Eight of us gathered this past Thursday night to taste through an outstanding line-up of 2001 Sauternes and Barsacs. The goal was to have as large a representation of the vintage as possible, and to see if we could pick out the 2001 d’Yquem from the crowd in a blind setting. All of the wines were served blind, in two flights, and accompanied by a foie gras course (first flight) and a blue cheese course (second flight).
2001 Château Nairac Barsac. This wine features a lighter-styled and pretty bouquet of rose hips, clover honey, powdered sugar, pears and apricots. Some musty notes peek in from time to time, but otherwise this stays airy and gentle. In the mouth, it is medium-bodied but has a great limpid feel and a nice sense of cohesiveness across the tongue. It gives off a lot of inner mouth perfume, evaporating off of the tongue but leaving a fine ethereal sweetness. A finely finessed and well-constructed wine that is quite pleasing. My overall rank: 6th.
2001 Château Doisy-Daëne Barsac. Corked.
2001 Château Doisy-Daëne L’Extravagant Barsac. Served from 375 ml bottle. This is the darkest-colored wine of the first flight. It is floral in the extreme on the nose, like a clover-filled mountain pasture. It also features some coconut shavings, but also a lot of raw wood the longer one stays with it. I like the flowery elements but the awkward wood makes it seem simpler and less elegant than it otherwise could be. In the mouth, it is rich and syrupy and features a big blast of sweetness. It has tons of body and glycerin and a nice flavor profile of vanilla bean paste, mocha, coconut and peach syrup. But again it just doesn’t seem that nuanced and has too much raw wood. I don’t recommend drinking this one at this time, as it seems to be in an unflattering place right now. My overall rank: 8th.
2001 Château Climens Barsac. This is by far the lightest colored wine of the night. The nose is extremely unusual and had me thinking this might be some kind of ringer. It smells of kerosene, lemon peel, lanolin, beeswax, fresh herbs, hard plastic, honeydew melon and a sprinkling of botrytis spice. It makes me think of a theoretical combination of a late-harvest Trimbach Riesling and a sweet Vouvray, with light botrytis accents. It is just not what I expect from Sauternes. In the mouth, it is really smooth and shows less sweet bombast than others on the table this night. Again, one senses the lanolin, honey and waxy fruit profile that is quite pleasant but so out of step with expectations. It has a nice light touch on the acidity, less body and volume than most, but perhaps among the longest finishes of the night showing great sneaky staying power. It is interesting for sure, but I don’t quite know what to make of it. My overall rank: 9th.
2001 Château de Fargues Sauternes. This is a real attention-grabber, with a nose featuring great richness and purity of aromas like lime rind, crème brulee, dried apricots, peaches, malted vanilla and toasty spices. It has a great palate presence to it, with sweetness levels that are really captivating. It features decadent flavors of warm liquid caramel, pure top-shelf vanilla extract, peach juice, apricots, and sweet lemon meringue. Yet, it also sports a great acidic tang that is fresh, tingly and expertly integrated into the unctuous viscosity and weight of the wine. Overall, it just combines everything you’d want—rich density, gobs of delicious flavor and a fine acidic backbone. My overall rank: 2nd.
2001 Château Lamothe Guignard Sauternes. I would have to say that this is the darkest-colored wine of the whole tasting. The nose seems tighter and more narrowly confined than others and has an unusual chemical tinge to it at times that tends to detract from the otherwise nice but straightforward aromas of hard caramel, apricot, copper kettle and walnuts. In the mouth, it is masculine, taut and a bit wound up tight. It does have some nice brown spices and rich yellow fruit, but a bit more alcohol showing through than I would like. The flavors are less unctuous and immediate than most and I would have to say that it is neither ready to drink nor up to the quality of the other wines on the table. It is perfectly pleasant and will be quite serviceable, but will always be a tier or two below these others. My overall rank: 10th.
2001 Château Lafaurie-Peyraguey Sauternes. I adore the nose of this wine–it is just so classic and pure. Fine and engaging aromas of rock candy, hard lemon ball, peach pit and light caramel just envelop the nasal sensors with a perfect amount of power and grace–pulling the taster in with little effort. In the mouth, it has a wonderfully airy and light quality allied to effortless balance and fine pin-point acidity. It is certainly full of sweet flavor, but also has plenty seemingly being held in reserve. It has a subtle drive and push and is just sneaky good all around without really even seeming try. It ends on a more rich and viscous note, with baked pear and mysterious spices leaving a delightful and long aftertaste. This is simply outstanding. My overall rank: 4th.
2001 Château La Tour Blanche Sauternes. This wine returns to a richer style of bouquet, with a darker and denser all around profile featuring sweet aromas of dried pineapple, quince paste, lime zest, darker earth and golden fruit. For all that, it is still a bit tamped down and more brooding than showy. In the mouth, however, it is much more expressive and open—with lots of dark brown botrytis spices, rich melted toffee, vanilla bean paste and dark nectarine flavors flowing across the tongue with thick and unctuous body. It still feels young, but it has a great amount of stuffing and lots to like, though perhaps less vibrant acidity than others at this stage. My overall rank: 7th.
2001 Château Rieussec Sauternes. This shows a good deal of class, finesse and finery on the nose—with tangy yet finely sweet aromas of yellow stone fruits, lemon peel and gorgeous botrytis spices and cream. It shows off a solid structure that allows both the ethereal and the deeply grounded elements to come through with ease. It also has outstanding acidic push and a fine glycerol flow. The flavors have outstanding persistence and beautiful levels of sweetness, yet also a fine tingly tang on the gorgeous finish. In actuality, it is totally splitting hairs between this wine and my numbers 2 through 4—all are fantastic examples of what makes Sauternes from this vintage so special. My overall rank: 5th.
2001 Château Suduiraut Sauternes. This wine is all about exuberance and upbeat personality. The bouquet is wide open and just screaming out with gorgeous Sauternes goodness–featuring lush and sexy yet lively and fresh aromas of apricot, lime, peach, meringue and noble spices swooning up and out of the glass in layers of delight. In the mouth, this just shows so much life and explosive energy to go with live-wire acidity and tons and tons of flavor. It also manages to seem easily balanced in the midst of all those boisterous qualities. It just has it all going on, with a plush and giving personality all the way through that just grabs one’s attention and doesn’t easily let go. You just can’t help but love it. My overall rank: 3rd.
2001 Château d’Yquem Sauternes. There is a pretty bright sheen to this wine and the bouquet is just beautiful and classy as hell–with fine aromas of peach fuzz, candy cigarette, light apricot, creamsicle and sexy spices that are soft and sensual in a way none of the other wines can match. In the mouth, the wine is sublimely good. It is pure, classy, driven, balanced, beautifully-flavored and possessing exceptional length. It glides across the palate with effortless grace, all the while delivering captivating levels of flavor. Instead of shouting, it sings a sweet ballad with every note in perfect harmony. My overall rank: 1st.
When the votes were tallied, Wine K (d’Yquem) was the winner by a large margin—garnering 7 first place votes and 1 second place vote. Wine J (Suduiraut) came in second with no first place votes, 3 second place votes and 2 third place votes. Wine G (Lafaurie Peyraguey) was third, with 1 second place vote and 3 third place votes.
My overall take was that the consistent quality of these wines was really impressive and even though several of them are obviously quite youthful and not yet showing their secondary nuances or layers, they still deliver tons of flavor and drinking pleasure no matter what evolutionary stage one might find them in. I was also intrigued by just how different each Chateau expressed its terroir, with little in the way of overlapping personalities or sense of sameness. The Chateau d’Yquem was a clear step above the others for sheer class and distinction, but I was somehow expecting an even more eye-opening experience. I really can’t see spending the money it takes to own it when wines like Suduiraut, de Fargues and Lafaurie Peyraguey can be had for one-fourth the price and Nairac for one-eight the price. The great thing about such an outstanding vintage across the board, though, is that you can’t go wrong whatever your preference or strategy.
Thanks for everyone who participated for their generosity and good spirits. The food and service were tremendous and the evening a complete success in terms of both hedonistic enjoyment and depth of education.
We also tackled a half-dozen 90’s California Cabs but I will type up my notes on those separately.