Stalwart Sauternes 2018

Challenging vintage, but some nice wines

By Panos Kakaviatos for 

26 April 2019

A horrific hailstorm reduced yields for some estates to near nothing, if not nothing. I recall writing this news story about the harvest in Sauternes and Barsac for Decanter last year: including Château Guiraud’s announcement that it would only make dry white wine in 2018, because of the devastating hail. Yquem did not present any sample for the vintage to taste. And if the hail missed, widespread mildew earlier in the year reduced yields (by one-third, for example, at Château Raymond-Lafon).

No Guiraud this year …

It looked pretty awful initially during the harvest period, because no botrytis was forthcoming, what with all the dry and hot weather. Indeed, while the dry Indian summer was beneficial for reds – generally speaking, as this, too, was a bit more complicated – it was nerve wracking for Sauternes producers who did not see the development of the famous Noble Rot that makes their wines famous.

So it all seems pretty dark, no? Well, not really.

Following some passerillage (raisining) in September, October rains “just saved” the vintage, as Jean-Pierre Meslier of Château Raymond Lafon said.

In any case, the same problem that that plagues dry whites applies to the late harvest “stickies” in many cases in 2018: not enough acidity. But several estates proved their savvy – and I am not sure how – by making well balanced, spicy and exciting wines.

I tasted available 2018 barrel samples of Sauternes and Barsac on three occasions earlier this month: twice at the pre en primeur week media tastings organized so well by the UGCB, and again at the annual barbecue and tasting organized by international wine consultant and Sauternes expert Bill Blatch and his partner Steve Webb of Bordeaux Gold.

In any case, there is not as much Sauternes and Barsac to taste in 2018, with yields lower than ever … in a region already known for low yields.

Overall favorites include Doisy Daene, Raymond-Lafon and La Tour Blanche 

Château d’Arche – I felt like I was enjoying tropical juice here, with much pineapple and mango, and in that sense, it was a pleasure, but I did not get so much botrytis derived aromatics. It is just OK. 89-91

Château Bastor Lamontagne – A bit soupy on the nose? The palate is not flat, but it lacks the vigor and vibrancy of a great vintage. Merely OK. 89-91

Château Broustet – This has some botrytis spice, which was rather lacking in the preceding wine. Not bad, but – again – it could use a bit more acidity for more optimal balance and the overall sensation is of a lower key Barsac-Sauternes. 90-92

Château Coutet – Kind of dark for such a young pup. Not sure about the sample, but in any case, the evolution is already pronounced… Hmmmm. Asked for second bottle. Same results. Tasted again for the second day of the media tastings organized by the UGCB and it came off better, tasting more fresh, even if the color is noticeably darker than most other Sauternes and Barsac barrel samples. I’ll be cautious here. 90-92

Assessing Sauternes and Barsac at the UGCB pre-week media tastings at the Cité du Vin in Bordeaux

Château Doisy Daene* – Gun flint and white pepper! As usual, this estate stands out aromatically. This is the very best so far of the stickies. Bravo. Palate is neither heavy nor flabby and how did they manage that? Second day, tasted again: yup, a far better wine than most others, and perhaps my favorite overall in 2018 from barrel. 93-95

Château Doisy Vedrines – Not as interesting as the above, but not bad, either. There is a somewhat soupy aspect to this wine, but I like the black tea like botrytis flavors, which are quite evident and appealing. Tasted better chez Bill Blatch, so I will split the difference…. let us see from bottle! 91-93+

Quite a nice Barsac pair indeed.

L’Extravagant de Doisy Daene – Certainly more opulent than its more humble sibling, this wine has greater thickness and density so it should be “better”, right? In this vintage, I prefer the sibling, just because it came across a tad more fresh. But these are such absurdly early days, let us revisit from bottle, shall we? 92-95

Château de Fargues – My, my, only about one hectoliter per hectare, as vines had been affected by the hail. Thickly laid out spice. Ginger and black pepper! Engaging palate. Perhaps just a bit too thick on the palate, lacking the acidity of better vintages. One of the better wines in any case of 2018, but I yearn for a vintage of less heat … Tasted again on second day of pre-week barrel tastings organized by the UGCB. 92-94

Château Filhot – This comes across as more foursquare and does not have enough verve to excite me really. There is a certain cloying aspect, too. 88-90

Château Clos Haut Peyraguey – Like a few other barrel samples, this showed a noticeably darker color. Notes of apricot, a hint of stewed white stone fruit in fact delivered in a palate that is not soupy, but lacking the vigor and vibrancy of vintages like 2016. Aspects of cooked orange and pleasing chamomile, too. 91-93

Château Lafaurie Peyraguey – Kiwi and mango aromas enchant. This has more elegance and refinement on the palate, too, than some others in this series at the UCGB. Overall, one of the better Sauternes. 92-94

Château Myrat – Tasted after the Broustet chez Bill Blatch, I find this a better wine, with sweetness and touches of botrytis spice. A Barsac all delicate and softer spoken. There are better vintages to be sure, but a nice job in 2018 here. 91-93

One of my favorites from 2018

Château Raymond-Lafon – Tasted at the barbecue party hosted by Bill Blatch and Steve Webb, this is one of the more successful estates in 2018, exuding finesse and elegance, with fine concentration, too. 93-95

Château Rayne Vigneau – There is freshness here, and it is pleasing. More so than some other wines. Green apple, red apple. Cinnamon spice. This is actually quite nice! 😉 OK, maybe a tad warm, so won’t make old bones. 91-94

Château Romer du Hayot – Ok, I commend this wine for its relative freshness, but it lacks the refinement of, say, Raymond-Lafon, and the dimension of, say, Rieussec. So, it is a decent bottle of Sauternes. But considering how better back vintages are readily available, spend your cash there for this one. 89-91

Château Sigalas Rabaud – Wow, another nice one here. Freshness and sap. With green tea. This was (really) good! 93-95

Château La Tour Blanche – Subtle pepper notes and aromatics. The palate was rather elegant and even fresh. Tobacco aspects on the palate that intrigued me. What did they do here? One of my preferences among the stickies to be sure! 93-95

Château Rieussec – Not the overweight baritone that I was expecting, and then just a lovely expression. This is a great estate for a reason. Sure, thicker than some preceding wines, but there is some freshness, and there is botrytis derived aroma. The color is healthy and light. Encore a bit of white tobacco, maybe sweet white tobacco. A tad hot? Perhaps, but this is 2018. 92-95



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