Classified Bordeaux: Sauternes

Let it be said from the start, that in the 1855 classification of all Bordeaux wines, there was only one Superior Premier Grand Cru Classé and that wine was Château d’Yquem, Sauternes. It is held in higher esteem than perhaps any other wine in the world and has been for centuries. The Sauternes appellation and its neighbor Barsac produce wines that should not be produced in the sense of how much labor it is and what low yields are produced from these acres of land. On the best properties, that yield could be as low as 170 gallons per acre. Once the grapes are fully ripe, they are left on the vine for an unusual natural phenomenon to occur. The River Ciron provides moisture which engenders fog in the vineyards of Sauternes and Barsac. The humidity then creates the conditions at the end of the growing season for the pourriture noble or ‘noble rot’ to be created. This fungus, known as botrytis cinerea, slowly leaches out the moisture inside the grape, concentrating the sugars and reducing the yields per acre. These over-ripe grapes are then picked by hand over the next month or two, grape by grape, since the grape bunches are not affected uniformly. If there is rain, the grapes must dry out before they are picked. Thanks to this occurrence, the grape musts record double or in exceptional vintages even triple the amount of sugar than a normal white Bordeaux. All Sauternes and Barsac are not the equivalent to Château d’Yquem, but the process is the same. These wines can be some of the longest-lasting wines made, drinking well over 50 years old in good vintages and even older for exceptional ones.