Sauternes is a much sort after French sweet wine from the Sauternes region of the Graves section in Bordeaux, France. Sauternes is made from Semillon, Sauvignon Blanc, and Muscadelle grape varietals that have been affected by Botrytis cinerea - also known as noble rot. This causes the grapes to become partially dehydrated while growing on the vine, resulting in very concentrated and distinctively flavoured grapes.
Due to its unique climate and geography, Sauternes is one of the few wine regions where infection with noble rot occurs frequently. This being said - there are varying harvests and quality of infected grape bunches from vintage to vintage. Sauternes wines can be expensive, due largely to the high cost of production, small volumes made and also due to their consistent high quality and demand.
Sauternes wine region comprises five communes - Barsac, Sauternes, Bommes, Fargues and Preignac. To qualify for the Sauternes label, the finished wines must have a minimum 13% alcohol and pass a tasting exam, though there is no regulation on the exact amount of residual sugar that the wine needs.
After the individual grapes and bunches are very carefully hand-picked into small baskets and taken to the winery. These extremely fragile grapes are treated very gently during pressing and fermentation frequently takes place in oak barrels with the house style dictating the amount of new oak used.
After a slow fermentation the wine can be aged from 18-36 months in oak barrels prior to blending, bottling and release. Semillon can make up to 75-90% of a Sauternes blend, though weather conditions can effect the final composition as the grapes are not evenly affected by the noble rot.
Semillon is very easily affected due to its thin skin, though Sauvignon Blanc is normally affected first. Sauvignon Blanc is valued for the acidity that it can add to the blend and its ability to harmonize with Semillon. Muscadelle is used in very small quantities, if at all, and contributes aromatic qualities to the finished wine. Sauternes can age quite easily for 20-30 years, and some vintages can age 50 years plus. Served slightly chilled at 8-10ºC