Whisky in Sauternes wine casks
1. The Origin
The Sauterne wine comes from the Sauterne region, a subregion of the Bordeaux wine region. It is not clear how the Sauterne wine became a local brand, but it's fame rose with the interest of Thomas Jefferson, 3rd president of the United States of America. He was very involved in the French wine business during his time as the American ambassador in France.
There are only a few laws for the Sauterne wine. First of all it has to come from the region. Also it must have at least 13% AVB and a high sweetness.
2. Production and post treatment
The Production of Sauterne wine is closely linked to the Botrytis fungus, also known a noble rot. There are two major factors that increase the fostering of the Botrytis fungus. First of all is the region itself. In autumn when the grapes are harvested the whole region is very foggy. The small river Ciron has very cold water and flows into the big river Garonne that has rather warm water. At this point the fog is formed and hangs around in the hills where the grapes grow. This moist air is the perfect breeding ground for the Botrytis fungus. The second resason is the Semillon grape. This variety of grapes is very vunerable to the noble rot.
The rot decreases the water content of the grape and increases the sugar content. This requirement of noble rotten grapes is very difficult to adapt into an industrialised wine making process. The grape pickers cannot pick the grapes in a regular fashion, but have to pick the grapes after examining the degree of rot. All of these factors reduce the yield of the Château.
To keep the suggar content of the grape juice at a constant level the chateaus use a method called Cryoextraction. The grapes are frozen and then pressed. The grape juice's water content is reduced. But this reduction also reduces the yield of grape juice even further.
After this complicated method of producing the wine, the Sauterne wine is matured in oak casks for 18 to 36 month. During this time the oak interacts with the wine, resulting in a more mature wine and a fruitier cask, which is good for our whisky later.
3. Effect on the Taste
Sweetness, fruits like apricots or peaches, you will also find honey or nuts in some whiskies.
4. Effect on the Colour
The Sauternes wine is bright to amber in colour. Some of the older vintages have darker colour, but this will have no effect on the whisky. The vintage wine is matured in the bottle. The wine in the bottle doesn't come in contact with the cask and therefore has nothing to do with the colour of the whisky.
5. Whisky Examples
The Sauterne casks are very favourable as they have a very sweet and complex flavour. Also the Sauterne production is very expensive and the Châteaus don't want to risk their high investment in the grapes by using bad casks.
An Arran cask finish specially selected by the Arran Master distiller. The Sauternes flavour is harmonising very well with the Arran distillery character.
The Glendronach 14 years is finished in Premier Cru Supérior Sauternes wine barrels. The Highland Single Malt whisky is non chill-filtered and uncoloured.
The Octomore is the best example that a highly peated malt can be matched with the sweetness from the Sauternes wine. The casks are from the famous Château d'Yquem.