Sauternes and Barsac 2018

Saved by the October (Botrytis) Bell  

By Panos Kakaviatos for

24 January 2021

Readers may recall that a hailstorm reduced yields for some estates to near nothing, if not nothing. Château Guiraud for example had announced that it would only make dry white wine in 2018, because of the devastating hail.

As for the growing season, the botrytis only showed up very late. 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 affects dry whites in 2018 applies to some late harvest “stickies”, as well: not enough acidity. But several estates proved their savvy – and I am not sure how – by making well balanced, spicy and exciting wines.

Mask on: Jean-Jacques Dubourdieu of Château Doisy-Daëne at the blind tasting of whites from Sauternes and Barsac

Before getting to Château d’Yquem, where I enjoyed lunch with Jane Anson and Yohan Castaing, we tasted other classified growths blind at Château Doisy Daëne in Barsac, in a cozy tasting room. Jean-Jacques Dubourdieu poured many wines for us, on behalf of fellow producers. As with other producers, October rains brought the bulk of the botrytis. “We had fear because of the real lack of botrytis” Finally by October, rains brought it. “Yes some passerillage” and “very doré”, he said. “The grapes were very healthy, so sorting was less essential”. Some estates, such as Château Climens and Château de Fargues produced little or no wine because of the hail. These were tasted blind, so the notes are more or less spontaneous. It would be useful to taste again and over a longer period of time, but first impressions count! 

Table tasting at Château Doisy-Daëne

As per usual, if in bold, I liked in particular. If red and bold even more. And if underlined, too, a kind of wine nirvana.

  • Pretty engaging wine, there is richness, a bit of raisiny aspects – passerillage – this one has a bit of raisiny. There is sweetness, and I like the verve. Initially, I preferred this one to the next, but time in glass brought out the qualities of the next wine more. Château Caillou (Barsac): 90
  • More closed on the nose. Needed to be coaxed! The palate has a pleasant bitterness, of interest. But I could see how that could put some tasters off. The preceding wine was more rounded. Although I prefer the superior density here. Toffee notes, richness, salted caramel. Château Sigalas Rabaud (Sauternes): 91+
  • This is noticeably darker in color, as compared to preceding wine. Some austerity on the palate, but there is character. Bitters for mixed drinks. Acidity is there to reign in the richness. But not quite as smooth and delineated as the preceding wine. Château Rayne Vigneau (Sauternes): 90
  • Odd nose, strange sample. Note reserved. Château Lamothe Guignard (Sauternes) 
  • Lovely – after two lightweights, this is really quite nice, with body and verve. OK, you get evident pineapple from the vintage, but also quince, peach cobbler with cinnamon. And the body is very agreeable. Length and some freshness. One of my favourites! Château La Tour Blanche (Sauternes): 95
  • Not as intersting as the preceding wine, a pretentious bottle as well: heavy! Somewhat bitter. Let’s get back to it. Certainly miles better than the next wine. Orange rind freshness, as if in a jam. It grows on you! Château Romer (Sauternes): 91
  • One of the darkest colored wines. This is OK, a bit burnt in aspect. And short. Note reserved. Château Coutet (Barsac)
  • This has contour, albeit a bit tropical and sweeter than the #7, for example. With mango and coconut. Overall balance and suavity. One of the better wines. Château de Malle (Sauternes): 92
  • Nose is more white peach here. Quite a fine “sticky” texture. This has veritable verve! With white pepper freshness. One of the best in the series! Château Doisy Daëne (Barsac): 94
  • This has a crème brulée nose, but rather intense in fact. And here we have a wine that may be fresher but resembles more #8. Château Lamothe (Sauternes): 90
  • This is clearly superior to the preceding wine. You do get freshness. Château Doisy Vedrines (Barsac): 92
  • This has a bit of energy albeit some cotton candied aspects. A bit more opulent than the next wine and a fine showing.  Clos Haut Peyraguey (Sauternes): 92
  • More straightforward and “droit”, and I like it. Château de Myrat (Sauternes): 92
  • I like a certain tangerine freshness and wet stone “minerality” to this one. It is frank and agreeable! Somewhat closed in however, but I like the distinct note of clove on the finish. Château Broustet (Barsac): 92+
  • Darker color here. More caramel bordering on burnt, again crème brulee thing going on. Note reserved. Château Suduiraut (Sauternes)

Unveiled : a very fine Sauternes in 2018, in a stylish new bottle

  • Wintergreen freshness on the nose. There is lovely body and refinement to the wine. One of the better wines of the tasting. Lovely body and contour. Neither too caramel, neither too tropical. More pear and white stone fruit. Black tea. Lovely. Very dense on the palate but balanced with enough freshness. Château Rabaud Promis (Sauternes): 94
  • This is a bit more heavy handed. Lacks refinement. A bit more intense and somewhat hot as well on the finish. Château Romer du Hayot (Sauternes) 
  • This is tropical fun and tastes nice. Pineapple. More like one could expect from 2018. Good but not great. Filhot But one of the best Filhots I can recall… Château Filhot (Sauternes) 90

Château d’Yquem

Preceding a fabulous lunch, about which I will post separately, we tasted the 2018 vintage wines produced at the estate (the dry wine in the dry white section). Along with director Pierre Lurton and staff Francis Meyer (nearly 40 years with the estate), Sandrine Garbay and the recently arrived Lorenzo Pasquini.

Château d’Yquem – Tasted over a 20-minute period at the estate with the crew, I love the texture and depth, which is a sign of the great nectar that is Yquem, with a rather creamy crème brûlée, white pepper and bergamot, quince and mango  freshness. Overall, this blend of 85% Semillon and 15% Sauvignon Blanc, clocking in at 13.5% alcohol, leaves one the impression of a more charming Yquem as opposed to a top vintage. And yet, it is Yquem: Compared to the other stickies in the region, it exudes such amazing opulence, with a finish evoking Peche Melba and botrytis spice, especially expressed as ground ginger and nutmeg evoking an autumnal pumpkin soup, too. The tone is youthful as one would expect. Has 145g/L residual sugar and a needed 3.95 pH. Stay tuned for a tasting of the seminal 2001, which I will try at the estate next month for a 20-year retrospective of that great vintage along with the other Sauternes and Barsac wines. 96

Château Raymond-Lafon (AOC Sauternes) – After publishing this text, I received a bottle of this 2018 vintage and loved it. The estate remains underrated, but with plots of vines in choice locations in Sauternes, some just next to Yquem. The Meslier family has worked hard to maintain high quality with ruthless selections, year in and year out. The blend of 80% Semillon and 20% Sauvignon Blanc comes across quite rich in this vintage, with lovely notes of white stone fruit, acacia, and black tea, with some subtle tropical fruit aspects like mango and pineapple. It does not seem to have the same grip as, say, the 2003, but there is much density. As ever, and as with many other wines from this great region, it is hard to gauge the quality at such a young age. While I do not place 2018 in the top tier of vintages, Raymond-Lafon excels. 94+

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