Wine 26: Sauternes

This one goes out to all those who can’t get enough of those sweet or dessert wines, but looking for something other than your typical moscato or sweet riesling. Sauternes is a blend of three varietals grown in the Sauternais region of Bordeaux, France. There are many appellations within this region, such as Cadillac, Barsac, and Sauternes, who produce this type of wine, composed of sémillon, sauvignon blanc, and muscadelle which have been affected by Botrytis, or noble rot.

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This handy map is included in one of my favorite wine books: Wine Folly: The Essential Guide to Wine.

There is an article I found that talked about how Sauternes is a bit challenging to sell, but it seems that based on market trends, they’re looking for millennials to become the new drinkers of this style, as they’ve got a palate that craves sweeter wines.

Let’s learn a few tidbits about the two varietals I haven’t featured before:

semillon-wine-and-grapes.jpgSémillon

  • Primarily grown in France and Australia.
  • French versions of this grape will typically produce flavors of lime, beeswax, chamomile, and saline (not surprising on account of the proximity to water and sea).
  • By itself, sémillon is a dry, full-bodied white balanced by medium fruit, acidity and alcohol levels. But its flavors can range from sauvignon blanc style to that of an oaked chardonnay.
  • Cooler climates almost never oak-age sémillon, but warmer climates more often do.
  • Adds body and tropical fruit notes to blends, and as it ages, it takes on deeper honey flavors and creamier textures.

Muscadelle

  • Is a half-sibling of chardonnay, as their ‘mother’ grape is gouais blanc.
  • Though used in Bordeaux blends, it’s more famous for being the star in Australia’s fortified wine: topaque (formerly known as tokay).
  • Not to be confused with the South African muscadel, which is a muscat. Muscadelle is not a muscat.
  • Usually makes up only a small portion of the Sauternes blend.
  • Adds floral characters to wines.

The average glass of Sauternes has about 17 grams of residual sugar. For comparison’s sake, a can of regular Coke has about 39g. Sure, that may put things into perspective, but consider that a serving of Sauternes is only 4oz. whereas a Coke is 3x that.

It’s not uncommon to be confused by a French wine’s label; there’s so much information, typically in a language you probably don’t understand. I personally feel like labels don’t contain all the info I want, let alone information that is helpful to anyone who is new to the wine game. Wine Folly actually has a pretty nifty article about decoding wine labels; I recommend checking it out!

For this tasting, I asked a local wine shop for a recommendation, within the parameters that I didn’t want to shell out an obscene amount on a sweet wine I may not even drink the entirety of. Many of these dessert wines come in half bottles, especially when you consider how they’re made. I ended up paying about $23 for this 375mL 2012 Sablettes Grand Vin de Bordeaux (this means that it’s at least one of if not the best wine the producer offers).

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Two glasses! Shared this one with my twin sis!

This wine has 13.5% ABV, which, when you consider the amount of residual sugar in this wine, is extremely high!

Appearance: Deep yellow to deep gold, this wine looks like it’s liquid honey.

Nose: Picked up strong honey notes, pear, green apple, and over-ripened pineapple. I was surprised by how fruity it smelled – powerful fragrances! – considering I knew this would be a sweet tasting wine.

Taste: Surprisingly, those fruity flavors barely made an appearance on the palate. What I got was darker caramel – like the top of a creme brûlée that you crack so lightly with your spoon (I love creme brûlée), combined with a soft citrus character balanced by a bit of acidity which I’d equate to the taste of lemon bars.

Overall: Less painful to drink than eiswein, but one that you won’t find me purchasing again. I even tasted this over a few days to see if the wine flavors would change. I do think that the sweetness seemed to soften a bit (or maybe I was just getting used to it?), but this was still probably a bit too sweet for my personal palate.

As far as food pairings go, Karen MacNeil notes that one of the principles is pairing richness with richness, so a Sauternes paired with foie gras is the most perfect and decadent pairing. If you don’t want to go to the foie gras route because, let’s be honest, I don’t normally buy/make it and most restaurants I go to don’t offer it, you could also pair this wine with a dessert, although you need to be careful. If the dessert is sweeter than the wine itself, the wine could fall flat on the flavor scale, and that’s no fun. So be sure to find a dessert that isn’t too sweet – like a fruit or nut tart or even a piece of plain cheesecake – to let both the wine and food shine.

I’ve got one more white wine planned for you next time, before I probably turn my attention back to the reds for a bit….stay tuned and happy drinking!

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