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Sauternes cocktails stir up debate in Bordeaux

Using Sauternes to make cocktails, from mulled wine to the 'saujito', has divided opinion among châteaux and drawn strong criticism from the ex-owner of Château d’Yquem.

Sauternes cocktails are not the way to create new fans of Bordeaux’s premier sweet wines, according to Count Alexandre de Lur Saluces, former owner of Château d’Yquem and who’s family has owned Château de Fargues in the region for several centuries.

While there is little argument that estates in Sauternes and Barsac produce some of the world’s finest sweet wines, it’s also no secret that sales have struggled in recent decades and there has long been debate in the region on how to tackle this.

Some châteaux have experimented with Sauternes styles that can be used in cocktails, such as mulled wine, a ‘saujito’ – a fresh take on the classic mojito – or simply with sparkling water, or orange zest.

But, in a letter sent to French trade publication Terre de Vins, Lur Saluces said it was ‘arrogant’ to think that Sauternes wines could be enhanced through mixology. 

He said that such methods have been tried in the past, without success, and the obstinacy of those looking to improve Sauternes with additives ‘would be better used to promote the truth of Sauternes’. 

He added that the wines’ true qualities and authenticity have been ‘very poorly communicated in the recent years’.

Several châteaux responded to the letter, including Lafaurie-Peyraguey, which was bought by Silvio Denz, of Lalique, in 2014 and briefly launched a mulled wine using Sauternes in December 2019 at its new fine dining restaurant on the estate.

David Bolzan, MD of the estate, said that the team has pursued excellence in its winemaking but that it was also important to make Sauternes accessible.

‘Sauternes can lay claim to a legendary longevity but everyone should know that the impatient amateur can also enjoy it,’ he said in a follow-up letter published on Terre de Vins. He called on producers to work together.

Do Sauternes cocktails work?

Laura Vidal, a sommelier who previously did a mixology event with a Sauternes brand and a group of well-known bartenders, told Decanter.com, ‘The natural sweetness, the smoky quality brought by the noble rot and the the unique mineral qualities of the wine make for an interesting component [in] a cocktail.’

‘You can be surprised by how a skilled bartender can really make a product shine,’ said Vidal, who co-created the Paris Pop Up dining experience and co-owns La Mercerie restaurant in Marseille.

Of Lur Saluce’s recent comments, she said, ‘I understand his perspective that alone a Sauternes is enough in and of itself, but perhaps it can also be enjoyed on occasion as a luxury product associated [with] other delicious products in an expert’s shaker.’

See also: 

Sauternes: A fresh debate


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