Wine Talk

Snooth User: jamessulis

Help with purchase of Sauterne and or Sauternes

Posted by jamessulis, May 2, 2010.

Fellow wine lovers and educated wine "Snoothies"

I understand the Sauternes is a location in France, they produce a fortified wine made from Semillon and Sauvignon Blanc grapes. I also understand that when you eliminate the "s" from the end of the word Sauternes you have Sauterne made here in the United States somewhere in the New York area.

When shopping in any liquor store, Sauternes or Sauterne wines don't seem to be available even in some of the more upscale grocers such as Whole Foods, Zupans, etc. Fewer choices are offered in our liquor stores which are federally controlled in Oregon and Washington.  I realize that a dessert wine may not be the most popular when most tastes seem to center on the Cabs, Pinot Noirs, Merlots, Chardonnays and Pinot Grigios.  How and where do I find a selection of this sweet nectar in my neighborhood?  I live in the Portland, Oregon, Vancouver, Washington area.

It would be wonderful to get an education on this wine and possibly a location to purchase it.

Lefty - The Great Pacific Northwest

Replies

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Reply by zufrieden, May 2, 2010.

Unfortunately I do not have the time at the moment to launch a long posting on this nectar of the gods (but someone will come to our rescue shortly, no doubt).

But I do know that there are hundreds of stores in Oregon and Washington State selling a vast variety of Sauternes and Barsac.

You may have to parse through a wide range of offerings, but try the famous wine searcher site at http://www.wine-searcher.com/.  This will help locate some known purveyors of the wines you seek and might help locate franchisesof wine marts in your area - if you can't see one come up on the site itself.  There are other search engines available as well, but you might also try to obtain a list of wine merchants from the Chambers of Commerce in Portland OR or Vancouver WA.  This may be a bit messy or time consuming, however.

Otherwise, locate a Sauternes that satisfies your requirements for the moment and simply request it be shipped to you once you locate something listed from your search that tickles your fancy.

This advice is not that clean, but it generally accords with what I do myself and a few others I know.

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Reply by gregt, May 2, 2010.

James - just a few points.  When one talks about a fortified wine, they mean a wine that has added alcohol.  That would include something like a Port, which is partly fermented must to which alcohol has been added, which kills the yeast.  It would also include Sherries and similar wines from other parts of the world.  Spain, Italy and France all make fortified wines, as do Australia, the US, Uruguay, and many other countries.

A sweet wine however, need not be fortified.  You make a sweet wine by several methods. 

You can fortifiy incompletely fermented grape juice. 

You can pick grapes late so that they have a great deal of sugar. 

You can dry the grapes to remove some of the water before fermenting. 

You can stop fermenting by dropping the temperature quickly. 

You can mix unfermented must into finished wine. 

You can use grapes that have been frozen, squeezing out the concentrated syrup that is unable to freeze.

You can add sugar.

You can use grapes that have been attacked by botrytis, which is a fungus. 

The last two are the methods employed in Sauternes/Barsac.  The grapes are picked when attacked by botrytis, which changes the character of the grapes and also dries them.  The sugar levels are too high for the yeasts to ferment completely, so the yeast eventually exhausts itself, leaving a good deal of sugar.  If there isn't enough, they add sugar.  They don't want you to talk about that, because it's illegal in places where they consistently have sufficient botrytis, but Sauternes is more famous and there's a lot of money at stake, so they do whatever they need to so they can make the wine.

However, the wine isn't fortified. The alcohol levels are moderate.

Producers like B+G buy grapes/juice, and put it out under their label.  For a few bucks more, you can buy something like Doisy Vedrenes or Doisy Daene or some other producer who makes their own from their estates.  People go on about d'Yquem, but it's not worth the tarrif IMHO.  Similar wine is made elsewhere, notably in the Loire, and I really like those more. In Hungary they make something like Sauternes that is called Szamorodni, but their most famous wine is NOT made like Sauternes.  And again, don't just buy any old bottle - a lot of it is crap so you have to know what you're buying.

The attempt to make botrytized wines like Sauternes in the US however, isn't limited to New York.  They've tried it many places.  And today the label shouldn't say sauterne or sauternes.  Certain names are grandfathered in and some producers still use them - Burgundy, Chablis, Port, etc., but most of the better producers no longer do.  So if you find a bottle that's labeled sauterne and deliberately misspelled, I'd just avoid it anyway.

As far as where to find it, places like Whole Foods aren't necessarily considered upscale because they need such high volume that they frequently look for large producers.  You can certainly find excellent wine there, but it's like Costco - they buy good stuff and that gets picked up really fast by savvy shoppers, leaving the more widely available stuff for the later shoppers.  If you're lucky enough to be around when a new shipment comes in, you can score pretty good deals tho.  You may consider asking them directly however.  And you can always shop on-line, which is pretty much how I shop.  That is if your state allows shipping - I don't know your local situation.

Cheers.

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Reply by jamessulis, May 2, 2010.

Snooth pals, Please keep the information coming!

Wow, what an education so far. I did have years ago a Barsac- Chateau d'Yquem. It was learned that it was one of Napolean's favorite after dinner wines. Thank you zufrieden, I used the wine searcher website you furnished and found a great lead on Stark Street in Portland Oregon, I will stop there as I pass through that area occassionally.  Thank you GregT your knowledge on the subject of Sauternes is astounding. I cannot tell both of you what a wonderful experience and education I am getting by visiting Snooth on a daily basis. This love for information on wine has not only become facinatingly addicting but has also turned into a wine collecting hobby.  I have a small collection of around 50 bottles of reds and whites and my wife keeps asking me when I plan to drink it all.  When we go shopping, it is a given that I saunter over to the wine section and meet up with her 15 minutes later with a few more bottles in the cart.  My work schedule is busy during the week so I allow myself wine on Sunday only because that is a day of rest and enjoyment for us. At that time I can savor the fruits of my purchases.

Winefully yours,

Lefty -The Great Pacific Northwest


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