Every once in a while I crave a taste of Sauternes. This craving is a direct result of my last several visits to Bordeaux. Since the mid 1990s I have been to that region half-a-dozen times and have adopted the little Hotel Pavillon de Margaux.
On my first stay there, awaiting our room to be readied, my wife and I took a seat under a parasol right next to the vines of Chateau Margaux, visible to us just a hunded yards away. A server brought us a glass of Sauternes, the producer of which I have never remembered. Though we had sampled Sauternes on numerous occasions, had even visited several estates in Sauternes, we had never thought of it as other than a fabulous dessert wine. Drinking it on its own or as an aperitif had not occurred to us.
On that day it seemed perfect. The early afternoon was warm and sunny, the view inspiring, and the overall ambience most agreable. Ever since, on our trips to Bordeaux, we have driven straight from Merignac Airport to Margaux and partaken of a glass of Sauternes on arrival. And again as an aperitif before dinner. And with a foie gras for which it seems ready-made. And as an aperitif throughout our Bodeaux visits.
In the USA, however, we have all too few opportunities to enjoy this most pleasurable sweet but not cloying wine, with an acidic, pleasing finish. Few retailers carry it, explaining that it is a bit expensive and that there isn’t much of a market for it.
Sauternes is the only wine producing district dedicated exclusively to unfortified sweet wines. Each of its five communes is bound to strict regulations concerning grape varieties, alcoholic strength, and a taste test establishing that it is indeed sweet. The principal grape is Semillon because it so easily lends itself to the “noble rot.” It is blended almost always with Sauvignon Blanc, for “freshness,” and often with Muscadelle, mostly to impart a pleasing aroma. The Bordelaise are as prone to start a meal with a glass of Sauternes as the Burgundians are with a kir.
So having not been to Bordeaux for over a year, the waning summer sun and the approaching end to Daylight Savings Time suggested a Bordelaise experience, but unhappily, it took some searching. Almost by accident, I found a half-bottle of 2006 Sauternes imported by Nicolas of Westport, Connecticut ($16.99 retail). Maison Nicolas had been the provider of my first wine shopping experiences when I worked in France in the 1950s. The company, since 1822, has had a Burgundy-colored retail store in almost every town in the country. Today they reach around the world and bottle a great many wines under their own name.
My 2006 Sauternes was labeled “Reserve Maison Nicolas” with no indication of a producer. But it was indeed a Sauternes. Crisp and unctuous, sweet and luscious. For a few minutes, it made us feel as if we were Bordelaise.