboye, Chateau Barbier, Chateau Barjuneau, Domaine de Barjuneau Chauvin, Domaine de Barrau, Cru Bas Peyraguey, Chateau Bastor-Lamontagne, Domaine Baylieu, Chateau Bechereau, Chateau Bergeron, Chateau Briatte, Chateau Boutoc, Chateau Cameron, Chateau Candale, Chateau Caplane, Domaine de Carbonnieu, Cru Claverie, Chateau Comet-Magey, Chateau de Commarque, Domaine de la Cote, Domaine de Couite, Domaine du Coy, Chateau Cru Peyraguey, Clos Dady, l’Enclos, Chateau l’Ermitage, Domaine de Fillau, Clos Fontaine, Domaine de la Foret, Chateau la Garenne, Domaine de la Gauche, Chateau des Grandes Vignes, Chateau du Haire, Domaine du Haire, Chateau Haut Bergeron, Chateau Haut Bommes, Chateau Haut Caplane, Chateau Haut Claverie, Chateau Haut-Mayne, Chateau Haut-Pick, Cru Janonier, Cru du Domaine de Janton, Chateau Jean Galant, Domaine des Jouaous, Chateau du Juge, Chateau les Justices, Chateau Lafon, Chateau Lafon-Laroze, Chateau Lamaringue, Chateau Lamourette, Chateau Lange Picot, Chateau Lange Reglat, Chateau Laribotte, Chateau Larose Monteils, Chateau Lauvignac, Chateau Laville, Chateau Ketty, Domaine Magni Thibault, Chateau Mauras, Chateau de Mauvin, Chateau le Mayne, Chateau Monet, Chateau Monteils, Domaine de Monteils, Cru Mothes, Chateau Mothes Mouret, Chateau de Mounic, Domaine du Pajot, Chateau Partarrieu, Clos du Pavillon, Chateau Peillon Claverie, Chateau Peyron, Chateau Pick Laborde, Chateau Pierrie Saint Maxime, Clos Pilotte, Cru Pouteau, Domaine de Pouteau, Domaine de Quincarnon, Chateau Raymond-Louis, Chateau les Regeons, Chateau La Riviere, Chateau Rouquette, Domaine de Roussanne, Chateau Sahuc les Tours, Chateau Saint-Amand, Domaine le Tachon, Chateau Thibaut, Chateau Trillon, Clos le Tuileries, Chateau Tuyttens, Chateau de Veyres, Chateau de la Vieille Tuilerie, Chateau Violet, Cru du Violet, Chateau Voigny
Second Wines – Carmes de Rieussec, Castelnau de Suduiraut, Chapelle de Lafaurie-Peyraguey, Les Charmilles de La Tour Blanche, Lion de Suduiraut, Madame de Rayne-Vigneau, Petit Guiraud, Prieuré d’Arche
Best Recent Vintages:
2011 – 8 Fresh, vibrant wines with both good botrytis and acidity
2010 – 8 Fresh styled but complex wines with great tone
2009 – 9 Exceptionally rich wines but still with enough acidity to provide balance
2008 – 6 Tiny harvest but pure and fine wines
2007 – 8 Magic tone and character from fresh acidity on top of good richness
2006 – 5 Softer wines , sweeter and fatter than other vintages and less powerful
2005 – 9 An exceptional vintage, with a pure yet concentrated style
2004 – 5 A wet start meant this vintage was overlooked but there was great botrytis
2003 – 6 One of the hottest vintages on record – intensely fat and sweet wines
2002 – 6 A spun-out affair – the wines have a ‘cool’ nature, almost northern
2001 – 10 Superlative vintage with September rain resulting in great Botrytis
2000 – 5 Great Summer but October rain meant lighter, more fragrant wines
1999 – 7 A much overlooked, almost forgotten vintage with highly ‘evolved’ wines
1998 – 5 A wonderful ‘beginning and end’ vintage – shame about the rainy middle
1997 – 8 After a wet Summer the weather changed – big, roasted and powerful wines
1996 – 6 A good ‘later pick’ vintage drinking perfectly now
1990 – 8 An early Summer and vintage with some sensational wines
1989 – 9 An excellent vintage of power and concentration
1988 – 8 An outstanding vintage with finely tuned classic wines
1986 – 6 Many rich and complex wines
1983 – 8 A very late vintage produced some truly classic wines
For a selection of Sauternes wines click here – Wine from Sauternes