En Primeur, Day One: Sauternes and Barsac, the Sweet Whites

In a mixed Bordeaux year, sweet wines are a treasure.

The 2011 Bordeaux red vintage will not be as impressive as the 2010. At the en primeur annual barrel tasting event currently underway in Bordeaux, attendees have arrived eager for the first chance to taste the 2011 vintage. Based on early conversations with buyers and importers, Bordeaux is going to be a hard sell.

Indeed, 2011 is a very different vintage from the expensive and seductive 2009 and the firm, long-lasting 2010. The reds offer some fine wines to drink relatively early on (and Bordeaux needs those), with a few standouts offering ageability.

According to Claire Villars-Lurton of Château Haut-Bages Libéral in Pauillac, the Cabernet Sauvignon from the Médoc was great, but “the Merlot was not nearly so good and we had problems.”

Thomas Duroux, CEO of Château Palmer in Margaux, agrees that for Merlot, 2011 was “a lesser vintage.”

The weather in 2011 was unusual. As one vigneron put it: “We had summer in the spring, fall in the summer and then summer again in the fall.” Compound this with hail and drought—less than half the normal rainfall—and the growing conditions proved to be a challenge.

Equally important is the fact that the market has changed. Last year, for example, the Chinese bought 2010 futures in quantity for the first time, but found that the prices of that vintage have decreased. It seems unlikely they will buy futures this year.

American retailers are equally wary. Chris Adams, CEO of Sherry-Lehmann and Wine Enthusiast Magazine’s 2010 Wine Star Award winner for Retailer of the Year, says: “It’s a question of price. If 2011 is overpriced, I might not do an en primeur offer.” It would be the first time in 40 years that Sherry-Lehmann didn’t offer Bordeaux futures.

The view from the market will develop as the week progresses and as thousands of world buyers taste the wines. Actual prices won’t arrive for at least several weeks. But get out your scorecard and be ready, as Wine Enthusiast presents en primeur coverage all week.

Day One: Sauternes and Barsac

Before the tastings began, Olivier Bernard, co-owner of Château Guiraud in Sauternes said, “Sauternes is magnificent, one of the best vintages ever,” and he was right. The 2011 vintage in Sauternes and Barsac is a great vintage. It’s equal in quality to the 2001 and better than the very good 2007.

Anne Perez of Château d’Yquem concurs, and describes it by referencing the estate’s long history: “The conditions were just like 1893,” she says.

What made this vintage so good for sweet wines? It was what Aline Baly, proprietor of Château Coutet in Barsac, calls the “beautiful Indian summer effect.” Sauternes needs rain, followed by a long period of sun. It got both, and at just the right time.

“The first rain arrived and brought botrytis, fixing it in the skin,” says Olivier Castéja, owner of Château Doisy-Védrines in Sauternes. “Then the weather was beautiful again, so we didn’t have the gray rot that can destroy the grapes.”

The result is wines that simultaneously have great richness and lightness. Huge botrytis flavors and rich tropical fruits are balanced by tense, delicious orange-zest acidity. These are wines that will last for many years. So far, Sauternes is the success story of 2011.

Bordeaux wines tasted from barrel are awarded scores in three-point ranges. When the wines are bottled in two or three years, the wines are reassessed, and final ratings are given.

95–97 Château Doisy-Védrines (Barsac). A gorgeous wine that offers a firm, botrytis character, with aromas of spice, apple and orange zest. It’s powerful and meant for long aging. ––R.V.

95–97 Château Rieussec (Sauternes). This wine shows sheer opulence; it’s beautifully rich and ripe, powered by complex flavors of orange zest and superripe mango. It’s fresh, showing this vintage’s character. ––R.V.

95–97 Château Suduiraut (Sauternes). Opulent and finessed, this has great weight, and scents of ripe fruit and botrytis. Stylish flavors of yellow fruit, citrus and cinnamon combine with bright acidity on the rich palate. ––R.V.

94–96 Château de Rayne Vigneau (Sauternes). There is great freshness in this wine, which also has ample weight and complex, rich fruit. It’s powered by acidity, remaining lively and bright, and is likely to age well. ––R.V.

94–96 Château Guiraud (Sauternes). An intense wine that is rich, rounded, dense and solid. Along with its weighty, ripe fruit, there are suggestions of acidity. Layered with botrytis flavors. ––R.V.

94–96 Château Rabaud-Promis (Sauternes). This wine dances so easily on the palate, yet still has the weight and richness of the year. There is a delicacy here, followed by an even denser intensity. It charms now, but will surely age over many years. ––R.V.

93–95 Château Caillou (Barsac). A ripe, balanced wine, with a structure that’s well-integrated into its rich, sweet fruit. It has an edge of spice and bitter-orange flavors to go with the opulent front texture. ––R.V.

93–95 Château de Myrat (Barsac). Rich fruit flavors of spiced orange are layered into its structure. With a smooth texture and fine balance, it is opulent, crisp and dense. A wine for long-term aging. ––R.V.

93–95 Clos Haut-Peyraguey (Sauternes). Spice from new wood and the superripe, botrytized fruit show strongly in this powerful, impressive wine. It has weight, structure and intensity. It will surely age for many years. ––R.V.

93–95 Château la Tour Blanche (Sauternes). This is a crisp-textured wine, with a complex structure of rich, dense fruits, spice and wood. The wine is only just coming together, promising many years of aging ahead. ––R.V.

93–95 Château Lamothe-Guignard (Sauternes). Very rich in botrytis, this is a dense, opulent wine that’s charged and hugely ripe. The acidity is there in the background. ––R.V.

92–94 Château Coutet (Barsac). A smooth, mellifluous wine, with its intensity masked by tight acidity. It shows the weight of the vintage, and the power of the botrytis that’s interspersed with flavors of orange zest and lime. It should age magnificently. ––R.V.

92–94 Château d’Arche (Sauternes). An impressive wine that has weight and intense botrytis notes. Its acidity gives a delicious lift to its powerful flavors of yellow fruits, tangerines and light wood spices. ––R.V.

92–94 Château de Fargues (Sauternes). A smooth and rich wine that also shows depth of flavor. Wrapped in its tight texture are notes of peach and mango, bitter orange and lemon zest. It’s a fine wine that should age for many years. ––R.V.

92–94 Château de Malle (Sauternes). An intensely powerful wine—so rich that it overwhelms with its weight. At the same time, there is a great core of fine acidity that cuts the richness well. ––R.V.

92–94 Château Doisy-Daëne (Barsac). Herbaceous aromas are followed by nutmeg and crisp fruit. This has the great ripe fruit of the year without the huge intensity; it’s a wine that has subtlety as well as complexity. ––R.V.

92–94 Château Nairac (Barsac). This wine shows its crisp side immediately, followed by flavors of rich fruit. The wine has weight that lies underneath its deliciously fresh character, and there is a final note of spiced orange. ––R.V.

92–94 Château Romer (Sauternes). A smooth, richly textured wine, with flavors of sweet orange and spice that combine with dark wood and pomegranate. ––R.V.

92–94 Château Sigalas-Rabaud (Sauternes). This wine has both weight and a light touch. Its weight is driven by the powerful botrytis character and ripe apricot fruit; its lightness comes from a straight line of intense acidity that cuts through the wine. It should age a long time. ––R.V.

91–93 Château Bastor-Lamontagne (Sauternes). With great swathes of spice, this is a wine with fruit that’s still emerging. It has weight and delicious intensity. With its layered structure of acidity and tannin, this is for long-term aging. ––R.V.

91–93 Château Lafaurie-Peyraguey (Sauternes). A beautifully-fresh wine, with its acidity cutting through the weight of its smooth fruit—like scissors cutting through velvet. Intense, with spice and acidity showing through on the finish. ––R.V.

91–93 Château Suau (Barsac). Initially this is just a seductive effort; but then its intensity and structure emerge, creating a wine of great complexity. Its botrytis character adds considerable weight. ––R.V.

90–92 Château Broustet (Barsac). This wine shows a powerful new-wood character, with a ripe, rich and very smooth texture lying underneath. ––R.V

90–92 Château Filhot. (Sauternes). There are some reductive, meaty aromas on this barrel sample, but the palate still shows the fine potential of this wine. It has all the weight and richness of the vintage, with underlying crisp acidity. ––R.V.

89–91 Château Lamothe (Sauternes). An apple-fresh wine, with its richness coming through slowly. It has weight as well as a touch of marmalade spice and lemon acidity. With its light character, it’s delicious. ––R.V.

To read En Primeur, Day Two: En Primeur, Day Two: Margaux, Moulis, Médoc and Listrac, click here.

To read En Primeur, Day Three: Saint-Julien, Pauillac, Saint-Estèphe and Haut-Médoc, click here.

To read En Primeur, Day Four: Pessac-Léognan and Graves, the Reds and Dry Whites, click here.

To read En Primeur, Day Five: Saint-Émilion and Pomerol, click here

Published on April 2, 2012
Topics: Wine News, Wine Trends
About the Author
Roger Voss
European Editor, Reviews wines from Portugal and France

Roger Voss covers Bordeaux, Burgundy, Champagne, the Loire and South-West France as well as Portugal. His passion is matching food with wine, bringing the pleasures of the table to wine lovers. He has written six books on wine and food, and was previously national correspondent on wine for the London Daily Telegraph. He is based in the Bordeaux region. Email: rvoss@wineenthusiast.net




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