Sunday, February 27, 2011

Sauternes Semillion and the Nectar of the Gods

There’s nothing like a great French Sauternes! Some call it the nectar of the gods. A lot has been written about Sauternes and how the wines can last 20 or 100 years if botrytis(noble rot) is brought into the picture. The flavors of Sauternes are of marzipan, apricots, graham crackers, mangoes, honey, nuts, orange, coconut, peach, pineapple and toast surrounded by a creamy, silky pliable and rich ingratiating texture. It’s as awesome as it sounds and after tasting it you may want to add more flavors to the list.
A Classed Growth Sauternes will improve in the bottle and should not be drunk for at least 8 to 10 years. Sauternes are usually delicious when young and it takes a lot of self-control and determination to put the wine away until it reaches its full complexity and maturity.

Semillon is the main grape in Sauternes but it is not the only great place in Bordeaux where this sweet grape grows. In fact sweet white Bordeaux grows throughout Sauternes, Barsac, Monbazillac and lesser sweet places like Cadillac and Loupiac. In the Pessac-Leognan and Graves, the Semillon wines generally have a substantial addition of Sauvignon Blanc which adds acidity and brightness to the fore.
With all this glory, you would think that Semillon is the ‘bees knees’ and is just fantastic but in reality the grape generally creates pretty dull juice even in great weather conditions. Semillon has been grown in many countries including South Africa, Argentina and all over South America but eventually it was replaced with Chardonnay as the go to grape.

With some exceptions, it seems that Semillon only grows great in Sauternes and Australia’s Hunter Valley(which actually thrives in terrible weather…go figure). Nature has made Sauternes perfectly suited for this grape. The area provides decent summers and the rivers of Garrone and Ciron provide fog during the fall, which are the conditions for the noble rot to thin the skins and deepen the sugars.

After all this, is really worth the fuss the answer is a resounding YES! What’s interesting is that Semillon is not very fruity at all. It’s concentrated and full of complex aromas and has a fresh and silky mouthfeel which make it go great with desserts especially creamy ones. It’s incredible with many cheeses including Maytag Blue, Stilton blue and Roquefort. Drizzle honey on the blue cheese and watch what happens! The new world Semillons match up well with Spicy foods and meats. With those Bordeaux Blancs try some shellfish.

Sauternes can be very expensive wines . Among the most famous are Chateau d’Yquem, Chateau Doisy Daene and Chateau Climens. A good recommendation is to try some new world Semillon; wines such as Tim Adams from Clare Valley, Australia; Le Ecole No. 41 from Washington, USA; Tyrell’s Hunter Valley, Australia and Yalumba’s Eden Valley Botrytis, Australia.

And always remember these wines are generally always drinkable immediately without delay, yet can improve with a little extra aging.