Dear Wine Ladies, My husband and I received a bottle of Sauternes as a gift. Our foodie friend Brenda told us it would remind us of the Icewines we make here locally and that the Sauternes will be a great treat. Are they similar and/or made the same way? – Cheryl

Dear Cheryl, 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 area in Bordeaux. Icewine is not restricted to where it 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 Icewine 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, (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 flavors, honey, mango, flowers, and brioche to name a few. Everlasting and age-worthy beyond decades, this is Sauternes.

There is one similarity between our Icewine and Sauternes. Outside of being dessert wines, they are both very expensive to produce.  Icewine needs to meet certain conditions in order to be made. For our Icewine, 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.

As you are a fan of Icewine, you may be interested in the annual Niagara Icewine Festival taking place with its kickoff on January 11th at the Niagara Icewine Gala. Festivities continue through to January 28th. Visit http://www.originalicewinefestival.com for more details, always an extra special event!

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