The great sweet wines of Sauternes are among the world’s longest lived and most complex, and therefore the among the most sought after. This is not a new phenomenon. When Thomas Jefferson visited Bordeaux, Chateau d’Yquem was one of a handful of vineyards he visited; and old bottles from this storied source can command four- or five-figure prices.
It’s not as if Sauternes can be made anywhere. Its particular complexity and aromatic profile come from a mold — botrytis cinerea. Tiny filigrees penetrate the grapes as the mold grows, drawing out nourishment leaving behind a much changed interior. The grapes are allowed to hang on the vines until they look ruined, shriveled to raisins and covered with gray mold. But if harvested at this stage and pressed directly, they yield tiny quantities of a very intense and concentrated must, from which this special wine can be created.
Botrytis, the pourriture noble (“noble rot”), appears consistently only with precise atmospheric conditions: humidity and dense fogs combined with just the right temperatures. These conditions occur most reliably on the Garonne, the river that combines with the Dordogne near the city of Bordeaux to form the Gironde estuary. Sauternes is at the heart of this special area.
We went searching for a lesser-known producer of quality Sauternes, and in Chateau Voigny we found the perfect match. The vineyards lie in a hollow along the Garonne, and the fog creeps in every late-summer, bringing the mold that transforms the grapes.