Dear The Wine Ladies,

My husband and I were given a bottle of Sauternes, as a housewarming gift, which we were told, would remind us of our icewines. Apparently it is quite a special and pricey wine. We don’t particularly favor sweet wines, but my mother-in-law is mad for them. So I thought it might be a great treat for Mother’s Day. I’m just wondering if they’re made the same way as icewine?

– Kristy

Dear Kristy,

Indeed, a great treat, Sauternes is the “king” of all sweet wines! Sauternes can only come from France and be produced in the Grave district south of Bordeaux. Icewines are not restricted as to where they can be made although Canada is widely considered the authority on this luscious wine – the “Nectar of the Gods” as it is commonly referred to. Both are sweet, complex and delectable!

Both Sauternes and our icewines must adhere to a strict set of regulations as to how they are made, although the rules and methodology of production for the two are entirely different.

What defines Sauternes is “noble rot”. The uniqueness of Sauternes is due to the mesoclimate it enjoys which encourages a very special fungus called botrytis cinerea, otherwise known as “noble rot” to attack the grapes. It is this fungus that causes the grapes to shrivel and rot, and allows a wonderful concentration of tartaric acid and sugar to develop in the grapes resulting in a wine of great complexity. Layer upon layer of rich flavours, honey, mango, flowers, brioche and so on. Ever lasting and age worthy beyond decades, this is Sauternes.

There is one similarity between our ice wines and Sauternes, outside of being dessert wines, they are both very expensive to produce, and certain conditions must be met or occur before the wines can be made. For our ice wines one of the regulations is that the grapes cannot be picked until the temperature reaches a minimum of -8 Celsius. For Sauternes, it is not about the temperature but rather about this unique fungus that must infect the grapes. Both situations are risky. In Canada, the birds and deer feast on the grapes while winemakers patiently await the freeze, limiting the yield. In Sauternes, the viticulturists must await the infection of noble rot, and occasionally it just doesn’t happen, or it can come very late limiting the yield even more. So patience is a virtue in Sauternes, as it is in Canada!