Sauternes is a product of Sémillon, Sauvignon blanc and Muscadelle grapes – along with arduous labor and meticulous care. Common flavor notes include apricots, honey, peaches, and a rich nuttiness. Although sweet, it pairs perfectly with savory flavors, relishing with the contrast. Foie gras is a classic match. But vintners recommend everything from peppery-flavored Asian cuisine to Roquefort terrine to red meat to chicken and even to crunchy french fries. The goal is to bring out as many nuances as possible with flavors and textures that can stand up to it. Dishes that are creamy (high-fat cheeses and cream-based sauces), salty (cured meats and ham), briny (lobster and other seafood), mineral (oysters), acidic (citrus) and spicy (chiles) are a delicious start.
The vintage typically starts out with a golden, yellow color that becomes progressively darker as it ages – and the finish can resonate on the palate for several minutes. Damp, cool weather conditions prevail in the Sauternes region. Cool, misty mornings give way to warm, sunny afternoons. Nestled along the Garrone and Cirons Rivers, it’s the perfect microclimate to encourage grapes to over-ripen, letting them shrivel virtually into raisins and enhance their sweet flavors. Yields are much lower here, as these grapes do not develop at even rates and so the fermentation is much more elusive, with harvesters having to hand-select the fruit. This, of course, drives up the price and explains why Sauternes wines are often associated with luxury and special occasions. While a typical grape vine may produce a bottle of wine, it takes an entire vine to create a glass of Sauternes.