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Description to Sauternes AOC
The appellation, named after the commune of the same name, with around 1,700 hectares of vines, forms an island in the large Graves area in southern Bordeaux. It consists of the five communes of Bommes, Fargues-de-Langon, Preignac and Sauternes, and with the right to its own appellation Barsac with 600 hectares of it. All Barsac wines may also use the name Sauternes or Sauternes-Barsac, but this does not apply vice versa. Here, mainly noble sweet white wines have been produced from botrytised grapes for centuries. The later US president Thomas Jefferson (1743-1826), who was envoy in Paris from 1785 to 1789 and visited many French wine-growing regions during this time, named Sauternes the best white wine in the country after Champagne and Hermitage. His ranking was also used as one of the criteria for the 1855 Sauternes classification (see below).
The highly calcareous soil offers excellent conditions for white wines, the red wines are of less importance. The appellation only applies to noble sweet white wines. Dry white wines may only use the AC "Bordeaux", red wines only the AC "Bordeaux" or "Bordeaux Supérieur". The appellation regulations for sweet white wines require at least 13% alcohol by volume and proof of the required degree of sweetness through a sensory taste test. The yield limit is 25 hectolitres per hectare. The most common and important white wine variety is Sémillon, which occupies around 80% of the total vineyard area at most wineries. The remaining white wine varieties are Sauvignon Blanc (also Sauvignon Gris) and some Muscadelle. The most common red wine varieties are Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Cabernet Franc, Petit Verdot and Malbec. These are the typical grape varieties of the so-called rive gauche (left bank).
The botrytis (noble rot) required for the noble sweet wines is favoured by the low location and the proximity to two rivers. When the cold water of the Ciron flows into the warmer Garonne, fog forms in the valley and the interaction of damp coolness and the warmth of the sun creates ideal conditions. Noble rot berries are used throughout. The glowing golden coloured wine has a green shimmer. The bouquet is characterised by lush scents of apricots, honey and nuts. The full flavour is intense and sweet, but due to the high alcohol content, the sweetness does not seem obtrusive. The wine is usually aged in barriques. The white wines from Barsac are not as full-bodied, but more racy.
Bordeaux Classification 1855
For Sauternes and the neighbouring communes, a classification for white wines was drawn up within the framework of the Bordeaux classification in 1855, just as for the Médoc area. In Sauternes, this was done in three classes. The Château d'Yquem was the only one in Bordeaux to receive the exclusive classification "Premier Cru Classé Supérieur", which is even higher than the red wines in the Médoc. Since then, there have been several changes to the vineyards due to changes of ownership and name. However, the classification is still valid and for the most part consistent, but it has no significance in terms of wine law: