Honey Kisses Tasting the Other Bordeaux
All too often the Bordeaux region gets plopped squarely into the “Big Expensive Red” category in the minds of everyday wine drinkers. While most people with tastebuds love these wines, the label is like a playground bully who hogs the swings and leaves the 11% of wines that fall into Bordeaux’s “Not Red” category forgotten in the sandbox.
Luckily the CIVB wouldn’t let me forget this on my recent trip to the region and after being amazed by reds at Mouton Rothschild I was whisked inland to the sub-region of Bordeaux famed for its sweet, botrytis-infected dessert wines.
Botrytis, affectionately known as Noble Rot, is a scientific marvel that produces some of the most intensely sweet and concentrated wines in the world. In essence, it’s a gross grey mold that sucks the water out of ripening grape berries. Unlike other gross grey molds, Noble Rot doesn’t completely destroy the grapes–it just dehydrates them, which in turn concentrates the sugar and acids in the berries. This process yields uuber-rich and flavorful grapes that create uuber-rich, floral, and delicious wines that are like kisses of honey with a dash of booze and can age for centuries. (Not kiddding on the centuries part.)
The Sauternes region of Bordeaux is the best known area for these wines, since the foggy climate promotes the growth of botrytis, but to keep things interesting we visited the lesser-known village of St. Croix du Mont. Across the river from Sauternes, St. Croix du Mont enjoys the botrytis-friendly climate, without the high prices Sauternes can command. Both spots have been making sweet wines since the Roman era, so they’ve got some experience.
We stopped off at Château La Grave, a St. Croix du Mont estate that’s been run by the same family for 5 generations. Virginie, the current owner took us on a foggy tour through the hills filled with Semillon grapes before leading us through a tasting.
Château La Grave (and St. Croix du Mont in general) are particularly special because the vineyards are planted atop prehistoric oyster beds. On the wines from La Grave’s Grand Peyrot vineyard, you could really taste a clean, briny minerality following toasty honeyed aromas of apricots and peaches.
My favorite was the 2003 Grand Vin, which smelled like a waxy beehive full of honey. On the palate, rich flavors of golden apple dominated with hints of pepper surprisingly clean oyster-esque.
Moral of the story: The littlest kids on the playground can be the sweetest. (And don’t discount dessert when it comes to Bordeaux).
Sweet Bordeaux Uncorked:
Laura Loves: This article on St. Croix du Mont wines.
Dessert wines from the neighboring region of Cerons (especially the golden, rich versions fromChâteau de Cerons!).
Trail mix and dessert wine as a snack–honeyed notes are a great contrast to crunchy, salty nuts.
Fun Facts: The Average american consumes 22.7 teaspoons of sugar daily, roughly the amount of sugar present in one liter of botrytis-sweetened Bordeaux.
Cérons is the only place mentioned in the Itinerarium Antonini (Antonin’s itinerary, which was a map of the road system under the Emperor Marcus Aurelius Antonius, 211-217, AKA Bordeaux sweet wines have serious history).