ALINE BALY - Barsac v. Sauternes

This may be completely ridiculous, but I have wondered for a while…

With Barsac being within the Sauternais region, you are able to use the designation Sauternes or Barsac. From your experience and speaking with others, how do the Chateaus decide which designation to use. I ask because it seems that the term Sauternes if more well known and I wonder if the non wine geek even knows what Barsac is. Any thoughts?

Ps - I love me some golden sweetness! flirtysmile

Hi Zach,

No such thing as a ridiculous wine question!

So, yes, Barsac is an appellation within an appellation. All Barsacs are Sauternes, but not vice versa. Why do we get our own AOC? Soil composition! If you drive by Sauternes, Preignac, Bommes and Fargues (the four communes that produce AOC Sauternes) you’ll see a lot of grey colors when looking at the terroir. There are up to 7 different soil component, including sand and gravel (which is what is most visible when driving by). But, when you drive around Barsac you’ll see a lot of red and brown-based soil tops. That’s due to the clay that is prevalent in our area. A Barsac soil for the most part is clay with a limestone subsoil.

Now – how does one decide to label their wine if they are in Barsac? In our case my grand-father couldn’t decided so we declare AOC Barsac, but we mention both on our label with a hyphen. The word Sauternes is better known than Barsac. When someone approaches me during a tasting and automatically mentions Barsac I know that I am speaking with someone who has had the opportunity to taste a lot of our region’s gold wines. They know Barsac – they know that Barsac has its own style due to its distinct soil (we have wines that lean towards freshness, less opulent than our neighbors). However, to the folks that are still discovering, they’ve probably been first and foremost exposed to the word Sauternes. Barsac has little meaning and having Sauternes on our wine gives them a reference point to what to expect when they open the wine: a sweet white wine made with Botrytis with Semillon, Sauvignon Blanc and Muscadelle (if not the cepages, at least the sweet part is top of mind).

I do feel strongly that if you are Barsac producer you need to incorporate this on your wine label – cause it is an indicator of the style of wine that can’t be reproduced anywhere else thanks to the concept of terroir!


In my experience it is down to the individual characters at the chateaux. Some are rightfully very proud of their Barsac roots and wouldn’t dream of using Sauternes, others are more commercially minded and don’t see the point of wasting ink or cluttering their label with the word Barsac when Sauternes is the universally more recognised term. Some, like Aline and Philippe at Coutet are a mixture of both school of thoughts. Most, however, do what their ancestors have always done and recognise quite rightly that consumers would be confused by any dramatic label change.