Sauternes: A fresh debate

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My first Sauternes love was Château Lafaurie-Peyraguey 1983. I was so enamoured with its vibrancy and citrus and tropical fruit fragrance that I bought two cases for what today seems a very derisory price.

Thirty-six years on and the colour may have changed to amber and the aromas become more confit, but there’s still a wonderful tangy tension. Good Sauternes may be rich in residual sugar, but an important part of its beguiling quality is the balance brought by perceived freshness.

To this day I am unaware of the residual sugar content and total acidity in the Semillon-based wine, which is probably just as well. What goes down on paper as statistical analysis does not always correspond to the gustatory and aromatic sensation. You can have what appears to be good acidity and lower residual sugar in a wine that seems less fresh. The opposite can also be the case. Other factors also come into play, namely terroir, vintage and, in particular, the quality and quantity of botrytis cinerea, or noble rot, and the aromatic complexity that stems from it. ‘The notion of freshness is brought by the aromatics, not technical data,’ declares François Amirault, winemaker at Château de Fargues for more than 25 years.

In terms of terroir, all agree that the lower-lying limestone soils of Barsac offer an extra edge of minerality and freshness. ‘A wine may have the same residual sugar content as a Sauternes, but on the palate the Barsac will seem less sweet and have more tension,’ explains consultant oenologist Marie-Pierre Lacoste-Duchesne, who also runs the family property Château La Clotte-Cazalis in Barsac. For wine lovers, it’s a point to bear in mind.

Translated by Sylvia Wu / 吴嘉溦

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