Sauternes, in France’s Bordeaux region, produces some of the most celebrated sweet wines in the world. The Sauternes appellation lies within the Graves district of Bordeaux, on the Garonne River, where cool, foggy mornings and sunny afternoons play a key role in the creation of this acclaimed dessert wine.
The white grape variety Sémillon is dominant in Sauternes. The area’s damp mornings increase the likelihood of the beneficial mold Botrytis cinerea striking the grapes. Botrytis causes the grapes to shrivel, creating sugar-laden fruit full of rich, concentrated flavors. Botrytis tends to develop late in the growing season, rewarding brave vineyard growers who risk bad weather to leave the grapes on the vine. The resulting Sauternes flavor is rich and sweet, with botrytis contributing a honeyed complexity to the wine.
The Sauternes châteaux were ranked in their own Bordeaux classification in 1855. Château d’Yquem, considered the finest of the Sauternes producers, is in a class all by itself – Premier Grand Cru. Eleven other chateaux are classified first growths for sweet wines in Bordeaux, and 14 are classified second growths.