Firstly, thank you, James, for taking some time to be with us this week!
My question for you is inspired by the wide variation I’ve experienced between the different Chateaus in Sauternes & Barsac, and my relative inexperience with the sweet wines of those regions; sometimes these wines seem to be heavily botrytised, and other times not so much. Do certain producers tend to produce a richer/bolder/heavily-botrytised wine year after year, whereas others do not? Or, is this variation more precisely linked to vintage variation?
For someone who prefers thicker and spicier examples of Sauternes and Barsac, what are some of the producers they should seek-out?
+1 - I was going to ask pretty much the same thing…
There are several answers to your question:
- Soil - big differences both between the villages within the Sauternes Appellation (Sauternes, Barsac, Bommes, Fargues, Preignac) and at a micro-level. For example, Barsac (Climens, Coutet, Doisy Daene etc) has totally different soil to the others with red sand peppered with limestone giving a lighter racier style to the wines.
- Botrytis - contrary to what most people will tell you it is practically impossible to taste Botrytis. What you are mainly tasting is the effect of Botrytis, the mould that develops on the grapes dessicating them, concentrating the natural esters/flavours and sugars, leaving also the by product of the process - glycerol. More Botrytis = more concentration of natural flavours but it is important that the flavours are good in the first place as good Botrytis on bad/unripe grapes can be worse than no Botrytis at all.
- Winemaking - whilst the Sauternais will tell you that the wines are mainly made on the vine the vinification does make a big difference - use of new oak, time left on the lees/in barrel etc. Lesser producers will also tend to pick less selectively, including more ‘green’ grapes and thus diluting the Botrytis effect. It is also unfortunately legal to chaptalise (add sugar to the grape must before fermentation) in Sauternes and many lesser producers still do this to bring down costs - cheaper Sauternes can be very disappointing.
I’m afraid you need to get to know the individual wines a little better to find the ones that suit your palate. Bill Blatch is the expert and there are some great videos at the Bordeaux Gold blog which should help. I work with Bill and his level of knowledge gained over 30+ years working with the Sauternais is remarkable.
Producer wise I’d start with wines like Coutet, Doisy Daene, Doisy-Vedrines, de Myrat and Nairac from Barsac or Clos Haut-Peyraguey, Guiraud, Lafaurie-Peyraguey, Lamothe-Guignard, Raymond Lafon, Rieussec, Suduiraut, La Tour Blanche or d’Yquem from Sauternes.
I can’t add much more to what Steve said. Really well done. This said, if you are looking for a richer Sauternes in general from a recent vintage look to 2003. I just did a vertical of 2000, 2001, 2003, 2005 and 2009 at Yquem and the 2003 was dense, winey and wonderful with a sweet, rich and delicious character. I am going to Rieussec tomorrow.