What is Sauternes Wine? How is it Made? What Does it Taste Like?

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Sauternes is an AOC, established in 1936, and located in Bordeaux, France. The region produces an unfortified sweet wine, that can be made with Semillon, Sauvignon Blanc, Muscadelle and Sauvignon Gris grapes. The AOC entails five different communes in the Gironde Department: Sauternes, Barsac, Bommes, Preignac and Fargues.

Sauternes is also a magical wine, as it is made with botrytis-affected grapes. The fungus Botrytis cinerea attacks the grapes, but instead of causing gray rot, the fungus infects the grapes in a benevolent way. The so-called noble rot will create new aromas and flavors, such as orange marmalade, honey, and dried fruits, concentrate sugar and acid in grapes. To achieve that, ideal climatic conditions must be met, such as misty and humid mornings followed by sunny afternoons.

What is Sauterne? How is Sauternes Made in Bordeaux? Sauternes and Noble Rot | Alessandra Esteves, SommelierQA.com

Sauternes is an unfortified sweet wine, produced in Bordeaux with grapes affected by Noble Rot.

Sauternes is the perfect place for these circumstances, because of its special microclimate. The cool river Ciron and the warmer Garonne encounter to create evening and early morning mists during the autumn. If the weather is good, the sunny afternoons will make the mist disappear, drying out the grapes. But there is always the risk of not having these conditions; in rainy and cool vintages, for instance, botrytis may not develop, or gray rot can damage the harvest.

While I was studying for the Diploma (WSET Level 4), I saw the market importance of the Sauternes region, and also read about the low yields, with some properties working with 9hl/hectare, and the maximum yield permitted in the region being 25hl/hectare. I also learned the difficulty of harvest, as it has to be hand harvested and done in multiple passes.

Now as a WSET Educator, we taste Sauternes at the WSET Levels 1, 2 and 3 courses, and students are always impressed by the quality of these sweet wines.

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Alessandra Esteves
Alessandra Esteves
Director of Wine Education at Florida Wine Academy
Alessandra Esteves is the Director of Wine Education for the Florida Wine Academy. She is a WSET Certified Educator and holds the WSET Level 4 (Diploma) in Wines & Spirits. She also has a Champagne Master Level, by the Wine Scholar Guild.

Ms. Esteves’ articles on wine and related subjects have been published in three books, and in magazines in different countries. Ms. Esteves has also served as an Associate Judge at the International Wine and Spirit Competition in London. More recently, Ms. Esteves participated as a Competition Judge at the Wine & Spirits Wholesalers of America Convention & Exposition.

Alessandra Esteves hosts and produces the Happy Hour Radio Show on Jolt Radio, which airs every 3rd Wednesday of the month on joltradio.org. Previously, Ms. Esteves practiced as a corporate lawyer in Brazil and Germany, having joined the Brazilian Bar Association in 2000. She is fluent in Portuguese, German, English, Italian, and Spanish; and has acquired a primary proficiency in French.
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Alessandra Esteves is the Director of Wine Education for the Florida Wine Academy. She is a WSET Certified Educator and holds the WSET Level 4 (Diploma) in Wines & Spirits. She also has a Champagne Master Level, by the Wine Scholar Guild. Ms. Esteves’ articles on wine and related subjects have been published in three books, and in magazines in different countries. Ms. Esteves has also served as an Associate Judge at the International Wine and Spirit Competition in London. More recently, Ms. Esteves participated as a Competition Judge at the Wine & Spirits Wholesalers of America Convention & Exposition. Alessandra Esteves hosts and produces the Happy Hour Radio Show on Jolt Radio, which airs every 3rd Wednesday of the month on joltradio.org. Previously, Ms. Esteves practiced as a corporate lawyer in Brazil and Germany, having joined the Brazilian Bar Association in 2000. She is fluent in Portuguese, German, English, Italian, and Spanish; and has acquired a primary proficiency in French.


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