You may have heard that Clear Creek, which runs from Bangor Base to the estuary at Dyes Inlet, is getting a new bridge this year. That may have been a shocking discovery about three weeks ago when you would have had to find a new way around the Bucklin Hill while PSE put in some poles during the fish window.
In preparation for the big change to the biota of the estuary, the Clear Creek Trail has been monitoring water quality. We’ve been at this since last June, and being a recovering Old Town Silverdale Wine Shop Owner, the color of the dissolved oxygen test reminds me of an old Sauternes.
Sauternes is a special region in southern Bordeaux very near the ocean. In other regions, where dessert wines are made, they are more at the whim of Mother Nature from vines that usually produce drier versions of wine. This region is dedicated solely to the production of unfortified, sweet white wine.
Sauternes winemaking regulations are different also. The appellation is reserved for wines from five communes where regulations stipulate minimum levels of alcohol (13%) and the wine to taste sweet.
This very unique microclimate is close to two rivers and the intertidal waters that create a lot of fog in the fall when the grapes are ripening. This moist atmosphere encourages Botrytis Cinerea or Noble Rot.
Three grapes are allowed, Sémillon, Sauvignon Blanc and Muscadelle. Sémillon is the principal grape mainly because it is more susceptible to Noble Rot than the other two. It is typically about 80% of the blend. Sauvignon’s main role is the acidity to the blend to keep it balanced and Muscadelle is for aromatics.
Noble Rot is a fungus prized in the Sauternes region. Basically, it sucks moisture out of individual grapes thus increasing the tartaric acid and sugars, concentrating the flavors. The result is a wine of distinction, lush flavors of honey, tropical fruit, heady aromas and rich, powerful, creamy mouthfeel. Mainly because of the Noble Rot which has an unique aroma similar to a spice cabinet.
Sauternes are some of longest-lived wines; I’ve admired some and have tasted even fewer. I remember getting to look at a bottle of 1929, all coppery in color that a former chef of the Silverdale Beach Hotel had in his cellar.
Sauternes typically start out a gorgeous light gold color that becomes increasingly darker as it ages. Once a tint of orange appears, it has developed complex and mature flavors and aromas.
Yes, Sauternes is a labor intensive, costly wine to make. For example, Chateau d’Yquem makes at least 17 passes through the vineyards, picking only the best grapes. Botrytis does not just swoop down one day and perform its magic. It tends to be very spotty.
A typical harvest might be picking a patch of botrytis affected grapes for a couple of days and then it rains for a few days; this brings a halt to the picking. When the better weather resumes, grapes affected by the undesirable grey rot are removed, then another bout of Noble Rot appears and picking begins again. Hand picking can go on for six weeks. A long period of time for the team of pickers to be kept waiting.
When this style of wine got its start is not certain however, Thomas Jefferson purchased many a bottle of Sauternes’ most famous property, d’Yquem. He even convinced George Washington to purchase 30 bottles of the wine!
As with dry wines, vintage makes a big difference when buying Sauternes. And the 2011s now on the shelf are from a great vintage. Top Sauternes bottlings include the Chateau d’Yquem at around $400 or so, Chateau Guiraud for about $85 and Chateau Suduiraut for a mere $70.
There are two other communes to look for that are not quite as expensive as Sauternes. That would be Barsac and Loupiac. The quality is as good because they live by the same rules of the region but they are lesser known. Cadillac is another commune but is small and rarely seen. They only produce wine there, not cars.
Barsac Chateaux to seek out would be Chateau Doisy Daene, Doisy Vedrine, Nairac, and de Rayne Vigneau. These range in price from $35 to $50.
Sauternes can be had in half bottle sizes (375 ml) and given the richness, much preferred. The wines are served slightly chilled. Sauternes can be paired with a variety of foods but by far, the classic match is seared Foie Gras with fresh berries.
And just like the Champagne, American Champagne and Methode Campainoise agreement, Sauternes made anywhere else in the world is spelled Sauterne – without the S. That’s how you’ll know.
Just a reminder that Taste Washington happens at the end of this month. It’s a wonderful opportunity to learn more about the Washington Wine scene. There are some great seminars to attend also, Washington vs. The World, The Chardonnay Revival and a couple of appellation spotlights. The one that caught my attention was Wine Tasting with the Masters – Master Sommelier and Master of Wine. That should be very interesting. Here’s the link for more info: http://tastewashington.org/seminars-2015/