WINE SCHOOL 18 - 24 December 2017

REGION: France > Bordeaux > Sauternes

Situated at the southern end of the Bordeaux region, Sauternes produces exclusively sweet white wines. The wines need to pass a taste test rather than meet any empirical measure such as residual sugar levels.

The appelation is bounded by the river Garonne and traversed by a tributary - the Ciron - which creates a moist atmosphere. When combined with sufficient autumnal sunshine, this encourages the onset of botrytis which, in turn, increases the sweetness and complexity of the wines.

Despite these felicitous conditions, the production of good noble rot Sauternes requires labour intensive harvesting and selection methods together with a good degree of luck, hence the prices of good vintages must be set at levels to compensate and offset unsuccessful vintages.

Key white grapes: Sémillon, Sauvignon Blanc, Muscadelle

GRAPE: Sémillon

Semillon is the key grape in what is probably the wine world's longest lived unfortified wine: Sauternes. Wines that are 100, 200, such as those of Chateau d'Yquem, have beguiled may of those The thin skins of Semillon grapes make them particularly susceptible to noble rot and it is the major ingredient in all Sauternes - the rich, viscous, often ethereal sweet botrytized wines for which that corner of Bordeaux is rightly famed. Elsewhere in Bordeaux it is blended with Sauvignon Blanc in dry table wines which range in quality from basic quaffers to more refined specimens.

Semillon is an easy grape to grow and was once much more widely planted. In recent years it has been usurped by the market's demand for Sauvignon Blanc and Chardonnay but is still found on a small scale in many winemaking countries.

When young, Semillon can exhibit some of the vibrant grassiness of Sauvignon but more often makes non-descript, one dimensional wines perhaps with a little lemon or apricot fragrance. With Semillon, perhaps more than any other white grape, patience is needed. Deceptively simple young wines can grow up to become stately wines of breadth and depth. And it is in Australia's Hunter Valley that this has been most impressively demonstrated, where a number of winemakers have crafted examples that at 5, 10 or 15 years old satisfy with attractive and persistent aromas of fruit, honey and nuts.


Next week in WINE SCHOOL: Champagne (France) & Pinot Meunier

By retailer By wine name