I am so lucky to have gentleman friends; gentlemen friends of a certain age with wonderful cellars and an amazing generosity of spirit who can put on a tasting of this quality. Not a great tasting for anyone who is diabetic/on a diet/suffers from hyperactivity as, really, it is almost impossible to spit these wines and the sugar rush is probably not suitable for everybody. Personally, I am prepared to make all sorts of sacrifices and take all sorts of risks for the sake of great Sauternes.
This tasting of various châteaux threw up some dilemmas and surprises. The wines were tasted blind and in the order as you see them below so that there was one wine from each decade in each flight of four wines. At the end of the tasting, and before we knew what we had tasted, we voted for our three favourite wines. This was more tricky than it might seem, so many wines could have made my top three; such was my dilemma and this was echoed by everyone. The surprises were that not one vote was cast for Château d’Yquem by the 16 experienced tasters but ‘declassified’ grapes from the property making wine number 9 scored several votes as did 2nd growth, Château de Myrat.
I tasted all the wines a second time, back at home (I was the designated driver and these wines were not being tipped away in a spittoon at any cost!) and a third time the following morning.
1. Château Broustet 1975 (unavailable but more recent vintages sell for around £25 a bottle)
This was a very pleasant surprise – almost 40 years old and still beautiful. There was some caramel pastry and butterscotch flavours, the acidity was firm and balancing.
2. Château Climens 1983 (Bordeaux Index, Fine & Rare £90 approx and Majestic £130)
So close to being in my top 3. Rich but delicate, opulent, apricot and quince, honeyed and nutty. Very classy.
3. Château de Myrat 2007 (Costco sells 2005 for £13.33 a half bottle)
Not for the first time have I been pleasantly surprised by this chateau and this vintage in particular is glorious. It punches way above its weight and the next time I’m in Costco, I shall be loading my trolley. Cinder toffee, smooth texture, sumptuous. Not sure this is for the long haul but it really shouldn’t matter if it’s this good now.
4. Château Rieussec 1990 (around £75 a bottle)
This seemed somewhat oxidised and certainly the fruit and acidity were not as in balance as they were in most of the other wines. It was a bit edgy and disjointed. (There was some half-bottle variation and the other bottle was better)
5. Château Rieussec 1983 (Nickolls & Perks £78)
The amber colour is exactly what I would have expected from a Sauternes of this age but oddly not observed in wines 1 and 2. A big, intense, rich wine of pineapple and Crunchie aromas giving way to toffee, almost treacle flavours. Pruney and peppery.
6. Château d’Yquem 1990 (Fortnum and Mason £500)
Definitely in my top 5 when tasting blind but what was it that we missed? Of course I went back to it to assess it again (and again). It is a beautiful wine, perhaps not as showy as some, showing a little restraint, but what I am cross about is that I failed to notice its texture. It’s so sensual, so lush, so satiny, a liquid caressing of the mouth. The clove-flavoured finish lingers on and on.
7. Château Guiraud 1976
Sadly, this had dried out: ‘But the soul of sweet delight, can never be defiled’ (William Blake) and we mourned this loss only very briefly because …………….this gem followed!
8. Château Climens 2007 (around £82 from Farr Vintners when you buy a case)
A joy. My wine of the night. Delicate, not showy, honeyed and luscious but with restraint and perfect balance. A hint of tropical fruit, a hint of quince, a hint of spice. Everything perfectly in its place and a more complete whole (and wholesome) wine it would be hard to find. You could keep it for 20, 30, 40 years but why on earth would you? It’s perfection now.
9. ‘Y?’ 2009
I liked this a lot, it was in my top 3. Quite different from the other wines, it was much lighter, more citrusy, orange flavours in particular, and expressive. Gentle and light mid palate, it filled out on the finish.
10. Château Doisy-Daëne 1983 (Underwoods £42.30)
The fruit on the bottle we had had diminished just a little and the wine was not as fresh as some of the others but, let’s be fair, it is 30 years old and there can be quite a bit of bottle variation in older wines.
11. Château Rieussec 1978
The Rieussecs all showed the more masculine side of Sauternes – this reminded me of a cigar smoke filled gentleman’s club (although to be fair to both Château Rieussec and a gentleman’s club, I’m only guessing as I’ve never actually been inside one!). Rich, marmaladey, spicy and mouth-filling.
12. Château Climens 1990 (£145 from Robersons)
A serious contender for one of my top 3 – Butterscotch, cinder toffee, honey and mandarin. Lush, long and lovely.
A golden tasting in every sense of the word. And I managed a whole blog on Sauternes without once writing the words, ‘liquid gold’ . Well, almost.