What’s so special about Sauternes wine, and which bottles should you buy?
Sauternes represents the rarer, sweeter side of the Bordeaux region. With its complexity and zesty acidity, this wine perfectly works both as an aperitif and as a dessert wine.
Sauternes wine can also age beautifully, making it an excellent investment wine as well.
What sets apart Sauternes wine from other sweet wines? Which bottles should you look out for?
In this article, you’ll find out all you need to know about Sauternes wine, including its history, the winemaking process, and the best vintages to buy in 2020.
You’ll also discover the smartest way to buy the best bottles of Sauternes.
This Article Contains:
(Click on the links below to go to a specific section)
- Sauternes Wine Regions
- Sauternes Taste and How to Serve It
- The Best Vintages of Sauternes
- The Best Sauternes Wines to Buy in 2020
- Chateau d'Yquem 1831
- Denis Dubourdieu Chateau Doisy-Daene L'Extravagant de Doisy-Daene 1990
- Chateau de Fargues 1945
- Chateau Coutet Cuvee Madame 1975
- Chateau Climens 1929
- Chateau Rieussec 1959
- Chateau Suduiraut 1899
- Chateau Lafaurie-Peyraguey 1955
- Chateau La Tour Blanche 1937
- Chateau Guiraud 1947
All You Need to Know About Sauternes Wine
Sauternes wine is produced in the Sauternes appellation (Sauternais in French) in Bordeaux, France, and is one of the most expensive and high-quality white wines.
What makes this wine different from other dessert wines is noble rot. This rot is caused by the fungus Botrytis cinerea, which increases the wine’s natural sweetness (we’ll look at this process in detail in a bit.)
But first, let’s see how it all started.
A Brief History of Sauternes Wine
Even though French wine production dates back to the 6th century BC, sweet wine started gaining popularity much later - at the beginning of the 17th century.
The French exported wine mainly to England, where dry white and red wines were most preferred.
Meanwhile, in Germany, wine production declined in the 17th century due to the increasing preference for beer. So, the Germans started looking to import wine from elsewhere.
They got interested in the French white wine from Sauternes, Bordeaux and began investing in the Sauternes vineyards. They even introduced the French to some German winemaking techniques for preserving excess sugars in the wine to add more sweetness to it.
The first records of noble rot date back to the 17th century. Sauternes producers were separating the botrytised grape bunches from the good ones.
However, the use of these grapes in the winemaking process was kept a secret since the thought of drinking wine from Botrytis-infected grapes was not very appealing!
In the 18th century, the use of noble rot became widely known. Since then, it’s been used widely in making French, German wine, and Hungarian wine.
At the end of the 18th century, American President George Washington placed an order for 30 dozen bottles after tasting the famous Sauternes wine Chateau d'Yquem. This brought global acclaim to Sauternes wine, and there was no looking back since then!
Climate and Geography of Sauternes
The Sauternais region is 25 miles southeast of Bordeaux and is part of the Graves district. With its unpredictable hails, frosts, and high humidity levels, the maritime climate often exposes the grapes to different grape diseases and mold.
The Sauternes region is situated between the Ciron and Garonne rivers. Since the two rivers have different water temperatures, they form early morning mists that transition to warm and dry afternoons.
This creates the perfect conditions for the growth of the Botrytis cinerea fungus.
The terroir of most Sauternes vineyards is chalky with limestone, clay, gravel, and sand.
The Grapes of Sauternes
A Sauternes Blend wine is made with three white grape varieties:
- Semillon is the main grape varietal used in Sauternes wines. The Semillon grape has a thin skin sensitive to fungus - so it gets infected with the Botrytis fungus easily. Semillon adds the texture typical to Sauternes wine.
- Sauvignon Blanc is less prone to developing noble rot. About 25% of all Sauternes vineyards are planted with Sauvignon Blanc. This grape variety adds more acidity and crispness to the Sauternes wines.
- Muscadelle is the third grape variety added to the Sauternes wines. The Muscadelle grape is hard to grow since it develops noble rot and other grape diseases. It adds a light floral aroma to the wine blend.
The Noble Rot Process
Once the Botrytis fungus is formed on the grapes, it gets into the grape skin, developing noble rot. Noble rot dries the grapes, reducing their water content. In turn, the sugars and grape flavors get more concentrated and intense, creating a vibrant and flavorful wine.
The unique microclimate in the Sauternes region helps maintain the benevolent noble rot fungus, preventing it from becoming grey rot (which gives a bad sour taste to the wine).
Producing Sauternes wines is an expensive and time-consuming process.
- The grapes are prone to different diseases if they are left on the vines for longer or if the climate is harsh.
- Picking the grape bunches with Botrytis cinerea is a tedious process. Vineyard workers have to go around the vineyard multiple times to check which grapevines are affected by Botrytis and ready to be picked.
- Once the grapes are picked, winemakers use a vertical or pneumatic press to extract the grape juice.
- Next is the vinification process, which is also time-consuming and costly. The fermentation might take anywhere from 18 to 36 months. The most prestigious winemakers age their Sauternes wine in expensive oak barrels while other wine estates choose to ferment the wine in stainless steel tanks.
- It’s also important to note that Sauternes wines are not released every year. Some of the years have bad weather, which does not allow the Botrytis fungus to develop properly.
These factors add to the Sauternes’s price and make it one of the most expensive white wines in the world.
Sauternes Wine Regions
There are five communes in the Sauternes wine region:
- Barsac: The Barsac commune is allowed to label its wines both as Sauternes or as Barsac appellation. One of the most famous wines from Barsac is the one labeled as Sauternes-Barsac wine.
- Sauternes: The whole Sauternes region is named after this small village, which is 30 miles from the city of Bordeaux.
This commune is home to the most reputed Sauternes wine chateaux - Chateau d'Yquem. Chateau d’Yquem is known to produce the best Sauternes wine and is the only one designated as a Premier Cru Supérieur (Superior First Growth) chateau.
- Bommes: A beautiful commune where the Chateau Lafaurie-Peyraguey is located.
- Fargues: This commune was not always part of the Sauternes region. It was added to the appellation in 1921.
- Preignac: This small commune is home to the famous Sauternes vineyard Chateau Suduiraut.
All of the communes fall under the Sauternes AOC. To be classified as Sauternes, the wines should:
- Have at least 13% ABV.
- Come from yields of a maximum of 25 hectoliters.
- Be made using grape must with 221 grams of sugar per liter.
- Pass a tasting exam for sweetness levels. However, there is no exact amount of residual sugar the wines must contain.
Other regions that produce similar wines are Cadillac, Loupiac, and Cerons. These wines are also a blend of Semillon (affected by noble rot), Sauvignon Blanc or Sauvignon Gris, and Muscadelle grapes.
However, they’re less aromatic, and you can find them at more affordable prices.
Find out exactly How Many Calories are in Your Glass of Red Wine and its Health Benefits!
Sauternes Taste and How to Serve It
Sauternes wines have a deep yellow hue with an elegant balance of sweetness and acidity.
It has notes of apricots, caramel, tropical fruits, and honey, followed by a long-lasting finish and nutty undertones.
With such a delicious wine, you might be wondering How Many Glasses Are in a Bottle of Wine?
Sauternes is typically served chilled (at 10 °C) and pairs well with savory dishes like foie gras, different cheeses, or a more traditional roasted poultry dish with spices.
More often than not, you’ll find Sauternes in a half bottle size of 375 ml because it’s expensive to produce. However, they also come in larger bottles.
The Best Vintages of Sauternes
Some of the best Sauternes wine vintages are 1921, 1929, 1937, 1945, 1959, 1962, 1967, 1975, 1976, 1983, 1986, 1988, 1989, 1990, 1996, 1997, 2001, 2003, 2005, 2009, 2010, 2011, 2013, 2014, 2015, 2016, 2017, 2018, and 2019.
Now, let’s see some of the best Sauternes wines you can buy in 2020!
The Best Sauternes Wines to Buy in 2020
1. Château d'Yquem 1831
This gracefully-aged Bordeaux wine has a bold but balanced honey flavor with a fresh aroma of apricots and tropical fruit undertones. Any wine lover would appreciate the richness of flavors that have been evolving for almost two centuries!
Price of Chateau d'Yquem 1831: $50,990
2. Denis Dubourdieu Château Doisy-Daëne L'Extravagant de Doisy-Daëne 1990
This legendary Sauternes wine captures the rich aroma of apricots and peaches and the sweet wine tasting notes of caramel and toffee. With an undertone of oak, it’s the perfect dessert wine to match with blue cheese and fruit platters.
Price of Denis Dubourdieu Château Doisy-Daëne L'Extravagant de Doisy-Daëne 1990: $510
3. Château de Fargues 1945
This elegant wine dates back to the end of World War II, and its label commemorates the Allied Forces’ victory. This sweet wine is a balanced combination of apricot aromas with mineral and honey undertones and tasting notes of marmalade and orange.
Price of Château de Fargues 1945: $2,007
4. Chateau Coutet Cuvée Madame 1975
The year 1975 was a good vintage for the sweet white wine of Bordeaux. This well-crafted Sauterne wine from one of the oldest vineyards in the region is a mix of dried peach, citrus, and honey flavors with a creamy texture.
Price of Château Coutet Cuvée Madame 1975: $729
5. Château Climens 1929
The hot weather in 1929 contributed to creating a delicate and creamy vintage of Sauternes wine. This wine is distinctive with its white flower, peach, honey tasting notes and a slight mineral zest undertone.
Price of Château Climens 1929: $1,885
6. Château Rieussec 1959
The legendary vintage of 1959 produced rich, velvety wines. This Sauternes wine has a soft creamy texture with an aromatic bouquet of apple, peach, honey, and ginger.
Price of Château Rieussec 1959: $476
7. Château Suduiraut 1899
This Sauternes wine has developed rich complexity and a deep warm golden color over the years. It combines an elegant aroma of peaches with a soft honey taste and citrus undertones.
Price of Château Suduiraut 1899: $3,612
8. Château Lafaurie-Peyraguey 1955
The divine Chateau Lafaurie-Peyraguey wine captures a flavorful bouquet of orange, dried apricot, and honey, with a mild mineral aftertaste. This fine Sauterne is full-bodied and brings out a crisp freshness and acidity with a sweet long-lasting finish.
Price of Château Lafaurie-Peyraguey 1955: $448
9. Château La Tour Blanche 1937
The year 1937 was colder than usual, but this Sauternes wine turned out to be heavenly - a well-balanced complexity of orange, apricot, and beeswax flavors. It has a deep honey-gold color and a light but persistent sweet finish.
Price of Château La Tour Blanche 1937: $1,051
10. Château Guiraud 1947
The 1947 vintage produced a superb sweet Sauternes wine. It has a mild peach and ginger taste with an aroma of orange, honeysuckle, and a mineral aftertaste.
Price of Château Guiraud 2011: $742
Now, let’s look at whether Sauternes wine ages well and if it makes the right choice as a long-term wine investment.
Should You Invest in Sauternes Wine?
The sweet Sauternes wines have excellent aging potential - thanks to the high sugar content and the fact that the grapes were exposed to oxidation because of the noble rot process.
Typically, a bottle of Sauternes can age harmoniously for decades (20-50 years or more) depending on the vintage and wine storage conditions!
With time in the bottle, the wine develops an intense dark gold color, and the flavors become more mature and complex.
You’d often spot Sauternes wines sold at enviable prices at auctions, especially those from the prestigious Château d’Yquem. For example, a 1787 vintage Château d'Yquem fetched over $100,000 in a 2006 auction.
But how do you acquire a bottle of Sauternes wine? Finding an authentic bottle of this coveted wine isn’t an easy task at all!
Luckily, you can get the sought-after Sauternes wine and other collectible wines easily through a trusted wine investment platform like Vinovest!
Buy Sauternes and Other Wines Through Vinovest
Vinovest is an online wine investment platform that buys, stores, and sells your wine for you.
How Does it Work?
It’s easy. You just have to:
- Sign up on the Vinovest platform.
- Fill out a questionnaire about your investment preferences and risk appetite.
- Deposit a minimum of $1,000 into your Vinovest account.
- Build your fine wine portfolio and watch it grow.
Benefits of using Vinovest for wine investing
Vinovest comes with a lot of benefits that make it the best platform to buy and sell wine.
1. Buy and Sell Your Wines Easily
2. Best Prices and Low Overall Costs
Since Vinovest sources its wines directly from wine producers and global wine exchanges, you get the best possible prices whether you’re searching for a bottle of Sauternes, a dry white wine, or a sparkling wine like Lambrusco.
The annual fees are as low as 2.85% (2.5% for a portfolio of over $50,000.) This takes care of wine buying, authentication, storage, insurance, portfolio management, and wine selling.
3. Provenance and Authenticity
No need to worry about getting a counterfeit bottle ever again! Vinovest checks each bottle’s provenance and ensures its authenticity before you make your purchase.
4. Safe Storage
With Vinovest, your wines are stored at optimal conditions 24/7 in bonded warehouses. Your bottles are safe with the right amount of light, temperature, humidity, and vibration. And in case of a power cut, each warehouse has a backup power generator.
5. Curated Wine Portfolio
Vinovest has an expert team of Sommeliers, and data scientists who curate your wine portfolio using financial models backed up by historical data.
6. Easy Delivery of Wines
Want your bottle of Sauternes, Ice Wine, or Cabernet Sauvignon delivered to you or to your buyer? Vinovest will ensure that your wine arrives safely at its destination.
And the best part is that you own every single bottle that you buy through Vinovest!
Ready to Add an Exquisite Sauternes Wine to Your Collection?
The sweet, complex Sauternes wine is one for your cellar - for its rich, layered flavors and its age-worthiness!
But, you shouldn’t have to fret over prices, storage, shipping, and other nitty-gritty to get hold of the best bottle of Sauternes or any other wine!
Simply sign up to the Vinovest platform and start building your wine portfolio right away!