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Bring a Sauternes to Thanksgiving

Bring a Sauternes to Thanksgiving

Sauternes, the famous sweet wine from Bordeaux, is the perfect wine to enjoy over Thanksgiving dinner. 

It’s that time of year again where we all head home or over to a friend’s place for Thanksgiving. I’ll be working the floor at Waverly Inn that day, and offering a Cabernet Franc and a hearty white from Southwest France (both great pairings for the bird and the array of side dishes). But you are going to need to pick up a bottle along the way to your destination.

I’m here to suggest you get a bottle of that famous French sweet wine, a Sauternes. This appellation is part of Bordeaux, but blessed with geography that makes morning fog and afternoon sunshine, which encourage a certain fungus that attacks the grapes and dries them out. The flavors of the grapes are deepened and the sugar is concentrated. Centuries of wine-making skill has taught these wineries how make gems sought after by connoisseurs around the world. And I’ve got a few reasons why this is the perfect wine to present to your hosts, and a no-brainer as a bringalong wine.

The Vineyards at Château Climens – Barsac, France

I just returned from a trip to Sauternes, and the classic meal and wine pairing there is Sunday supper of roast chicken. Sounds kinda familiar, right? In Sauternes, they clearly go for this “golden Bordeaux,” but you need to know that rich dark meat, lean white meat, yams, roasted carrots, and mashed potatoes with gravy all pair nicely here. Think about an apple chutney: roasted apples, hints of winter spices and ginger, a bit of bright citrus. We are more likely to understand this pairing than sweet wine, but all those flavors and more are inherent to a wine from Sauternes.

Any Sauternes you find in a wine shop is going to work: there are no bad Sauternes that make it into a retail outlet. And for now don’t worry about vintage. It’s a fascinating study, but you won’t find multiple vintages in your typical wine store and while these wines are definitely different each year they are consistently great and can be loosely grouped in one of two categories. You might find the traditional grand vin, which is more complex, rich, and although sweet, is tremendously balanced in acid and structure. This is the wine that will be really appreciated with dessert, but do try it with the turkey. It’s a stunning pairing. You might also find the more affordable cuvee blends of the great houses of Sauternes. These wines contain more fresh fruit and add a dynamic brightness, but they still contain grapes affected by “noble rot” and that complex sweetness. These wines will be a bit lighter and more versatile to pair with the rest of the  meal.

The Cellar at Château Climens – Barsac, France

A bonus you may run into: dry white wine from Sauternes. It will be labelled “Bordeaux blanc sec” but it will be made by the skilled winemakers from these renowned estates with grapes harvested from the estates. Generally, Bordeaux dry white wines have a blend of Semillon in addition to Sauvignon Blanc, which makes the wine a bit heartier than a simple Sauv Blanc, but that means its gonna go great for Thanksgiving wine pairing.


Below are some of my favorites Sauternes you may see around town. All four are excellent values and won’t break the bank. 


This is the dry wine from 1st growth producer Château Guiraud, which shouts out it minerality, includes all the citrus you want from a Sauvignon, but is much more serious in depth of flavor due to the Semillon. 

Click here to learn more about this wine.





The cuvee from Chateau Climens that is a little less complex (and pricey) than the grand vin, but that only means its tropical fruit notes sing louder. It is a touch sweet, but is incredibly versatile in wine pairing. Spicy ethnic food is a no-brainer pairing but at Thanksgiving this will act as a fruit chutney on the turkey, or as a squeeze of citrus on the yams or green beans.

Click here to learn more about this wine.




Another cuvee blend, this time from Chateau Rieussec. The 2015 I had recently had notes of honey and baked apple, but some racy salinity, mineral structure, and a brightness I want to freshen my palate before I go in for seconds.

Click here to learn more about this wine.




When you find a grand vin (meaning no cuvee name, just the chateau name and “Sauternes,” just buy it. Some people only seek out old Sauternes. But the younger ones to me are just as exciting. Expect insane amounts of concentrated fresh fruit, tropical fruit, and candied fruit flavors which, I promise, will make you just stop and focus on your taste buds for a moment. It will go with any fruit or nut dessert on the table, and this style of wine is always a show stopper.

Click here to learn more about this wine.