Though Jurançon is a serious competitor, Monbazillac is generally considered the best appellation of the Southwest for sweet wine. Monbazillac wines are closer to Sauternes in style than the wines of Jurançon because they are made from Bordeaux grapes, rather than Manseng. Basically, Jurançon wines have their own style, while Monbazillacs are excellent, inexpensive imitations of Sauternes.
Located near the Dordogne river, the Monbazillac appellation is centered around the village of the same name. The appellation encompasses about 5,400 acres of vineyards and produces more than 500,000 cases of sweet white wine yearly. Remarkably, this is more than Sauternes itself makes! Dry whites made in this appellation are sold as Bergerac.
Sweet botrytized wines have been made in Monbazillac for centuries. Monbazillac became one of the first AOCs of France in 1936.
Climate and Viticulture
The Dordogne river flows right through Bordeaux (although not through Sauternes), and hence there are many similarities between the climate of Bordeaux and the climate of Monbazillac. However, the soil of Monbazillac is vastly inferior to that of Sauternes, made up of clay and limestone rather than gravel banks. Another major disadvantage is that Monbazillac lacks the famous "Sauternes fog" that makes Bordeaux's sweet wine one of a kind.
There are many reasons Monbazillac succeeds in emulating Sauternes, but one of them is definitely the usage of the same grapes. Sémillon, Sauvignon Blanc, and Muscadelle are the principal grapes here, just as in Sauternes. In general, Muscadelle is used a bit more here than in Sauternes. The exact difference this makes is unclear, but by some estimations Monbazillacs' fruit flavors are more orange than yellow. Monbazillac's best wines have rich, honeyed flavors of tropical fruit and peach. Most wines made in these styles can age for up to 10 years, and the best can likely be cellared for up to 25 years.
Five producers in particular stand out here.
- Domaine de l'Ancienne Cure: Ancienne Cure, also a leader in Bergerac, makes wines that are notoriously hard to find but very worthwhile if you do find them. Their basic Monbazillac has an impressive pedigree.
- Grande Maison: Grande Maison's vineyards are made up of sandstone soils and are planted with 50% Sémillon, 35% Muscadelle, and only 15% Sauvignon. The producer makes three cuvées: the Cuvée d'Anges, which is exotic and honeyed but not overly rich, the Cuvée du Château, which has a much better expert pedigree, and the vibrant but honeyed Cuvée des Monstres.
- Les Hauts de Caillevel: Although extremely hard to find, any and all of this producer's cuvées are very good.
- Tirecul-la-Gravière: The 1995 vintage of this producer's Cuvée Madame was rated 100 points by Robert Parker, likely the only wine from this appellation ever to receive such critical acclaim. Thick, creamy, and very sweet, this powerful, apricot-rich wine is much more flavorful than most of its competitors, and combines power and style with enviable smoothness.
- Vignoble des Verdots: The grapes that make this Monbazillac are botrytized, manually harvested, and carefully selected to make very exclusive, flavorful wine.
There are no subregions here.