What you need to know about Sauternes – Bordeaux Sweet Wines and 1855 Châteaux

by Apr 1, 2020News0 comments

Julien Miquel

Chief Wine Officer, Alti Wine Exchange

We’re continuing our round-up tour of the investment-grade wines with round 3 of our 4-part series covering the essentials of the great Bordeaux wines. (Here you have parts 1 and 2.)

Here are the key facts that you need to know about the incredibly age-worthy and fantastically complex sweet wines made in Sauternes, outstanding wines made thanks to a fungus that we love to call noble rot.

How are these wines made and how does it explain that they are so special and so thought-after?

Let’s talk about this and discuss which are the top estates and Chateaus, as listed in the 1855 classification.

Learn about the Sauternes Wines in Video

Where is Sauternes?

When one thinks Bordeaux wine, one often mainly thinks of prestigious red wines made from Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot.

Some connoisseurs who know their wine will also think of some delicious white wines as well, made from the local white blend of Sauvignon Blanc and Semillon.

But Bordeaux has also, for centuries now, been reputable for producing some of the most extraordinary sweet wines on Earth. Sauternes wines and Bordeaux aren’t always naturally associated, but the Sauternes appellation is well and truly part of the Bordeaux wine region, located just South of the Graves, around the little town called Sauternes it is named after, some 30 miles from the city of Bordeaux.

The area also counts with another couple of lesser-known locale or towns, Cérons and Barsac, the latter of which is the most reputable one. Barsac is also quite a strong name, often associated with Sauternes on wine labels: Sauternes-Barsac.

Château d’Yquem in Sauternes, Bordeaux

Château d’Yquem in Sauternes, Bordeaux

What type of wine is Sauternes?

Sauternes are sweet white wines, generally called dessert wines.

But they are not fortified wines like Port wines are or some fortified sweet Muscat wines – meaning that no alcohol is added to stop the fermentation. They are naturally very sweet wines that are fermented just like any other wine. They are so sweet and concentrated that the yeasts can’t ferment all of the sugar. There is a large amount of residual sugars after fermentation, hence Sauternes wines being sweet.

More than the sugar content, the outstanding feature of Sauternes wines is their outstanding aromatic concentration.

Sauternes boasts incredibly intense notes of honey and blond caramel as the backbone of their flavor profile. They also feature striking aromas of rich and sweet tropical fruit, like dried pineapple and mango, juicy litchi, dried apricot and fig, raisin and sultanas as well as (for the best examples) some delicate floral tones of lily and elder-flower.

This already unique tasting experience is deepened and amplified by the long maturation in oak that they go through at the winery, adding depth of sweet spices, cinnamon, licorice, nutmeg and fennel seeds. Quite a sensation…

Julien Miquel at Chateau d’Yquem

Julien Miquel at Chateau d’Yquem

How is Sauternes made?

This is really what explains it all, the magic, the concentration, the age-worthiness: how Sauternes is made.

The specific area of the Bordeaux region around the village of Sauternes is at a crossing of two rivers, the Garonne and the Ciron, which makes this area particularly humid and favorable to the development of a fungus, of a rot that loves eating grapes. The Botrytis fungus.

But because this area has both a lot of humidity together with rather cool climatic conditions in the morning and dry weather in the afternoons, especially before harvest, the fungus can’t just eat the whole grapes. It only develops under the grape’s skin, forming what we call the ‘noble rot’.

This phenomenon allows the water from the grapes to evaporate, and the sugars and flavors to concentrate greatly.

The results are almost shriveled berries that are very ripe and very concentrated. This natural phenomenon uniquely makes the grapes both very concentrated and very fruity.

Raisin juice wouldn’t taste very interesting and would feel rather heavy on the palate. Sauternes is more magical than this. You get both the lively fresh fruit flavors as well as a raisin-like concentration.

Finding such a spot on Earth that allows to have this noble rot developing without the grape completely rotting is actually very rare. Sauternes has got it.

This is what makes it so unique, so rare.


Explore More from Our Blog

Alti Wine Exchange Indexes: 2022 overview and outlook for 2023

Sergey Glekov Senior financial analyst The Alti Wine Exchange Indexes are a family of equal weighted indexes which trace price performance of fine and rare wines and shows equal weighted average returns on them. The indexes are subdivided by most important wine...

Alti Wine Exchange Indexes: 2021 overview and trends for 2022

Sergey Glekov Senior financial analyst The Alti Wine Exchange Indexes are a family of equal weighted indexes which trace price performance of fine and rare wines and shows equal weighted average returns on them. The indexes are subdivided by most important wine...

They have created the perfect storm for controlled demolition of money

I’m glad to be back talking financial insights, one glass of wine at a time. First they shut down the economy, to save lives. With the closure of the economy, production ceased. To compensate for non-production or reduced production, people were paid not to lose...

Spanish Cava Sparkling Wine: What You Need to Know!

Spanish Cava Sparkling Wine: What You Need to Know!

What is a Port Wine?

DEAR READER, Let’s start February off with a simple question: Good morning, Mr. Ferdinand, What is a Port wine? -Jacques Thank you, Jacques, for your brevity. Let’s get down to business! Ports are an underrated, very particular type of wine made in the Douro Valley,...

What to Expect for Fine Wine Investments in 2022

Let’s face it, between an ongoing COVID pandemic, erratic markets, fires, floods and major humanitarian crises, 2021 was exhausting. And though none of us can be sure what to make of 2022, we can say with confidence that fine and rare wine investments are looking...

Holiday Gift Guide for Fine Wine

It’s that time of year again! And so begins the search for the perfect holiday gift. Something unique, something that shows you truly care. How about a gift that keeps on giving? An investment. Imagine their surprise when you tell them that their gift is resting...


DEAR READER, As I grow immensely in popularity, I’ve noticed more of you interested in my personal life. I didn’t begin e-blogging with this in mind, but I don’t mind indulging every now and then. I imagine my intellect intimidates a lot of you, so maybe shedding some...

The Truth about Fine Wine

Fine wine. What does that really mean? The truth is, as words, they don’t mean much. There is no official classification system for the title “fine wine.” It’s not like the regulated usage of “Premier Cru” or “Grand Cru Classé,” for example, rather anyone can throw it...

Maipo Valley Reds

DEAR READER, I am again-and-again charmed by my readers’ curiosity! It reminds me of being a young sommelier, ready to take on the world one glass at a time. I know far too much to feel that way again—but at least I can experience a shred of it through you all! Dear...

Liquid Harmony

Harmony. Think Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young. Think Picasso's The Old Guitarist. It’s that moment when various elements come together to create magic. And magic really is the word, no? Wine can also sip in harmony, and I can think of no better example than the...

Where Does the Phrase “Aging Like Fine Wine” Originate?

DEAR READER, I received this charming question from an inquisitive reader last week. Dear Sommelier Ferdinand, Where does the phrase “aging like fine wine” originate? It’s so fun! -Imani I just love your question! What a lively spirit you have, Imani! I’m more of a...