Sauternes is a famous appellation that produces some of the most outstanding sweet wines in the world. The Sauternes AC lies within the Graves district of France’s Bordeaux region, approximately 25 miles southeast of the city of Bordeaux. Located on the Garonne River, and benefiting from the mist and fog from the river, this designated area includes the five communes of Barsac, Bommes, Fargues, Preignac, and Sauternes. Barsac is unusual in that it has its own appellation, and its wines can be labeled either Barsac AC or Sauternes AC.
The dominant grape in Sauternes is Semillon, although the final blend generally includes some Sauvignon Blanc and, occasionally, small amounts of Muscadelle. In good vintages, this appellation is the lucky recipient of the right climatic conditions to infect the grapes with botrytis cinerea. This beneficial mold causes the grapes to shrivel, leaving sugar-laden fruit full of rich, concentrated flavors. Botrytis cinerea does not always develop, and when it does, it’s sometimes very late, rewarding only those daring vineyard owners who have not picked their grapes, but who have risked losing the entire crop due to inclement weather. The best Sauternes wines come from low-yielding vines that have been handpicked, some as many as 12 separate times, to ensure that the grapes are not picked before reaching the perfect degree of required ripeness.
The resulting classic Sauternes wine is rich and sweet. The botrytis cinerea contributes a desirable honeyed and complex nature to both the aroma and flavor. The Sauternes châteaux were ranked in the Classification of 1855. Château D’Yquem was elevated to a class all by itself. This class is known variously as Premier Grand Cru, Grand Premier Cru or Premier Cru Superieur. It undisputedly makes the best wines in the area and some feel they are the best in Bordeaux. The classification also named eleven Premiers Crus and 15 Deuxièmes Crus. Some of the other châteaux producing extraordinary wines are Château Rieussec, Château Suduiraut and Château Climens.