The vineyards of Sainte- Croix-du-Mont sit on the opposite side of the river Garonne to their illustrious neighbours of Sauternes and Barsac. We have been visiting the Solane family since the early 1980s. This is a 22 hectare vineyard which has been in the family for many generations. We used to meet Bernard originally but now it is his son Nicolas who is the winemaker and it was a pleasure to visit him again in the Spring, when we were once again blown away by the fabulous quality of his wines.
The varietals making up the wine are Semillon mainly, with some Sauvignon Blanc and a small portion of Muscadelle. Making these vins liquoreux is a very labour intensive process, which is why the wines from Sauternes command such a high price.
To make these wines it is crucial to let the grapes ripen as fully as possible to achieve the sugar levels required to make a dessert wine, that doesn’t require fortifying with additional alcohol. This is a dangerous game because frequently at harvest time in the autumn the rains can occur unexpectedly and dilute or ruin the harvest. To achieve maximum ripeness it is necessary to pay grape pickers to pick the grapes several times over a period of weeks. This is where the extended family members help, as otherwise this process would be unaffordable.
Finally, in certain years something miraculous happens. An early morning mist drifts off the river onto the vineyards, and this encourages the growth of the fungus, Botrytis cinerea, known as the pourriture noble. This fungus shrivels up the grapes, so that they start to resemble raisins, and concentrates the sugars while enhancing the acidity, and producing a memorable flavour of its own, often described as like marmalade.
Château Crabitan Bellevue 2013
This was an excellent year, combining great ripeness with freshness. For the first time, Nicolas made a blend of his best cuves of oak-aged and the unoaked wines. We are in no doubt that this is the best wine that we have ever tasted at Crabitan. Even better than their glorious 1985 – which still is magnificent.
Light gold in colour, on the nose there are citrus notes with hints of marmalade and honey. It is concentrated yet very elegant, with flavours of honey, confit lemons and frangipani , finishing with clean acidity and great length.
This will go perfectly with most desserts, but they are also superb with cheese. Finally, you can take a leaf out of the French book and enjoy them either as an aperitif or with Foie Gras.
Delicious now, but buy 6-12 bottles and it has the potential to age beautifully over the next 25 years.
The value for money is staggering – at a recent tasting we preferred their wine to a delicious well-known Sauternes, which is twice the price!