Deep golden hue, rich and sweet. The characteristic scent, revealing work done by the little botrytis fungus. And when the years pass by and the wine ages, then it comes; the lovely flavour of saffron. Just marvellous!
I follow the road south from Pessac-Léognan, aiming for Sauternes-country, but stop when I realise I have arrived to the appellation Cérons. Cérons??? How often do we hear about Cérons?
“Cérons, the least important sweet white wine appellation in the Bordeaux region” says the Oxford Companion to Wine (1). Forgotten with soft sweet wines, so says the wine atlas. Thus, my interest is caught.
Cérons is really not a big spot. Only sweet wine from 38 hectare is allowed to carry the name Cérons. However, it is not only sweet white wine, but also dry white and red that are produced here. The latter two although not allowed to use the appellation of Cérons, instead obliged to put Graves on the label. If also these parts are counted for, you end up with about 120 to 200 hectares. Really small. I’m not surprised that this region hardly ever is mentioned.
Nonetheless, also Cérons can boast with a good heritage. The town is really old and is found on 100-century Roman maps, then by the name of Cirius or Cirione. But there is another story that raises my interest more.
We have learnt that it is thanks to the river Ciron that noble rot is thriving in Sauternes. Ciron has ice cold water. It flows into the Garonne, with its considerable warmer water, especially during the latter half of the summer. Cold + warm = mist. The mist drifts into the Ciron valley and the surrounding vineyards in the mornings. The sun beams warm the land during the days and the mist disappears. Voilà! The very best conditions for botrytis cinerea have been created.
The Ciron river stretches between Barsac and Preignac and flows into the Garonne in the village of Barsac. But it has not always been like that. 1750 was the inauguration year of the canal that gave Ciron its current route. Before that, the river turned north and reached Garonne in Cérons. Why was this canal built? The simple explanation is that the river too often was flooded over, which implied difficulties for travellers who wanted to pass the bridge in Barsac. And as that was the main road between Toulouse and Bordeaux, the complaints were frequent. Additionally, the many mills beside the river were also most often flooded, thus hampered to grind the flour so well needed in the city of Bordeaux.
This story makes me wonder if Cérons would have had even better conditions for noble rot if the river had been allowed to retain its original course.
Grapes in Cérons? Well, it is the traditional ones of the region. Sémillon dominates strongly with about 80%, complemented by Sauvignon Blanc and Muscadelle. Yields around 40 hl/ha. Does not sound much, but should be compared with only 25 hl/ha in Sauternes.
Chateau de Cérons is probably the most well-known estate making AOC/AOP Cérons. Of the 26 ha belonging to the estate, five is grown with grapes destined for the sweet wine. As usual when it comes to noble rot grapes, many turns are needed in the vineyard. Each time only to pick the perfectly infested grapes.
Saffron, saffron! The 1998 vintage is absolutely lovely and perfect to drink right now: Beautiful golden colour. Intensive and spicy bouquet with lots of saffron complemented with honey and ripe oranges. The taste is pleasantly sweet with balanced acidity. Once again saffron, honey and citrus. A short moment of thinness uncovers a simpler birthplace compared to the wines from the neighbouring more exclusive parts of Graves. But that is quickly forgotten when the wonderfully spicy taste takes over the scene and holds it there for a long time. The enjoyment is complete.
The Château de Cérons 1998 is in fact available in Sweden right now; to a very affordable price. A bargain I would say, for a bottle already matured for 15 years.
Cérons, well worth a little more attention.
(1) Robinson (2006) “The Oxford Companion to Wine”.