Daniel Alibrand is among few producers still making Sauternes the old-fashioned way, making multiple passes through his vineyards to pick only the best grapes—sometimes berry by berry—most affected by botrytis. However, nature doesn’t allow this every year, as very specific conditions are conducive to the noble rot development required to make the most intense, concentrated wines. In this sense, Esquisse is like a lightweight Sauternes: balanced, complex, and certainly sweet, but without the viscosity and distinctive smoky, earthy aromatics of grapes strongly impacted by botrytis. This refreshing dessert wine is therefore much more versatile at table—it works wonders as an apéritif or with cheeses—and can still be cellared for several years. This is a real treat from one of Sauternes’ last true artisans.
In Sauternes, an appellation that is more well-known for wine châteaux than for the talented people that work the soil and make the wine, Valérie and Daniel Alibrand are braving it on their own without the safety net enjoyed by their more established neighbors. The Alibrands are relatively new to wine, having started Domaine de l’Alliance in 2005, upon the purchase of the vines from Valérie’s side of the family.
They farm seven hectares of vineyards in the village of Fargues and they are fortunate to have old vines, which impart fabulous complexity to the wine. Alliance refers to the marriage between man and nature, and the salamander on the label pays tribute to the many they regularly find in their vineyard.
Often considered the wine capital of the world, Bordeaux and its wines have captured the minds, hearts, and wallets of wine drinkers for centuries. For many, the wines provide an inalienable benchmark against which all other wines are measured.
Bordeaux is divided into three winegrowing regions with the city that gives the region its name in the near geographical center. The “right bank,” or the area located east of the Dordogne River, produces wines that are predominantly Merlot with small amounts of Cabernet Franc and Cabernet Sauvignon. The “left bank” is located to the west of the Garonne River and produces wines dominated by Cabernet Sauvignon, with Cabernet Franc, Merlot, Malbec and Petit Verdot.
The third region, Entre-Deux-Mers, lies between both rivers and produces white wines from Sauvignon Blanc, Sémillon, and Muscadelle. Though technically in the left bank, it is worth noting the appellation of Sauternes, which produces arguably the world’s most famous sweet wines from Sauvignon Blanc, Sémillon, and Muscadelle as well.
Though many top Bordeaux wines are sold en primeur (in advance of their bottling) and often through a middleman known as a negoçiant, Kermit has always preferred to purchase directly from the winemaker. For more than three decades he has sought out small producers, who make classic Bordeaux wines and are willing to play outside the negoçiant system. This ethic has led to longstanding relationships, excellent prices, and perhaps most important—wines of great value and longevity.
Trust the great winemakers, trust the great vineyards. Your wine merchant might even be trustworthy. In the long run, that vintage strip may be the least important guide to quality on your bottle of wine.—Kermit Lynch
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