TN: 2001 Winetasters of Toronto "Hello Sweetie" 2001 Sauternes Tasting

Sauternes lovers,

This past Wednesday Feb 14, 2018, I made a long overdue return guest appearance to the Winetasters of Toronto, the premier wine tasting club of the city. They held a special Valentine’s Day event themed around the heralded 2001 Sauternes vintage. Doubling my pleasure was the fact that the guest host is an acquaintance whom I hold deep respect and affection for – Mr. Bill Redelmeir, the founder and owner of Southbrook winery in Niagara. Bill also happens to be a former director of Winetasters, which I was previously unaware of, and a Sauternes fanatic like ourselves.

Bill began by explaining to everyone that the best way to learn about wine is to taste multiple wines side by side. A mistake people often make is to taste or drink a single bottle without anything else to compare it to, which is why a group like Winetasters or even one’s own personal wine group of friends and family are a great opportunity for wine lovers. He then rightfully praised Winetasters as the best place in Toronto to be able to do so and asked everyone to spread the word around.

Bill talked about his love of Sauternes and mentioned his own personal deep collection but admitted he often failed to drink it as often as he should and would like to. Sauternes, he said, is a bit of an oddity in the wine world – people love to buy it, talk about it, analyze it and collect it… but rarely get around to drinking it. He actually polled the audience as to when they last had a bottle in the last year, the last six months, and this past December. On this last one, almost every hand went down including my own went down. The shame. [shock.gif]
He then told us a great story to further drive home the point. A friend of his who ran a wine store had an 80 year old customer tell him that he had purchased 3 bottles of the legendary 1967 Yquem and had given 2 away as wedding presents and was just waiting for a special occasion to drink the last bottle. His friend leaned over to the man and said, “Tonight is a special occasion.”

Bill then told us about the importance of sharing wine with people. While people obviously buy wine because they like it, he told us, they also buy wine so that they can place a bottle on the table and then tell everyone their story of the wine: how and why they got it, what it means to them, and why they chose to share it on that particular occasion.

Bill then talked about Sauternes itself. Since 2000, every vintage has played out the pattern of the odd years being great and the even years years bad without fail. 2001 has been regarded as the best vintage since 1989. So what makes a good Sauternes? Botrytis, of course. Botrytis is bad in August but great in September and October. Interestingly, he informed us that the grey rot that vintners hate is in fact the same thing as noble rot. I had actually assumed myself they were different, but no. So what turns grey rot into noble rot? The fall season, he deadpanned.

Not all is milk and honey and roses and botrytis in the land of Sauternes, though, he warned us. The biggest enemy of the Sauternais is rain. Since botrytis breaks the skin of the grapes and allows them to dessicate, it also leaves them extremely vulnerable to the elements. Rain will literally turn sweet dessicated grapes into slime right on the vine. He told us we can expect to have 3 to 5 good Sauternes vintages in a decade.

Sauternes is the stupidest great deal in wine, according to Bill. This is because of the sheer amount of work that goes into making the wine compared to a regular table wine. Several more picking passes and juice pressings are required to produce this magical elixir than, say, a Napa cab or Niagara Chardonnay. In this respect, Sauternes is undervalued and underrated but works out greatly to our advantage as wine lovers.

And with that, we were off with the tasting.

The setup was as follows: 8 different Sauternes all of whose names we knew but were drinking blind. The Yquem was decanted 24 hours earlier. Some of the others may have been as well. A previously unannounced 2010 Sauternes was thrown in as a bonus ringer for everyone for fun. The wines were labeled A to H and were placed in order of their CellarTracker score! Shoutout to Eric Levine!
The only hint that Bill gave us is that Chateau Filhot specifically and Barsacs in general are drier than Sauternes. He encouraged us not only to drink and rank from our least to most favorite, but then to also taste from best to least favorite so that we were confident in our own judgments. To complement the wines, we also had some blue cheese, fresh bread, baklava and cheesecake to pair with the wines.

WINE A – 2001 CHATEAU FILHOT: Clear gold; light honey and spiced nose; saline taste that surprised me with some light peach fruit. Driest of the wines by far. When Bill asked for guesses I bit and told him my thoughts and guessed it was the Filhot. I was right. I admitted to everyone it was not my favorite because I have a sweet tooth and I think Sauternes should be sweet and balanced by acidity, not salinity. My rank: 7th; Table rank: 6th: Group rank: 7 (last place as there were two split scores) Bill’s rank: 4th

WINE B – 2001 CHATEAU BASTOR-LAMONTAGNE: Clear gold; honey and spice nose; light ginger and peach flavors; a weak body is this wine’s downfall. My rank: 8th Table rank: 7th Group rank: 6th Bill’s rank: 6th

WINE C – 2010 CHATEAU RIEUSSEC: The ringer comes out early. A very nice nose of sweet clover; rich sweet flavors of ginger and pineapple but no complexity; I didn’t even think to guess this as the 2010 wine but interestingly you might be able to make out in my chicken scrawl handwriting that my exact note is “Needs time.” Even then, I was still highly impressed with it. Bill clarified his low ranking as due to the wine being far too young as opposed to its quality which he recognized My rank: 2nd (tie) Table rank: 3rd Group rank: 4.5 (tie) Bill’s rank: 7th

WINE D – 2001 CHATEAU CANTEGRIL: Now we start to see some developed color with a rich darker gold; light honey nose with no fruit starts to worry me, though; ginger, pineapple and lemon flavors are somewhat undone by a surprising bitterness on the finish but still pretty good. Pretty good scoring considering I’ve literally never heard of this Sauternais before My rank: 4th (tie) Table Rank: 3rd Group rank: 5th Bill’s rank: 5th

WINE E – 2001 CHATEAU MYRAT: This one is going to earn me lots of brickbats. You may recall the controversy over this wine from the infamous 2007 Myrat thread. A rich deep gold color that I loved, you can see in my pic how it stands out; super rich honeyed nose; tastes of honey, roasted pineapple, orange marmalade, and baked apple; not a hint of botrytis to be found. I was sure at one point that this was the Yquem and was blown away when I found out what it was. Let me give the rankings first and then I’ll talk about this more. My rank: 1st(!) Table rank: 1st(!) Group rank: 4.5 (tie) Bill’s rank: 8th

That’s right, both my entire table and I ranked this first. And no, I didn’t influence them in any way. And the entire gathering ranked it as high as the 2010 Rieussec. How can this be?!? Well thanks to this tasting, I think I’ve figured out why – Myrat is the Cali Cab and the SQN Syrah of Sauternes. It’s not just big, it’s FREAKIN’ HUGE! This is a Jay Hack kind of Sauternes! And you know what? Good for them! While nobody will ever accuse a Myrat of having the finesse of a Yquem, it’s not trying to be. They’re a value-priced lower-tiered Sauternais that gives a huge bang for the buck. Of course I was surprised but I have absolutely no problem with the ranking I gave it and stand by it.

WINE F – 2001 CHATEAU DOISY-VEDRINES: The only wine with a touch of heat on the nose; deep honey, clove and pineapple flavors are accompanied by a pencil lead note that I usually only find in Cali Pinot Noir and was quite shocked to find it in Sauternes; I mentioned this to the table and everyone else agreed, with one person telling me that they thought they were crazy to have also noticed it and that maybe something was wrong with their palate and wouldn’t have mentioned it until I did; I waffled back and forth between enjoying it and being put off by it; there is no denying that it added huge complexity to the wine, however. My rank: 4th (tie) Table rank: 5th Group rank: 2nd Bill’s rank: 3rd

WINE G – 2001 CHATEAU YQUEM: Lovely clover and honey nose; Sweet honey, spice and dried mango and apricot flavors; killed everything else dead except for the Myrat; the most harmonious wine of the night; my specific note was “punches well above its weight”; no kidding, right? My rank: 2nd Table rank: 2nd Group rank: 1st Bill’s rank: 1st

Interestingly, this and wine H were my two guesses as the Yquem which you might be able to make it in my notes below once I realized that the Myrat was not it after tasting G and H

WINE H – 2001 CHATEAU RIEUSSEC: Light honey nose; honey, dried mango fruit flavors; maybe a little too sweet which is an odd note from the guy who loved the Myrat but I meant in comparison to the other flavors present; unlike the Myrat, the sweetness at times threatened to overwhelm the other delicate pristine flavors; basically, it’s just an unbalanced wine. My rank: 6th Table rank: 8th Group rank: 3rd Bills’ rank: 2nd

So the interesting things that stand out to me:

  • Huge contrast between my feelings and the group’s feelings on the Rieussec and the Myrat. Polar opposites.
  • Interesting that I did manage to peg the Yquem and it surely would’ve taken first place but for the Myrat
  • The only group score that surprised me was the Doisy Vedrines, as I couldn’t believe that people rated it as highly as they did with that odd pencil lead note
  • I personally attribute the difference in scores to the fact that I love drinking sweet wines; I think the group tended to enjoy the wines that were more table wine in style and to me that isn’t the point of drinking Sauternes
  • The only time we were even close to each other was the Yquem; if you wonder why it’s hailed as the world’s best sweet wine then now you know – it literally appeals to everyone no matter what their tastes. That’s an achievement in and of itself.

My thanks to the Winetasters of Toronto for putting on this even and for Bill Redelmeir for hosting and sharing his passion for Sauternes with us. The next gathering is looking to be a Port themed event if I understood correctly and I’m looking forward to that.

Thanks for posting! I always love reading your notes, and I love to absorb the data points on Sauternes.

I did a very broad horizontal of 2001 Sauternes almost exactly a year ago (Epic 2001 Sauternes Horizontal - CellarTracker). Our Yquem was corked (though I did open another bottle a few months later to try), and our 01 Doisy Vedrines was flawed as well. We did have Myrat, which I can’t say struck me that positively. I have also had the '01 Rieussec a few times, and it had always seemed so unbalanced for many years, until last year when I thought it started to meld together. I think it was designed to age, and Rieussec is always a bit too much when young though it ages wonderfully.

Great notes Tran , also very interesting . There is nothing wrong with loving big Sauternes , I do too , especially Nairac which I guess you can compare to your Myrat .
The 2001 Yquem is not a " big " wine , it’s more about elegance and finesse I think .

Tran welcome back! And thank you for such comprehensive notes and photos.

To clarify the Yquem was the only wine double decanted. 24 hour slow ox.

Here are some notes and scores on CT from someone at the tasting who is “not unacquainted with Sauternes”.

Pics from the double decant.