Sauternes and Sweet Bordeaux Tasting
It is always a pleasure and privilege to experience wine from regions I have not, yet, visited. One such experience has resonated with me for most of this year. In January, a bottle of 2001 Sauternes was sent home with me, it was 2/3 full. I drank every drop of that golden, sweet, delicious Sauternes.
Afterwards, I could not shake from my thoughts how delicious, unctuous and intense an experience was that wine. The sweet, golden liquid, that oh so complex and stunning Sauternes changed something in me. It was a seminal experience. I wanted more.
"“Noble Rot” is associated with a process that happens to grapes creating a distinctive, concentrated, exotic, honey flavored wine with a crisp, acidic finish. Through the magic of nature, this royal rot is what we have to thank for Bordeaux’s signature sweet white wines, most often referred to as Sauternes." - Bordeaux Magazine, August 2016
For the remainder of this year, I have been unable to get the taste of that amazing wine out of my head. Until last month. Last month I participated in a "Sweet Bordeaux" tasting, courtesy my friends at snooth.com.
Living in Washington Wine Country
At this point I should remind my readers where I live. I live in SE Washington state, in the heart of wine country. Washington wine is everywhere! Oregon wine is available to some extent, and there are plenty of bulk producers from California and the miscellaneous inexpensive imports. But not much else. Sauternes? Don't even think about it. Shipping wine to my state is also an issue. While I managed to track down a half bottle of the 2001 Sauternes I enjoyed in January, it was not available to ship to Washington state. So there you go.
Food and Wine Pairings
Thankfully, I have truly special friends in the wine business. A big thank you to snooth.com for inviting me to attend a spectacular tasting of Sauternes and Sweet Bordeaux wines. Not only has my craving been met, I have expanded my palate and awareness of how to pair Sauternes and Sweet Bordeaux wines with food. Not just sweet wine with sweet food, but also with fried and savory foods.
Often, I find myself recommending to customers and friends, pairing sweet wine with a less sweet dessert. On occasion, I have recommended sweet and savory pairing, especially with Ruby Ports and savory foods (see my November 2014 post, Shepherds Pie paired with Barnard Griffin Syrah Port).
|Tasting and pairing, cheese, crisps and salami.|
This sweet Bordeaux and Sauternes tasting provided me with eight bottles of wine, and many opportunities to experiment with wine and food pairings at home. Think sweet and salty and after dinner sipping. I'll share my results with you below.
Service: Sweeter the wine, the colder the service. Aged Sauternes should be served warmer.
Note: Favorite wines are marked with an "*" as are favorite food pairings.
Storage: I kept several bottles, my favorites, in the refrigerator. The rest at room temperature.
Tasting notes: My notes are listed in order of the original tasting.
When to drink? My understanding regarding Sauternes and when you should drink, is that Sauternes does not begin to show its true character until it has been in bottle a minimum of ten years. Some of the best vintages can be cellared for a hundred years!
Purchasing aged Sauternes will cost you substantially. The wines below are little aged, which is reflected in their reasonable prices. They are also delicious and food friendly.
My advice: Buy some of these lovely wines to drink and enjoy today. But also cellar a few bottles of your favorites for down the road. There is tremendous aging potential in most of these wines.
1. Château Manos Cadillac 2015
Located in the commune of Haux, on top of a round hill, Château Manos is a neighbour of Château Lamothe, which took over management starting in 1991. The Néel-Chombart family is in charge of viticulture, winemaking, and sales of this wine, which takes advantage of the fame of its older brother, Sauternes.
Notes: Medium sweet, somewhat tart, weighty, medium finish, fresh too. Tropical notes, honey, pear, baked apple, touch of apricot, spice on finish. Not a lot of sugar, apricot lingered on the finish. Not heavy. Food ready I think. Lighter and fresher style, likely stainless.
Recommended. Serve chilled with fried and salty foods. Chicken, pork, BBQ ribs and french fries.
Region: Bordeaux, AOC Cadillac, "Entre de Mer" region.
Blend: 98% Semillon, 2% Muscadelle (delicate grape, prone to loss, provides aromatics).
RS: Maybe 7% (Coca Cola sweetness)
*2. Château La Rame Sainte Croix du Mont 2014
Situated 40 kilometers southeast of the city of Bordeaux, Chateau La Rame is among the oldest and most renowned properties in the Sainte Croix du Mont appellation. The house and chai sit on a hill overlooking the Garonne River.
Notes: Lovely nose, honeyed, apricot, perfumed, toasty, minerality, good weight, tremendous flavor, tropical fruit, bright in middle, minerality (slate) into long finish. Big like. Think savory dishes. Not super sweet.
*Stunning on day 9: Honeyed toast with sesame, apricot preserves, honeycomb, petrol and minerality, nice bounce to this wine. Beautifully balanced, acid, sugar, body and a perfect evening drinker after a hearty dinner. Well done.
|Fried pork chops with Château La Rame Sainte Croix du Mont 2014.|
*Day 12: Delicious with lunch, feeling spoiled. Sweet plus savory combo. Acid in the wine kept it interesting and food friendly. Unctuous finish, so good, pork chops provided savory contrast, salty and savory, then back to the deep, sweet wine, yum. Excellent with the toasted bread and fresh tomatoes too.
Strongly Recommended. Drink now alone or with salty foods. Full of potential to age gracefully over the next couple of decades. Yum!
Region: Bordeaux, AOC Sainte Croix Du Mont (highest AOC in region)
Blend: 100% Sémillon, Unfined
Elevage: 18 months, 50% in tanks and 50% in barrels (30% new barrels)
Production: 24,000 bottles
*3. Chateau Du Cros Loupiac 2014
In 1322, Bernard de Segur obtained permission from King Edward II to fortify the Castle by surrounding it with a limestone wall. Located on the heights of Loupiac, overlooking the Garonne valley, the castle became a strategic stronghold, and took the name Chateau du Cros. Today, this estate belongs to the Boyer family and Catherine Boyer, the fourth generation, has conserved the family philosophy "Tradition, Quality and Know-how".
Notes: Minerality, almost some apricot on delicate nose, less intense, lighter body, fresh, tropical/pineapple, focused to front, tasty, acid zip on lingering finish, not heavy. Pretty. Thinking pizza and roasted/fried chicken. Oh yeah.
|Sweet Bordeaux with chicken? Yes, please.|
*Day 4: Lovely depth, dried apricot, petrol, minerality, acid perkiness, dry on tongue, creaminess, orange marmalade, honeyed toast, balanced for sipping and food pairing. A true lip smacker and versatile wine. I feel this vintage should be aged for at least another 7 years or 30! So my speed!
*Day 7: This was a delicious pairing with fried and roasted chicken. Habit forming.
|Delicious medley of flavors.|
*Day 10: Fantastic with slow roasted chicken, rice and power greens. Surprised how well the wine and power greens matched. Wonderful wine.
Strongly Recommended. Fantastic with chicken, power greens and alone. Price is reasonable for drinking today. These photos are making me hungry as I type.
Region: Bordeaux, AOC Loupiac
Blend: 90% Semillon, 5% Sauvignon, 5% Muscadelle (hand picked, several passes)
Soil: Clay and limestone soils, earlier ripening, less complexity, more freshness.
4. Château Dauphiné-Rondillon Loupiac 2009
Château Dauphiné-Rondillon has been owned by the same family for eight generations. The exceptional location of the vineyard (on the top of the “Rondillon” hill) allows the production of a fine and elegant noble late harvest wine. In 1927, Château Dauphiné-Rondillon was one of the first châteaux to commercialize their wine in bottles instead of in barrels and are appreciated as much as the most prestigious Sauternes.
Notes: Perfumed minerality, a bit bandagey, smooth, savory, candied orange peel, apricot, honey comb, toned down, not as much acid as previous wines. Maybe lower sugar too. Botrytis. Balanced and fun drinker (on the rocks). Good for food too I think. Pair with salmon canapes, cheese, or make a wine spritzer with it, 2/3 wine + 1/3 soda on rocks.
>2009 was a great red wine vintage for Bordeaux.
>Also means a good vintage for sweet whites (ripe fruit, more alcohol, grapes retained acidity.)
|Sometimes, bacon is the correct answer.|
*Pairings on day 7: Happy place, simple lunch of bacon, lettuce and Honey Crisp apple, a delicious pairing. Sometimes, bacon is the correct answer. This wine was sweet, mineral driven, with honey, cardamom, alfalfa, enjoyable fresh quality, tingle top palate, chamomile tea with lemon and honey, medium bodied, medium plus finish. Wonderful contrast with crisp bacon. Grooved on this wine after a dinner of slow roasted boneless ribs. Really hit the sweet spot as an after dinner sipper.
Strongly Recommended. Especially served with bacon, or after a hearty meal. This wine did not show well for me at open. A week later it shined! Based on this tasting session, I appear to be partial to wines from AOC Loupiac. Another solid wine for food pairing today and a good cellar candidate for 2021 and beyond. Plus I like the price.
Region: Bordeaux, AOC Loupiac
Blend: 70% Semillon, 30% Sauvignon Blanc
5. Château Lauvignac Cuvee Sahuc Sauternes 2014
Château SAHUC was classified as a Cru Bourgeois in 1855 and appeared in the Feret Guide as early as 1868. Château SAHUC LATOUR was acquired by the Poujardieu family in 1919. Today, Mme Dominique Bonnet represents the third generation of the family to watch over the destiny of the Château. Since 1998, the corporate name of the estate has been SCEA Château SAHUC.
"SAHUC" means the ELDER TREE in the Occitan language.
Notes: CORKED. Shame...while corked, some good flavor still showed. Great body. Fluid. Everyone else on this tasting liked it. It happens.
Region: Bordeaux, AOC Sauternes
Blend: 85% Semillon, 10% Muscadelle, 5% Sauvignon Blanc
Bottle size: 375ml
*6. Château Lapinesse Sauternes 2014
The Pinesse was nothing more than a small piece of land, so-called "La Pièce" before the plantation of the Landes Forest. Initiated by Napolean III in the middle of the 19th century, it is today the largest artificial forest in Western Europe. Most of the vineyards of Château Lapinesse, are located in Barsac whose terroir offers minerality and acidity.
Notes: Distinctive nose. Savory/funky melon, minerality, candied orange, honesuckle, apricot, tangerine, lighter, nose opened up beautifully with some air, balanced, long finish, acid kept it fresh and interesting. Complex. Deserves time to evaluate properly.
*Day 5: Wine showed apricot skin, resin, ripe peach, surprising acidity, perfumed, with a savory note, medium body, balanced, long fresh finish. Enjoyed with a lunch salad, and dinner with chicken and afterwards with popcorn.
Strongly Recommended. Enjoyed with and without food. Another excellent choice to drink now or cellar for 10 years. A good investment in a very good Sauternes.
Region: Bordeaux, AOC Sauternes
Blend: 100% Semillon
Production: 6,000 bottles
7. Haut Charmes Sauternes 2015
Shrouded in mystery, rumor suggests this wine derives from the declassified fruit of a famous Château. Try with a classic pairing of foie gras or a fruit tart.
Notes: Wowzer on the nose! Sweet. Needs age. So young. Simple. Cotton candy. Lower acid. Hard cheese wine. Enjoyed with Comte cheese. Too sweet to drink for me, requires something to offset the sweetness. Least favorite at open. Vanilla ice cream pairing? Yes.
*Ice cream pairing: Since this was the sweetest of the eight wines, I decided to pair with vanilla ice cream. A fun pairing, which also made the ice cream seem much less sweet. I'd like to sample some older vintages before recommending this wine. Seemed too young for me to enjoy properly.
Day 34: Still quite sweet. Lacked the depth of some of the other wines.
Region: Bordeaux, AOC Sauternes
Blend: 80% Semillon, 20% Sauvignon Blanc
Aged in barrel: 50% new, 50% 1 year old
*8. Château Filhot Sauternes 2009 Grand Cru Classe 1855
The vineyard was awarded the ‘Second Cru Classification’ according to the 1855 official classification suggested to Napoleon III by the Negociants and the Chamber of Commerce of Bordeaux. From then on the wine Chateau FILHOT was universally diffused under the name of Chateau Sauternes until the end of the 19th century.
The estate was given back the title of Chateau FILHOT in 1901. In 1935, the Countess Durieu de Lacarelle, born Lur-Saluces, bought the vineyard from her brother. Her son, Louis Durieu de Lacarelle restored and expanded the vineyard until the 1970s.
One of the Countess Durieu de Lacarelle’s daughters married the Count Pierre de Vaucelles, ambassador of France. Since 1974, their eldest son, the Count H. de Vaucelles, has been managing the Chateau FILHOT and is assisted by his son Gabriel since 1996.
Notes: Elegant nose, gorgeous on the palate! Honey comb, fresh, lively, cardamon, rose petals, layered flavors, peach, pear, all snug in the sweetness and acidity. Surprised how much acid. Bright! Lip smacker!
Strongly Recommended. Another excellent cellar pick. Delicious today, full of potential to age for decades. Pair with strong cheese and good company. Spent my time with this bottle drinking, I mean sipping. Yum.
Region: Bordeaux, AOC Sauternes
Blend: Sémillon 60%, Sauvignon 36%, Muscadelle 4%
Elevage: 2 years, oak from the Allier forest of central France, 30% new
Production: 36,000 bottles
|Golden colors of three Sauternes.|
What is Sauternes?
Wines labeled "Sauternes" are sweet French wines from the Sauternais region of the Graves section of Bordeaux, France (see map below). Sauternes is made from Sémillon, Sauvignon Blanc, and Muscadelle grapes, with Sémillon making up most in a blend. Sauternes are sweet wines because the grapes on the vine were affected by the fungus Botrytis cinerea, also known as "Noble Rot." Sauternes is one of the few wine regions in the world where noble rot is a frequent occurrence.
Noble Rot is a good fungus. In the right conditions, think morning fog, it attacks very ripe, thin-skinned grapes and extracts their moisture. Which results in the grapes shriveling like raisins. Flavors and sugars become more concentrated. The entire metabolism of the grape is changed, the resulting flavors are unique and desirable.
"Harvest is unique, as is weather at harvest. As a warm region (moderate), temperature is mitigated by the nearby ocean influence. Cool mornings in the fall, with warm afternoon. Intense fog in the morning, burns off by early afternoon. The morning fog is instrumental to the making of these sweet wines. Climate is key." - Fred Swan, Sommelier.
Characteristics of Sauternes include the balance of sweetness with the freshness of acidity. Typical flavors include: apricots, honey, dried pineapple, and peaches with a nutty note and extended finish. Sauternes are some of the longest-lived wines, with premium examples having the potential to age many decades. I've been told that one must not consider drinking a vintage Sauternes until it is at least 10 years old.
|10 Appellations for Sauternes and Sweet Bordeaux.|
Bordeaux is a vast area and has many appellations, referred to as an AOC. Sweet Bordeaux wines which originate from a specific region or area in Bordeaux, other than the Sauternes AOC (AOC Cadillac, AOC Loupiac, AOC Sainte Croix Du Mont, etc.) which meet the strict production norms, are officially recognized only after tasting and analysis.
Learn more from the official Sweet Bordeaux site.
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