Chateau Rayne Vigneau Sauternes 2003
Château de Rayne Vigneau’s vineyard lies on a splendid gravel mound, overlooking Sauternes near the village of Bommes and forming the third highest point in the area after Yquem. Back in the 17th century, “Vigneau de Bommes” was the original name for the vineyard, the château, the surrounding estate and, finally, the de Vigneau family, who were the first lords of the manor. Gabriel de Vigneau is indeed mentioned in documents as early as 1635. His son, Étienne, married Jeanne Sauvage, daughter of the Lord of Yquem, and supervised the estate starting 1681. Madame de Rayne, née Catherine de Pontac, bought the Domaine du Vigneau in 1834.
The official 1855 classification recognised Vigneau among the top wines of Sauternes. In 1867, the well-known wine broker Daney ranked it in first place, immediately after Yquem. Albert de Pontac, a great-nephew of Madame de Rayne, named the estate “Rayne Vigneau” in her honour.
The property also produces a very small quantity (3,000 cases) of an exceptional dry white wine. Le Sec de Rayne Vigneau comes from 7 hectares on the estate that are dedicated to just dry white production. This is unusual because most Sauternes estates will produce dry white wines from the berries that have not been attacked by botrytis. However, Rayne Vigneau’s philosophy to make dry white wines from parcels that are cultivated to make just dry whites produces a superior white wine and probably one of the top dry white wines from Bordeaux. In 2002, the entire estate benefitted from a restructuring of the vineyards and the construction of a 100% temperature controlled fermentation facility and aging cellar. These 7 hectares (along with the other 77 hectares used for the Sauternes) have benefited from substantial investments carried out at the property based on the work and study of the terroir conducted by the expert Xavier Chone . Plots of insufficient density were replanted; rootstock and clones were matched to the terroir; 12 hectares were uprooted, while only four hectares were replanted; the canopy was raised for superior photosynthesis.
Sweet and unctuous but delightfully charming, the finest Sauternes typically express flavors of exotic dried tropical fruit, candied apricot, dried citrus peel, honey or ginger and a zesty beam of acidity.
Sémillon, Sauvignon Blanc, Sauvignon Gris and Muscadelle are the grapes of Sauternes. But Sémillon's susceptibility to the requisite noble rot makes it the main variety and contributor to what makes Sauternes so unique. As a result, most Sauternes estates are planted to about 80% Sémillon. Sauvignon is prized for its balancing acidity and Muscadelle adds aromatic complexity to the blend with Sémillon.
Botrytis cinerea or “noble rot” is a fungus that grows on grapes only in specific conditions and its onset is crucial to the development of the most stunning of sweet wines.
In the fall, evening mists develop along the Garonne River, and settle into the small Sauternes district, creeping into the vineyards and sitting low until late morning. The next day, the sun has a chance to burn the moisture away, drying the grapes and concentrating their sugars and phenolic qualities. What distinguishes a fine Sauternes from a normal one is the producer’s willingness to wait and tend to the delicate botrytis-infected grapes through the end of the season.
Apart from the classics, we find many regional gems of different styles.
Late harvest wines are probably the easiest to understand. Grapes are picked so late that the sugars build up and residual sugar remains after the fermentation process. Ice wine, a style founded in Germany and there referred to as eiswein, is an extreme late harvest wine, produced from grapes frozen on the vine, and pressed while still frozen, resulting in a higher concentration of sugar. It is becoming a specialty of Canada as well, where it takes on the English name of ice wine.
Vin Santo, literally “holy wine,” is a Tuscan sweet wine made from drying the local white grapes Trebbiano Toscano and Malvasia in the winery and not pressing until somewhere between November and March.