Nature, the hand of man and mysterious mists join forces in Bordeaux to produce the region’s unique sweet wines, at times referred to as late harvest wines. They are fresh, sweet and rich and these sweet white wines of Bordeaux also offer complex aromas, new tastes for the palette and gourmet tendencies.
There are the mythical names, Sauternes, Barsac, Loupiac and Cadillac that almost seem to rhyme with Sémillon, Sauvingon and Muscadelle, the grape varieties from which they are made. They are eye-catching wines, deep yellow, caramel or golden in color. These wines are all about taking their time all about slow, first with the long harvests during which the harvesters select only the most perfectly ripened grapes, picked in small clusters and sometimes grape by grape. Then the slow wine-making process with the first press producing a must while the second and third have higher sugar content. A slow fermentation of over a month follows before the new wine is matured by alternating aeration and storage in a vat or oak barrel.
And behind those sweet nectar-like wines is Botrytis cinerea in Latin, pourriture noble in French, the famous noble rot, a microscopic fungus which forms in overripe grapes, concentrating their aromas. The region’s oceanic climate features periods of heat and humidity promoting mists which promotes the growth of this world renowned fungus. These are luscious wines, served perfectly chilled as a general rule, meant to be savored as an apéritif or concocted into a cocktail but also with fresh foie gras, spicy foods, shellfish or smoked fish, ripe fruit, creamy cheesecakes or even sharp cheeses.
And the sweet Bordeaux involve chateaux and families of generations of wine growers. While the luscious Sauternes and Barsacs remain the most renowned and celebrated, with the most famous of all being the Château d’Yquem in a class of its own, there are a host of other sweet wines produced in the Bordeaux region waiting to be discovered.
Cadillac is a rich sweet wine produced in the region across the Garonne River from the Sauternes vineyard. The AOC Cadillac — AOC being the French acronym for controlled designation of origin — was born in 1972 in the heart of the Premières Côtes de Bordeaux and its vineyards enjoy a rich amount of sunlight with the vine plants growing in gravel or clay-limestone soil. The overripe grapes are harvested by hand and the vinification or wine-making process typically lasts from 12 to 18 months. The Château du Payre which was founded in 1881 and has been transmitted through five generations of the women of the family produces two Cadillac wines notably its L’Essentiel 2011 AOC Cadillac made largely from the Sémillon grape variety with just 10% of Muscadelle. Meanwhile the rich Domaine du Vic 2015 AOC Cadillac is made exclusively with Sémillon grapes and offers up a shiny golden color and whose fruity flavors of ripe pear and honey goes nicely with salmon or melon.
The AOC Côte de Bordeaux Saint-Macaire is a southeastern extension of the Cadillac region in which a climate of daytime heat and evening fog is imparted upon the vineyards, a climate which is also favorable to noble rot. It produces wines that are brightly colored, a kind of straw yellow streaked with gold. These well-structured wines enjoy lovely floral notes like linden and acacia.
The Delong family has been producing sweet AOC Saint-Macaire at its Château Majoureau for five generations now using the classic varieties of Sémillon, Sauvingon and Muscatelle. The estate’s Hyppos AOC Saint-Macaire 2017, 100% Semillon, is a fruity affair of apricot and pineapple notes and goes well with blue cheeses and very dark chocolate, preferably an entire slab. The Château Majoureau La Petite Doré 2016 is made with grapes from 60-year-old vine plants and is unctuous and elegant.
And then there are the Loupiacs, born from a very old wine growing region attested to by an ancient Gallo-Roman villa complete with its baths in the region. Made mainly with the Sémillon grape variety, the vineyards of these wines are planted facing the Garonne River in soils of gravel and chalky clay. Here it is the dry heat and early morning mist that promote the development of the noble rot. Only wines from the commune of Loupiac are entitled to the Loupiac appellation.
The vineyards of the Château du Cros in Loupiac revolve around the estate’s spectacular medieval castle offering a unique panorama sweeping from the Bordeaux region to the forest of the Landes. The fourth generation of the Boyer family works the land here producing elegant sweet Bordeaux wines like its Château du Cros 2015 manually harvested with five selective harvests from about September 20th through to October 29th. It offers a bouquet of fruits, citrus fruits, candied fruits, exotic fruits and honey and is paired well with old Gouda or even the great Berber dish, a tagine. The estate also produces its Château du Cros Cuvée Prélude Gourmand 2015 which is a nice aperitif wine.
Sainte-Croix du Mont AOCs emerge from a particularly picturesque location on steep hillsides of limestone terroir overlooking the Garonne River. It is doted with a micro-climate that lends intelf to the development of the noble rot and the vinification processes are similar to those of the Sauternes region and the wine is made in small batches using traditional methods. And the region sits on a plateau that is home to enormous ridges of fossilized oysters dating back to the Tertiary period and in some areas spectacular caves were often carved out beneath the stratum.
The Château La Rame where the eighth generation of the Armand officiates, producing a host of sweet Sainte-Croix du Mont wines like the Château La Rame 2016 AOC which is made entirely with the Semillon grape variety and offers a beautiful golden robe of a wine bursting with flavors of fruits and acacia. It is a fresh wine perfect with shellfish and oysters. Meanwhile the Château La Rame Cuvée Gourmandise 2015 which is aged in casks for 18 months, is a harmonious and powerful sweet wine of the AOC Sainte-Croix du Mont and is ideal as an aperitif.
The AOC Bordeaux Blanc Moelleux designation offers up light and delicate semi-sweet wines of a pale yellow color. These wines are slightly sweet, light and refreshing. The Vignobles Chaigne et Fils produces an intriguing AOC Bordeaux Moelleux, the Château Ballan-Larquette 2018 which diverges from the typical grape varieties as it is made with 60% Sauvignon Gris and 40% Semillon, offering an aromatic wine that can accompany cold meats and roasted poultry.
©Trish Valicenti for The Gourmet Gazette
For visiting the region and the estates
Office de Tourism Sauternes Graves Landes Girondines – BIT de Langon
05 56 63 68 00
Maison des Vins de Cadillac
0557 98 19 20