Noble Rot at a Bourgeois Price!
Chateau Saint Marc Sauternes 2003
Noble Rot at a Bourgeois Price
By Cynthia Hurley
The Sauternes grapes just before harvesting. The source of this very unique late harvest wine.
Sauternes is no one-trick pony. On these cold New England winter nights, after dinner I like to settle down in front of the fire with a crossword maybe, or a good book, but definitely a small glass of Sauternes that fits so nicely into the palm of my hand. I rarely have dessert and that's why Sauternes is so perfect - a touch of sweet to end the meal.
But, if you read on, you'll discover that my yearnings for Sauternes are not always patient enough to wait until the end of the meal. Sauternes is a versatile little beauty that will stimulate your senses just about any time.
Sauternes is a wine-growing area about 45 minutes south of Bordeaux. There are only five communes whose grapes can be bottled with Sauternes on the label: Fargues, Preignac, Bommes, Sauternes, and Barsac. Barsac, which lies to the north of the other villages, has its own appellation and can put Barsac or Sauternes on the label. St Marc is a Barsac.
Barsac/Sauternes is a nectarous libation created by picking grapes that have been afflicted with the mold botrytis cinerea. The mold attacks each ripe grape, devouring the grape skin and causing the grape to become dehydrated and shrivel. This results in superconcentration of the grape's juice and a high sugar content.
Sauternes is expensive to make because the pickers must pass through the vineyard several times to catch the grapes at their peak rotten moment. The most famous Sauternes cost $100 a bottle and way more than that if you're talking about Chateau d'Yquem, where a full bottle will set you back about $500. Now, this is pretty hard to stomach if you're as fuzzy over the peachy stuff as I am. But I knew that with a little persistence I could find an under-valued gem with a very sweet price tag.
Chateau Saint Marc has been owned by the Laulan family for four generations. The wine is elegant and at the same time powerful. The grapes are painstakingly selected during as many as five passes through the vineyard. Saint Marc is 85% Semillon which is the grape that provides solidity and makes the wine capable of ageing for a long time. There is 12% Sauvignon Blanc in the blend which provides the fragrance and vivacity and 3% Muscadelle which adds a certain floweriness to the wine. It is classic Sauternes: rich, peachy, and lingering.
All of this is making me want to head for the cellar and uncork a Sauternes. And, you know, you don't have to have Roquefort or foie gras on hand to make a Sauternes soar. I drink it as an aperitif or make a little Barsac swimming pool in a half melon. Sauternes can be very versatile.
And then there is the Sauternes sauce: melt a tablespoon of butter in a skillet. Add 2 minced shallots and cook for 2 minutes. Reduce a cup of Sauternes by half over moderate heat and add 2 cups of heavy cream that you have already reduced (start this early) and boil for 2 minutes longer. Whisk in 3 tablespoons of butter, dash of pepper, 1 tablespoon of lemon juice, half teaspoon of curry powder. Strain through a sieve and serve over sea scallops. Toss on some fresh, minced chives and some coarsely chopped pistachio nuts. Thank you three-star Georges Blanc for this little beauty.
So there you have it. If you have never seriously thought about owning some Sauternes, you should. A good Sauternes makes you feel civilized. Never a bad thing. Cynthia Hurley
**Will arrive Tuesday, Feb. 19th!