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The south west of France visibly has a little bit of the U.S. Deep South in the communes of Sauternes and Barsac. The phenomenon of microclimate that renders this part of Bordeaux largely unfit for conventional wine making also encourages the growth of sub-tropical vegetation in addition to nobly rotting the grapes on the vines.

With little more than a glass of wine per vine produced at the highest level, the more justifiable record high prices for Sauternes and Barsac have encouraged great improvements in the region through infusion of money and expertise. Good Bordeaux sweet wine can now be made far more frequently than even ten years ago.

It takes an entire row of vines to produce one glass of Chateau d’Yquem, undoubtedly the world’s finest dessert wine. The grapes are primarily of the Semillon varietal, with a small amount of Sauvignon Blanc and Muscadelle added to the blend. Semillon’s thin skin, coupled with the damp, cool, and misty climate makes it especially prone to infection from Botrytis Cinerea, or noble rot.

The infected grapes dehydrate and shrivel up into gooey, slimy masses of pulp. When pressed, all that comes out are exquisitely concentrated flavors and sugars. After fermentation, the resulting wine is rich and viscous, but beautifully balanced, with an undercurrent of fresh acidity from the zesty Sauvignon Blanc. So from this most unsavory start comes the nectar of kings. And it takes a King’s ransom to get your hands on a bottle of this liquid gold. Fortunately there are many wines from the surrounding areas that, while perhaps not as magical, at least are very good representations of the style and reflections of their unique origins.

Barsac and Preignac are on flatter land, and their wines are slightly less rich and sweet than those from the hillier communes. Look for producers such as Chateau Caillou, Chateau Coutet, Chateau de Malle, or Chateau Suduiraut. (Wine/Appellations)