ALINE BALY - Barsac / Sauternes: Unheralded Vintages Deserving of Another Look

Ms. Baly,

As for the golden wines of Barsac & Sauternes, what are some critically unheralded vintages whose wines seem to be performing better than expected? What are some of your favorite “off” vintages for the golden wines of Barsac / Sauternes?

Hi Brian,

We’ve been very lucky in the past 10 years to have back to back great vintages – sprinkle in an EXCEPTIONAL vintage every 2 years (odd years starting with 2001) and we cannot complain about the last decade in Barsac & Sauternes.

The even years tend to be a bit more floral, more citrusy – more delicate if you will than the odd years (more powerful, more masculine). Why the difference? The odd years had fruit that was very ripe before the Noble Rot attacked. Plus the presence of the Noble Rot happened very rapidly – thus you have a very pure Botrytis characteristic in those year. Lots of concentration in terms of sugar but also in terms of aromas (the more important effect of this fungus on the berries).

So the even years of the 00 decade are unheralded primarily because they were stuck between vintages that simply blew everyone away. Check out the 02, 04, 06, 08 – you’ll be impressed at the balance of these wines. Yes, they aren’t the bombs of botrytis you’ll find in the odd years (especially 03 – very very hot summer) but they are wonderful and should not be ignored!! Just like everyone has preference for when to drink their gold wine, each and everyone of us will take something away from a different year.

So I’d like to toast to the even years of the 00s!!



Thank you for your response! A couple quick thoughts:

  1. I don’t recall ever seeing a 2002 gold wine on retail shelves: was 2002 an exceptionally difficult harvest in the Sauternes/Barsac region?

  2. This particular part of your reply piqued my interest:

The odd years had fruit that was very ripe before the Noble Rot attacked. Plus the presence of the Noble Rot happened very rapidly – thus you have a very pure Botrytis characteristic in those year.

What is it about the rapid onset of the Noble Rot that lends a “pure Botrytis characteristic”? Does such “pure Botrytis characteristic” not display itself when the onset of the Noble Rot happens slowly? Why is that?

Hi Brian,

The 2002 vintage just didn’t get a lot of attention (I wasn’t at the vineyard yet, but I do recall a tough economy in 2002 – I had a very very hard time finding a job post-university)… In the case of Coutet, we didn’t sell a lot of the wine via the futures market. Therefore, there are lots of bottles available in Bordeaux but wine hasn’t made it further down the distribution channel – to the retailer level (perhaps the 2003 vintage took all the attention very soon after…followed soon after by the blockbuster 2005?).

My recommendation is to request that your fine wine retailer procure the 2002 vintage. They will be able to work with their Bordeaux Negociant of choice (or their distributor will in turn with the Bordeaux wine merchant) to bring some your way.

In regards to your second question… A quick attack of the Botrytis cinerea is good because there will be more homogeneity. It will also be easier for us to manage our teams to pick – so that the property increases its capacity to pick the fruit at the optimal moment (optimal in terms of ripeness and concentration). You also decrease the chances of having to pick during unfavorable weather conditions with a quick harvest-- bad weather conditions could dilute your concentration, wash off the botrytis that just got there and increase the chances of grey rot.

Lastly, the longer your harvest, the more difficult it becomes to motivate your team; attendance drops and we’ve got individuals paying less attention to what they pick which requires us to throw away more fruit at QC, fruit that could have given us something really great at the next trie/passage.


This is great stuff, thx.

Seriously, this really is great stuff! I wish I could think of more questions to ask because all of your answers, Aline, have been very interesting and fun to read. Thanks, again, for your participation here! [cheers.gif]

Hi Aline - How are you? I hope to see you in April when I am over with Bill.

I would add that there are still many older Sauternes from less heralded vintages around that are drinking superbly now. There hasn’t really been an off vintage since 1994 so check out the 1995-2000 vintages as well if you can find them. Prices for some wines from this period can be very attractive - d’Yquem springs to mind as this period was before their prices started to mirror those of the First Growth reds. If you like your Sauternes mature then these vintages are well worth hunting down.

1991 is, by and large, an ignored vintage for Sauternes/Barsac, but I tried the 1991 Doisy Daëne on the 29th March 2010, and ,while it will not keep one up nights, it was certainly a pleasant drink.