A visit to Southern Bordeaux offers an experience unlike anywhere else in the world. It’s here that some of the most iconic unfortified sweet wines are produced, across 10 uniquely stunning terroirs.

In addition to the production of these wines — known for the integration of botrytis cinerea (noble rot) during viticulture and vinification — this region of Bordeaux offers the Winetraveler the ideal destination to immerse yourself in the wine culture of France.

Heading South…

Southern Bordeaux’s appellations — more commonly referred to collectively as “Sweet Bordeaux” — play host to over 500 wine-producing properties, 27 of which are designated Classified Growths of 1855. Roughly 3000 hectares of grape vines are planted on both sides of the Garonne River, yielding 70,000 hectolitres of wine annually. That’s only 2% of total wine production across the entirety of Bordeaux.

The 10 appellations we discuss below are all quality controlled “AOP”‘s (Appellation d’Origine Protégée, formally known as AOC or Appellation d’origine contrôlée).

Listening to the man, the myth, the legend himself -- Alexandre de Lur Saluces of Chateau de Fargues (former manager of Chateau d'Yquem) -- discuss the upcoming harvest in October, 2018.
Listening to the man, the myth, the legend himself — Alexandre de Lur Saluces of Chateau de Fargues (former manager of Chateau d’Yquem) — discuss the upcoming harvest in October, 2018. Image via Greig Santos-Buch.

In these areas it’s all about nuance, and the production practices here are some of the most intriguing and regulated in the wine world. Grapes are hand-harvested over multiple pickings while they reach optimal ripeness and/or botrytis integration. Everything from pruning methods, distance between rows, vines, mildew control and disease prevention must be balanced in the vineyard.

RELATED: An Overview of Sweet Bordeaux White Wines

Visit These Incredible Chateau in Sweet Bordeaux

Chateau Bastor Lamontagne

Chateau La Rame

Chateau du Cros

Chateau Langoiran (Manos)

Chateau de Fargues

Chateau Clos Haut Peyraguey

Chateau Sigalas-Rabaud

Chateau Rayne Vigneau

Chateau d’Yquem

Sweet Bordeaux Wine Region Map | Winetraveler.com
Map detailing Southern Bordeaux’s 10 Sweet Wine producing regions. Map courtesy Sweet Bordeaux Oficiel.

Sweet Bordeaux’s 10 Appellations

Sauternes

The most famous of Sweet Bordeaux’s appellations, Sauternes hosts some of Bordeaux’s most recognized properties, including Chateau d’Yquem and Chateau de Fargues. Location wise, this region resides on the Left Bank of the Garonne and is one of the most-southerly, though it is part of the Graves district.

While most assume that Sauternes is a single village, it actually encompasses the smaller villages of Barsac, Preignac, Fargues and Bommes. Sauternes wines are known for their full-bodied, opulent ripe flavors and ability to maintain these nuances over long periods of aging. 

Facts About Sauternes:

  • 130 Producers
  • Semillon, Sauvignon Blanc, Gris & Muscadelle 
  • Mix of Gravel, Clay, Silica, Chalky Clay and Limestone Soil
  • Villages: Barsac, Preignac, Fargues, Bommes
Chateau de Fargues Sweet Bordeaux Wine Comparison
Sampling 3 vintages of Chateau de Fargues (Sauternes) sweet wines in the 12th century Fargues fortress. October, 2018. Image via Greig Santos-Buch.

Barsac

Barsac is the second-most well-known village in this region of Bordeaux. It’s positioned just Northwest of Sauternes, but Barsac is also considered its own AOP. These wines tend to be lighter ins tyle when compared to Sauternes, though they are still sweet and can also benefit greatly from aging. 

Facts About Barsac:

  • 35 Producers
  • Semillon, Sauvignon Blanc, Gris & Muscadelle
  • Limestone Sub-soil with surface Red Clay
  • Village: Barsac
Sauvignon Gris being harvested in October, 2018. Harvesting is done completely by hand in Sauternes, over multiple passes. Grapes are visually inspected, stems are cut further to smell for disease and then collected. This was taken at Chateau Bastor Lamontagne in Preignac. Image via Greig Santos-Buch.
Sauvignon Gris being harvested in October, 2018. Harvesting is done completely by hand in Sauternes, over multiple passes. Grapes are visually inspected, stems are cut further to smell for disease and then grapes are collected. This was taken at Chateau Bastor Lamontagne in Preignac. Image via Greig Santos-Buch.

Loupiac

Meaning “Wolf” in French, Loupiac lies directly across from Barsac on the Right Bank of the Garonne River. These wines are also sweet, but have an elegant and delicate style associated with them. Depending on the vintage and the onset of noble rot, concentrations of Sauvignon Blanc and Semillon can vary. This region is also experimenting with and promoting some of their more youthful sweet whites, which pair exceptionally well with seafood, shellfish and even sushi.

Facts About Loupiac:

  • 37 Producers
  • Semillon, Sauvignon Blanc
  • Limestone Clay & Gravel Clay
  • Village: Loupiac
We stopped by Chateau du Cros to taste a range of vintages with critically acclaimed Japanese Chef Junko Sakurai.
We stopped by Chateau du Cros to taste a range of vintages with critically acclaimed Japanese Chef Junko Sakurai.

Sainte-Croix-du-Mont

Positioned just South of Loupiac and also on the Right Bank of the Garonne, Saint-Croix-du-Mont contains one of the most unique geological sites in all of Bordeaux, with a massive 22 million year old fossilized oyster bed residing just beneath your feet. The region also offers some incredible views of the surrounding countryside extending for miles. Wines made here tend to be sweet, vibrant, full-bodied, fruity and versatile. They can be consumed immediately or aged for long periods.

Facts About Saint-Croix-du-Mont:

  • 42 Producers
  • Semillon, Sauvignon Blanc, Gris & Muscadelle
  • Limestone
  • Village: Saint-Croix-du-Mont
Morning fog rolls off the vines in Cadillac AOP.
Morning fog rolls off the vines in Cadillac AOP. The fog eminating from the Garonne River plays a large roll in the onset and development of Botrytis in the region. Image via Greig Santos-Buch.

Cadillac

Cadillac is also located on the Right Bank of the Garonne River, surrounding both Loupiac and Saint-Croix-du-Mont. Semillon is the dominant grape variety planted in the area, with producers leveraging smaller concentrations of Sauvignon Blanc and Gris to give the wines additional vibrancy. Muscadelle aids in providing more layers of complexity. 

Facts About Cadillac:

  • 52 Producers
  • Semillon, Sauvignon Blanc, Gris & Muscadelle
  • Limestone, Clay and Gravel
  • Villages: 22

Premieres Cotes de Bordeaux

Cotes de Bordeaux occupies a large swath of land on the Right Bank of the Garonne in the Northern portion of Southern Bordeaux. It’s best known for red wine production, with wines being dominant in Merlot or Cabernet Franc. “Premieres” Cotes de Bordeaux helps to distinguish the region from its red wines. You can expect to find Medium Sweet and Sweet white wines that are best consumed while they’re young and vibrant. White floral tones and yellow fruit characteristics are commonly present.

Facts About Premieres Cotes de Bordeaux:

  • 43 Producers
  • Sauvignon Blanc, Semillon
  • Limestone, Clay and Gravel
  • Villages: 39
Sampling a range of wine sweet wine styles and vintages from Chateau Sigalas-Rabaud in Sauternes.
Sampling a range of wine sweet wine styles and vintages from Chateau Sigalas-Rabaud in Sauternes. Image via Greig Santos-Buch.

Graves Superieures

Across the river from Premieres Cotes de Bordeaux on the Left Bank lies Graves Superieures. Graves encompasses virtually all of the smaller appellations of Sweet Bordeaux on this side of the Garonne, with the exception of Bordeaux Superieur. Wines produced in this larger AOP can range from Medium Sweet to Sweet, and they typically exhibit more toasted, honey and dried fruit notes. They pair well with heavier dishes and are less frequently consumed while young.

Facts About Graves Superieures:

  • 57 Producers
  • Semillon, Sauvignon Blanc, Gris & Muscadelle
  • Gravel, Clay, Sand, Limestone
  • Villages: 27

Cotes de Bordeaux Saint-Macaire

Immediately South of Saint-Croix-du-Mont on the Right Bank you can find Cotes de Bordeaux Saint-Macaire. A lesser known appellation, the wines crafted here tend to be full-bodied with supple honeyed and candied aromatics. 

Facts About Cotes de Bordeaux Saint-Macaire:

  • 14 Producers
  • Semillon, Sauvignon Blanc
  • Sand, Clay, Chalk, Limestone
  • Villages: 10
Pairing sushi with young Sweet Bordeaux wines containing vibrant acidity makes for one of the most perfect pairings you can find. Image via Greig Santos-Buch.
Pairing sushi with young Sweet Bordeaux wines containing vibrant acidity makes for one of the most perfect pairings you can find. Image via Greig Santos-Buch.

Bordeaux Superieur

Another large AOP covering all of the Southern portion of Gironde, Bordeaux Superieur wines are less quality controlled from many of the appellations discussed above. These wines are commonly Medium-Sweet, and can be either machine or hand-harvested depending on the producer. Expect fresher, lighter bodied wines here that are best consumed early on.

Facts About Bordeaux Superieur:

  • 36 Producers
  • Semillon, Sauvignon Blanc, Gris & Muscadelle
  • Limestone, Clay & Gravel
The early onset of Botrytis is seen here in Southern Bordeaux. Noble Rot can appear golden in color while the morning dew is still fresh on the surface of the grapes.
The early onset of Botrytis is seen here in Southern Bordeaux. Noble Rot can appear golden in color while the morning dew is still fresh on the surface of the grapes. Image via Greig Santos-Buch.

Cerons

Last on our list of AOPs is Cerons. A region that focuses almost solely on Semillon-based sweet white wine production. Wines from Cerons tend to exhibit complexity and refinement along with a full and fruity body. Dominant tasting notes and aromatics can range from candied and roasted nuts to citrus and tropical fruit. Due to lack of acidity often acquired from the use of Sauvignon Blanc, their aging potential is somewhat limited (not to be aged beyond 2-5 years).

Facts About Cerons:

  • 14 Producers
  • Semillon
  • Gravel, Rough Sand, Chalk
  • Villages: Cerons, Illats-et-Podensac

More Essential Reading On Bordeaux:

Uncorking The Sweet White Wines of Southern Bordeaux

Discover The Famous Sauternes Wine Region

How To Pair Red Bordeaux Wines With Food

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Greig Santos-Buch
Founder & Chief Executive Officer at Winetraveler
Greig Santos-Buch is a Co-Founder at Winetraveler.com and a WSET 2 sommelier. He works with several brands focusing on experiential and immersive-style travel.

In his spare time, you can find him hiking with a bottle of Cabernet Franc in his backpack or scuba diving trying to talk a reef shark into trying Swiss wine.
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ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Greig Santos-Buch is a Co-Founder at Winetraveler.com and a WSET 2 sommelier. He works with several brands focusing on experiential and immersive-style travel. In his spare time, you can find him hiking with a bottle of Cabernet Franc in his backpack or scuba diving trying to talk a reef shark into trying Swiss wine.

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