Sauternes is home to the world’s finest sweet wines. Though it’s part of the Bordeaux region, the wines made here could not be any different from red Bordeaux. The unique wines of Sauternes have their own style, and, appropriately, their own quality ranking. If you’ve ever wondered what a Premier Cru Sauternes is, you’re in the right place. In this guide, we’ll tell you everything you need to know to understand the Premier Cru designations in Sauternes!
What does Premier Cru mean on a Sauternes wine label?
“Premier Cru” is a tricky phrase in wine, because it can have different meanings between one region and another.
When you hear about Premier Cru in Burgundy, for example, it’ll be in reference to one hyper-specific plot of vineyard land. It doesn’t matter who owns it or who makes wine there, the land itself is designated Premier Cru.
This is not the case in Sauternes, where the Premier Cru designation is applied to producers, and not necessarily their land. Often, the two are one and the same, but this is not exclusively the case – producers buy new land, vineyards can be divided, and so on – Premier Cru wineries remain Premier Cru wineries whether their vineyard land remains the same or not.
So what is Premier Cru wine in Sauternes?
To learn about Premier Cru wine in Sauternes, we need to go back in time to the year 1855. This is the year of the famous 1855 classification of Bordeaux wine. Many wine lovers associate the 1855 classification with red wines from the Médoc, and rightly so. First growth wineries like Château Margaux and Château Mouton Rothschild are wine legends, largely thanks to that old classification.
What you may not know is that the 1855 ranking also included the sweet wines of Sauternes and Barsac, a neighbouring region. Premier Cru châteaux from Sauternes are designated by this ranking, so let’s see what it’s about!
1855 Sauternes Premier Cru ranking
At the same time as the red wines of the Médoc, the top sweet wines from Sauternes were also ranked on an official hierarchy. The structure is a little different from the red wine ranking. Here, there are three quality tiers.
1. Premier Cru Supérieur
The top tier in Sauternes, Premier Cru Supérieur, has just one member: Château d’Yquem. This is the home of the world’s best sweet wine, and is among the most famous wineries in the world. Within Sauternes and throughout the world, Yquem literally stands apart. The wine is the best expression of noble rot sweet wine you’ll find, though it doesn’t come cheap! This is the equivalent of the “first growths” of the Médoc or Saint Emilion.
2. Premier Cru
A step below Château d’Yquem, you’ll find the Premier Cru châteaux. At their best, these wines can rival their Premier Cru Supérieur rival, and for a considerably lower price. The top producers in this tier include Château Suduiraut, Château Climens and Château Coutet.
3. Deuxième Cru
The final level in the Sauternes classification is Deuxième Cru, which translates to “second growth”. These wines are generally less famous and more affordable than the two Premier Cru levels, but there is great quality to be found also. Overall, the ranking system in Sauternes is not as important as that in the Médoc or elsewhere.
Have a sweet tooth? Check out our guide to sweet Spanish wine!