Sauternes is a slumbering village surrounded by vines and dominated by the Maison du Sauternes (wmaisondusauternes.com) at one end of the village, and a pretty church at the other. The maison looks like a treasure-trove; the golden bottles with white labels are beautiful. A non-profit organization, the maison offers tastings, expert advice and good prices.
The Sauternes region, which extends southeast from Bordeaux for 40km along the left bank of the Garonne, is an ancient winemaking area, first planted during the Roman occupation. The distinctive golden wine of the area is sweet, round, full-bodied and spicy, with a long aftertaste. It’s not necessarily a dessert wine, either; try it with Roquefort cheese. Gravelly terraces with a limestone subsoil help create the delicious taste, but mostly it’s due to a peculiar microclimate of morning autumn mists and afternoons of sun and heat which causes Botrytis cinerea fungus, or “noble rot”, to flourish on the grapes, letting the sugar concentrate and introducing some intense flavours. When the grapes are picked they’re not a pretty sight: carefully selected by hand, only the most shrivelled, rotting bunches are taken. The wines of Sauternes are some of the most sought-after in the world, with bottles of Château d’Yquem, in particular, fetching thousands of euros. Sadly that particular château does not offer tastings, but you can wander around the buildings and grounds, two minutes’ drive north of Sauternes.