Appears in

Oxford Companion to Wine

Oxford Companion to Wine

By Jancis Robinson

Published 2006

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The special distinction of this region of 1,767 ha/4,364 acres embedded within the Graves district south of bordeaux is that it is dedicated, in a way unmatched by any other wine region, to the production of unfortified, sweet, white wine. In Germany or Alsace, say, where superlative sweet wines are occasionally made, such wines are the exception rather than the rule, and emerge from vines that more usually produce much drier wines.

In Sauternes the situation is quite different. The appellation is reserved for wines from five communes that must adhere to regulations stipulating minimum levels of alcoholic strength (13%) and a tasting test that requires the wine to taste sweet. Sémillon, Sauvignon Blanc, Sauvignon Gris, and Muscadelle are responsible but Sémillon is the principal grape, because it is especially susceptible to noble rot, and it accounts for about 80% of a typical estate’s encépagement. Sauvignon often attracts noble rot earlier than Sémillon, and its naturally high acidity can give the wine a freshness that balances the richer, broader flavours of Sémillon. Muscadelle’s contribution is mostly aromatic, but its viticultural frailty leads many growers to find it more trouble than it is worth.