Is unctuous the coating you feel on the tongue and mouth from some Sauturnes?  I like that feel and when not present, I don’t enjoy the Sauturnes as much.  Just had a ‘89 D Yquem that was not unctuous but had good flavor, complexity and acidity but I was disappointed by the lack of the coating.  Am I being too much of a snob and should concentrate on the other elements? I like that thick feeling and wonder what makes a Sauturnes unctuous: the amount of boytris, the age, or something else.  Appreciate any and all comments.

Steve. Seattle

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"Unctuous" in this context means oily, in other words, thick, viscous, syrupy.  Sauternes often have this quality, due to the high sugar content, perhaps other organic molecules as well.  Grapes affected by noble rot (Botrytis cinerea) become dehydrated because the infected grape skins allow water to escape.  The resulting grape juice and wines are concentrated with high levels of dissolved organic compounds, which can be objectively measured as high specific gravity and subjectively appreciated as an unctuous mouthfeel.  A lower quality botrytized wine has a higher water content with diluted flavors.

I have also heard and read that sweetness decreases with age, but don't have enough personal experience to agree or disagree.  One theory is that age-related complex flavors such as nuttiness, resin, sherry, etc... make the sweetness less noticeable, but the sugar is still there. Chemically speaking, the sugar should remain stable for decades or longer, unless there are live microbes in the wine, in which case it would quickly spoil.  Ultra high sugar Ezsencia is said to age for centuries.  Perhaps some chemistry experts out there will comment.

Good points Javachip.  On the ageing point, I agree that the sugar is still there with older Sauternes.  In my experience, the addition of tertiary aromas & flavours add balance to the Sauternes so that the sugar/sweetness may seem less apparent than in youth. Some of those tertiary notes may have a bitter tone, e.g. orange marmalade, creme brulee or burnt sugar, which also balance the perceived sweetness.  I'm not a chemist but would suggest it is the perceived rather than actual sugar that changes with age.  


Way out of my league, but there are several things going on with age. Whether the sugar degrades or not is actually an open question as far as I know, but our perception of it changes because the wine changes. When we smell strawberries, we expect sweet, so we taste sweet. When we smell green peppers, we don't expect sweet, but even with the same amount of sugar present, they won't taste as sweet. So a Grenache with less sugar than a Merlot might actually taste sweeter to us.

Same with sweet wine. As the wine ages, it oxidizes a bit, the chemistry changes, and the volatile compounds change and even with the same sugar level, it tastes less sweet. The weight of the wine is partly due to dissolved solids and partly due to other compounds. Oxidation of glucose produces glycerol, which has an effect on the mouth feel, but there's also oxidation of tartaric acid and other things that completely change the aromatics of the wine and also the texture of it. The oldest sweet wines I've had that were not fortified have seemed lighter in weight than their younger counterparts. Some are still pretty good though!

I'm not a fan of that thick syrupy quality in young Sauternes actually.

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