In a sense the Bordeaux region's most distinctive (and certainly its least appreciated) wines come from its south-east corner in and around Sauternes, the great sweet white bordeaux appellation. Practically every wine region in the world tries to make a fair copy of great red bordeaux, but very, very few have the particular natural conditions that favour the development of noble rot/botrytis. Sauternes is unique in being able to produce reasonable quantities of long-lasting, truly noble, full-bodied sweet whites.

Sauternes, including the Barsac appellation within it, benefits from autumnal morning mists which form where the cool Ciron flows into the warmer Garonne. Provided nature co-operates by supplying sun to burn off the mist, the botrytis fungus will concentrate fully ripe grapes and great sweet whites can be made, if and only if estate owners are prepared to take the risk of leaving the grapes on the vine. Many of these proprietors, particularly those discouraged by the relatively modest selling prices of most sweet wines, simply pick the grapes and add sugar so that, even after fermentation, the wine is sweet, if usually over-sulphured to stop it refermenting. The most famous sweet white wine of all, Ch d'Yquem (pron. ‘Ee-kem’) can live for well over a century and sells for other-worldly prices but, so demanding is the production process, it is said to be difficult to make even this fabulous property pay.

Other sweet white bordeaux appellations, in roughly descending order of quantity of wine produced, are Ste-Croix-du-Mont, Loupiac, Cadillac and Cérons, although the appellations Premières Côtes de Bordeaux and Graves Supérieures also produce some medium sweet white.

Some favourite producers: Climens, Rieussec, Suduiraut, Tour Blanche, Yquem.

In a nutshell

Sweet treats.

Main grapes