By S.M. King
Little known in the United States, Sauternes hails from the Bordeaux region of France, which is famous everywhere for its fine red wines. Sauternes, however, is a sweet white wine, popularly served after meals. One might refer to it as almost a “white Port,” but Sauternes truly belongs in a category of its own.
Unlike other sweet wines, Sauternes contain no additives whatsoever. It obtains its sweetness from the concentrated sugars of the grape alone, with thanks to pourriture noble, which means “noble rot,” in reference to a fungus which attacks the grapes in the autumn, causing them to shrivel on the vine. The shriveled grapes are picked individually, while fruit that remains unaffected is left on the vine to be harvested later. This is a time-consuming process, which is reflected in the considerable price of a good Sauternes.
These wines begin life with a pale, yellow color, which mellows to light amber and matures to almost brown. At any age, Sauternes will share a rich, sticky sweetness. The most famous are produced at Chateau d’Yquem, but almost any chateau label will provide you with an excellent quality product. You should also be aware that many decent wines of this variety are simply labeled Sauternes. Other labels include Barsac, Bommes, Fargues and Preignac, but these are not generally sold in the United States.
Like the best Port, Sauternes is usually saved for intimate occasions, as a special treat. It is served well chilled, but not iced. The alcohol content is quite high, so it is served in smaller quantities than other wines, in a regular wine glass filled about halfway. Some people will enjoy it with a light desert, but an enthusiast would advise you to drink it alone, in order to appreciate its finer qualities. Either way, Sauternes is a delight to be enjoyed, again and again.