Sauternes satisfaction #Bdx15

By Panos Kakaviatos for

11 May 2015

Thanks to Christie’s consultant, harvest expert and Sauternes promoter Bill Blatch and his fellow Bordeaux Gold partner Steve Webb, I kicked off en primeur week assessing barrel samples from Sauternes and Barsac. Afterwards, we enjoyed a great barbecue that started off with fresh raw oysters. Oysters and Sauternes go together – as counterintuitive as that may sound.

To confirm impressions, I tasted the barrel samples as well at the UGCB – and a few others at Bordeaux trading company Ulysses Cazabonne.

My overall impression? A very satisfying 2015 vintage, with some veritable gems!

Special reader note: Tasting such young barrel samples of Sauternes is not the easiest task, so I tend to be more conservative in assigning scores when it comes to Sauternes. 

Blatch dubs 2015 a “dream vintage” for Sauternes, and that works for some wines, but I think it was somewhat heterogeneous, as the precocious and solar aspect of the vintage made them quite rich, with some coming off as lacking enough verve to be truly great and a few downright flabby. But many producers crafted good to superb wines. There is much to love in 2015.

Just enough rain in June and August brought about an early start to the botrytis process, and the vintage was already precocious with very even flowering earlier in the year. Like the all-star Yquem, many estates picked in four tries, the botrytis set off by wet weather. After each rain there was – as Bill Blatch wrote – a “rôti stage by four subsequent perfect sunny, dry and cool days.”

The barrel samples were not as evidently sweet as, say, in 2009. For example, the overall average was about around 130 grams of residual sugar per liter, as opposed to the 140-150, characteristic of the 2009s.

The 2015 vintage as a whole however does not attain the pristine balance of 2001 and it lacks the density of 2010 or 2011, and is not quite as elegant as it was in 2007, but some barrel samples were particularly compelling.

As usual, when in bold, I liked in particular. If red and bold, even more, and – when underlined too – a kind of wine (barrel sample) nirvana!

Assessing Sauternes

Assessing Sauternes

Domaine de l’Alliance
This is a small property run by a former fisherman, Steve Webb told me. He tries to be organic, apparently. The wine shows vigor, and up front richness. A bit short on the finish though. 86-89

Château d’Arche
Fresh, and smooth, with orange peel aspects. Quite a nice Sauternes sample, although it gives the overall impression of being “loose and easy” with a certain noticeable sweetness, not quite as well balanced by verve. This is just good. 87-89

Château Bastor-Lamontagne 
Smooth, mandarin orange flavors, orange blossom – and rich – with white peach, too, and overall a smooth and polished texture, albeit lacking the depth and nuance of a “great” Sauternes, but for the price, a very fine one! 88-90+

Château Clos Haut-Peyraguey 
Quite a smooth delivery of the Sauternes goods here. Even if it lacks the tension and coiled energy of, say, Raymond Lafon, it does have the requisite richness, bright acidity and burgeoning spice. Impressions confirmed at the UGCB tasting: quite nice focus, elegance and purity. It is just a tad thicker than the Lafaurey Peyraguey, tasted side-by-side at the UGCB tasting, so if I had to choose, I would give that latter a slightly higher score for greater elegance. 90-92+

Château Coutet (Barsac)
Like Clos Haut Peyraguey, tasted just before at Bill Blatch’s shindig, this wine conveys smooth balance, with opulence and brightness, if a bit less fat – typical for Barsac. Tasted again at the UGCB and the spice is lovely here, the nose endearing. Quite a bit of mid palate sap and grip, bordering on large scaled and – I wonder? – a touch of warmth. Intensity is impressive however. Give it time in barrel, it should turn out excellent. 91-93

Château Doisy-Daëne (Barsac)
This was a lovely, bright, and floral sample, with light orange blossom notes and white stone fruit freshness. Added complexity brought by clove and even nutmeg spice, even if the body lacked a bit of substance as compared to some of the top Sauternes/Barsac samples tasted today. But recall the role of barrel aging to “fill out” the palate and the reassuringly salted almond aspect on the long finish. Wonderful! 91-93+

Château Doisy-Daëne L’Extravagant (Barsac)
Very bright and crystalline fruit, focused and precise. Gorgeous aromatics. And Bill Blatch said that Sauvignon Blanc did particularly well in 2015. This shows that, perhaps, too. An expensive micro-cuvee, and darn delicious and opulent. 92-95

Château Doisy-Védrines (Barsac)
The nose was quite mentholated, and this sample – as Steve Webb confirmed – was perhaps not the best representative. But the palate showed much substance and vigor and was full bodied without being heavy. Well balanced. A long finish. Excellent potential. Tasted again at the UGCB and the smooth palate showed quite a bit of rigor but I think the charm of the Doisy Daëne is more interesting. 90-92+

Château de Fargues*
Was this the best of all today with the genial Steve Webb and Bill Blatch? Could be! Chris Kissack, the veritable wine doctor, was there, too. He did not like is as much as I did, but I really think de Fargues did something special in this vintage. Like Raymond-Lafon, it has this coiled energy as well as all the opulence you expect from Sauternes but even more so… Its cooler terroir, that can thrive in more solar vintages like 2015, shined. Tasted again at the UGCB tasting, and positive impressions confirmed: opulent, intense and robust. There is quite a fruit packed punch in this wine, with more energy and balance than almost all the other Sauternes, bar perhaps Yquem. Really lovely stuff! 94-96

Château Filhot
This estate continues to make somewhat ho-hum Sauternes. A one-note wonder of pineapples. And somewhat flabby… The sample I tried later at the UGCB tasting left a similar impression. 86-88

Château Guiraud  
This could be one of the best Guirauds I have ever tried from cask. It conveys more than its average energy. The Sauvignon Blanc ripeness and energy is very noticeable. Bill Blatch’s excellent harvest report on 2015 reported that Semillon grapes suffered more from the sporadic rains of August than did Sauvignon Blanc. There is also white pepper, ginger, with fine acidity! Good juicy apricot stickiness. Guiraud can sometimes be a bit heavy, but not at all in 2015. Very nice job! 92-94+

Château Les Justices
This is an inexpensive brand that can be very good. But not in 2015, at least based on the barrel sample I tried, which lacks vigor, has a pineapple juice aspect, and comes across as boring overall, especially in the context of the vintage: a disappointment. 86-88

Château Lafaurie-Peyraguey
Another fine success from Sauternes, here we have quite a bit of nuance and elegance, as compared to the Guiraud, tasted just before chez Bill Blatch. Lovely notes of spice and white fruit, here, a bit of ripe pear that is delicious and crisp while being rich. Bravo! 91-93+

Château Lamothe Despujols
More sugar than fruit… A rather flabby impression.

Château Lamothe Guignard
A flabby style, a bit medicinal, one-toned and lacking brightness.

Château Liot (Barsac)
The nose is white pepper and the palate has a savory attack, but there is a slight heaviness on the finish that detracts. 87-89

Château de Malle
After two disappointing samples from Filhot and Lamothe Guignard, this comes across as merely OK. It is balanced, it shows some interesting spice, but lacks the density and the volume of the samples I really like from this tasting. 87-89

This is the effect of Yquem 2015

The effect of tasting Yquem 2015, at Bordeaux’s main theatre, with friends Fabrizio Bucella and Nina Izzo

Château de Myrat
Lovely wine, with much verve and energy, balanced among residual sugars, alcohol and acidity. Quite a nice sample here. Tasted again, indeed, it comes across as quite zesty and flavorful. Somewhat lacking the complexity of the top Sauternes, but exudes spicy flavor and in balance. 89-91+

Château Nairac (Barsac)
Lovely nose, vivid spice, white pepper and cinnamon, the sample still had a touch of CO2 but I suspect this will be a fine wine. Note reserved owing to the noticeable CO2.

Château Rabaud-Promis
I am not sure about this one, as it seems to have more “make up” than substance, the vanilla like aromatics coming from the oak perhaps, and an overall glossy delivery that seems to lack requisite energy and vivacity. Let’s see later on from bottle. Tasted again, with similar results, quite vanilla like. Not a long term Sauternes but will please palates. 88-90

Château Raymond-Lafon  
One of the best Sauternes, steely and serious, yet much richness bound by crisp and bright white stone fruit, but playing it close to the vest: there is a lot of substance to the palate, whose opulence and fruit ripeness is encased in a tightly wound aspect, all in balance. A long finish. 92-95

Château de Rayne-Vigneau
Was the sample off? The aromatics were quite clearly medicinal and not particularly pleasing, but the wine was fine on the palate… A better experience at the UGCB tasting, the sample showed verve and spice like honeyed clove and orange blossom. Tasted after Rieussec, more comparative elegance and lightness, but not as much flavor intensity or concentration. A question of style! 90-92+

Château Rieussec
This expresses such impressive richness and depth, and amounts to a pretty amazing wine. It does reflect the more solar aspects of the vintage, not so much a cooler aspect… Superb density, a tour de force, a tidal wave. It wipes you out a bit, while de Fargues keeps you coming back for more. Lovers of the Rieussec style will not be disappointed however. 92-94+

Château Romer
A bit boring. A bit lacking in nuance – just a one dimensional style. 86-88

Château Romer du Hayot
Too much CO2 to really judge. Note reserved.

Château Sigalas Rabaud  
Resembles Rabaud Promis in its facile aspects, but not as “made up”, so this one is pretty good. Still, I miss some vivacity and energy. 88-90

Château Suau (Barsac)
I tried two samples. The one at Bill Blatch’s tasting started out nicely enough but then petered out a bit into a warm, somewhat sweet detour, but it had more vivacity at Domaine de Chevalier (Olivier Bernard of Domaine de Chevalier recently acquired this Sauternes). Note reserved.

Château Suduiraut 
Well, now, this is quite a textbook Suduiraut: rich and large scaled with gorgeous spice notes of cinnamon and with just the acidity needed to prevent a sensation of a too warm or flabby finish. I think it could have used a bit more energy, but that may just be the vintage character. Tasted again at the UGCB, with similar impressions. 91-93

Yquem bottles #bdx15

Château La Tour Blanche
Tasted after Suduiraut, I was mildly disappointed with La Tour Blanche, as it came across a bit heavy. Not flabby, but in that direction… Solar vintages can do that sometimes. It was better at the UGCB tasting, and better still at Ulysses Cazabonne, so it could be a sample issue. The two latter samples exuded more pronounced spice – and perhaps a touch more verve, as well as impressive volume. Yet the finish is a bit “thick”, too. So, here we have a slightly heavier style, and not as good as in more optimal vintages for this estate. Having written this, it should be recalled that Tour Blanche is not the most easy to understand this young, so my score is rather conservative. 90-91+

Château d’Yquem*
As ever, this estate makes gorgeous wine. Its terroir is so advantageous for the development of botrytis and 2015 does not disappoint, yielding loads of ginger and fine black tea like spice. The palate is smooth, bright and opulent, too. The 144 grams of residual sugar mirror the 2009 vintage and the four grams of acidity balance it out, but with a bit more, I think it would have reached greatness. Rather than being a great Yquem, it comes across as a very good one. Interesting, 2014 saw the opposite: lower residual sugar and higher acidity, and it was also a very good Yquem! For the money, I would pick a wine like de Fargues in 2015 as a better price/quality ratio – if you want high quality and expensive Sauternes. 94-97

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