This has been a quiet Fall due to the ongoing Coronavirus but the one thing that must continue is the harvesting of the grapes. It's that time of year. Harvest actually started about a month ago but it continues throughout a period of 4-5 weeks as Bordeaux has many different varieties that ripen at various times. Especially in making the sweet white wine of the region. Wines from the Sauternes, Barsac, St.Croix du Mont, and Cenon appellations are all made with grapes that have experienced noble rot (or botrytis cinerea). This rotting process begins when the Autumn fog arrives in the valley creating humidity on the grapes. The fungus slowly affects each grape piercing holes into the skin which allows some of the juice to evaporate but also the sugar levels are concentrated inside. Eventually, the ideal grape for these wines is one that looks almost like a raison. But of course, Mother nature is not perfect and each grape within each cluster is affected differently and at its own rate. Therefore, harvesting is done by hand and takes numerous passes (over a couple of weeks) through the vineyards to only clip each section that is truly ready to harvest.
I had the opportunity earlier this week to head down to the Sauternes region, specifically to catch up with some friends for a coffee but also to explore the Maison du Sauternes & La Maison du Vigneron. Both shops offer an opportunity to buy bottles of Sauternes from different vineyards and also an opportunity to taste. It's a nice way to compare wines from the same appellation but from different properties. It's fascinating to taste the differences in style & age.
La Masion du Sauternes:
The Maison du Sauternes is essentially the store of the local wine growers association and represents today over 60 growers. It's a wonderful place to come to compare the different wines - (not all Sauternes are created equal!) and also to purchase within any budget. Additionally, it's nice to compare a young Sauternes wine to an older one. Bottles can be purchased individually or gift boxes can be created. The shop also sells other wine associated items and some local specialities.
Our first tasting was the Duc de Sauternes. This is a very special wine, derived from 60 winegrowers in the region. This annual production began back in 1976 when all the wine producers of the region needed to pay into the syndicat vitiacole (Regional wine union/Association). Instead of paying in cash, they chose to donate one percent of their grapes directly to the local union to create a blended wine that would be their image and global reflection of the Sauternes Appellation. The tasting, blending and bottling all takes place at the Maison du Sauternes in their cellar.
The second tasting that we had was from Chateau Raymond La Fon. I enjoyed tasting from this chateaux as it's not included in the 1855 classification, (in came into existence after the famous classification) but is still considered one of the top wines of the region. The vineyard shares a border with the famous Chateaux d'Yquem so benefits from excellent terrior both in soil and position on the hill side. This 2009 was delicious - full palette, full mouthfeel, with notes of honey, and candied fruit of orange, apricots, mangos and pineapple. A round complex flavor - a treat for the taste buds and truly a classic sauternes wine.
La maison du Vignerons de Sauternes
This is the wine shop of The Desqueyroux family who have owned Château Cherchy - Commarque for more than 50 years. Their vineyards lie in the 2 appellations of the Sauternes & the Graves allowing them to make dry red & white along with sweet white wines. This family is additonally considered pioneers in the domain of wine tourism, and have been welcoming visitors and tourists since the 1990s, guiding them through the beautiful Sauternes vineyards in a relaxed and informative manner. Their shop showcases their wines along with other wines from the classified estates & other family producers. Additionally, one can find regional delicacies on their shelves.
We met Chrystelle Desqueyroux who introduced us to her family wines.
We tasted their red wine - Chateau Cherchy -2014 of the Graves appellation and 2 of their Sauternes wines from 2015 - their normal blend and a cuvee exception that was created that year due to the excellent growing conditions.
The Red Graves, a blend of Merlot & Cabernet Sauvignon, was well balanced, fruity - soft strawberry & raspberry notes with good minerality.
The white wines are blends of the 3 white grape varieties used in the area - Semillon, Sauvignon Blanc and Muscadelle. The first, their normal blend was fruity, light with a freshness but still elegant and round in mouthfeel. This blend could certainly age some more but is lovely now as a lighter fresher option. It would pair well with a fruit salad or even with fresh Oysters.
The second, the curvee exception was also fruity, but complex, fuller in taste and with great potential to age. There was an elegance to this blend and it would definitely pair well with a delicious fois gras or a strong cheese.
Even looking at the photo, these 2015 wines differ in color. The classic being lighter in color and the cuvee exception having a richer more amber color. It was lovely to meet Chrystelle and taste her family's wines. I definitely recommend stopped by this shop if you are passing through the village of Sauternes.
One can see from this map how small the Sauternes appellation (in yellow) as compared to the AOC Graves (light red).
Fellow colleagues & guides- When guides go exploring! Feel free to check out Aquitaine Travel Guide for tours that focus on local cuisine and gastronomy in the countryside.
Much of the land surrounding the village of Sauternes are vineyards proudly growing grapes for their prized appellation. In fact the Sauternes appellation includes all land in the villages of Sauternes, Bommes, Preignac, Barsac and Fargues. It's a beautiful area.
Looking out amongst the vines up on the hill top is Chateau d'Yquem considered the prized and most expensive wine of the area.
I hope you enjoyed learning a bit more about the village of Sauternes and it's prized wines. Visiting this area is a true experience in itself and even if you are not a fan of sweet wines - learning about the work and passion that goes into making the wine is alone worth the trip.