Sauternes is a much sort after sweet white wine from the Sauternes wine region of the Graves area in Bordeaux - France. Sauternes are typically made from Semillon and Sauvignon Blanc grape varietals that have been affected by Botrytis Cinerea - also known as noble rot. Botrytis causes the grapes to partially dehydrated (shrivel, raisin) while still growing on the vine, resulting in very concentrated and distinctively sweet grapes.
Due to its unique climate and geography, Sauternes is one of the few wine areas where noble rot occurs naturally and frequently. This being said - there are varied harvests and quality of infected grapes from vintage to vintage. Sauternes wine can be expensive, due to being highly labour intensive, small volumes and due to their consistent high quality and demand.

 

The Sauternes wine area is divided into 5 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 specific regulation on the exact level of residual sugar required in the finished wine.
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 always 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 brings to the blend and its ability to partner 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