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Sauternes vs. Barsac

Tutored tasting with Paul Mapplebeck
Weds 2nd February 2000

I have to confess that I am a big fan of sweet wines. So, for me, it was fascinating to taste a range of mostly mature Sauternes paired with their counterparts from Barsac. In the Sauternes region of Bordeaux, there are five villages, of which Barsac is the only one that is allowed to use the village name to identify the wines. In general, Sauternes tends to be a little fuller than Barsac, which has higher acidity (my preference seems to be for the latter). These wines are made predominantly from Semillon, with a varying proportion of Sauvignon blanc and a small amount of Muscadelle. It is difficult to make good Sauternes and Barsac: yields are typically one-sixth of those achieved with red grape varieties. Depending on the vintage conditions, there is a varying degree of botrytis -- and to make great sweet wine, botrytis is just about essential. Because of this rather dramatic vintage variation, in some years no Satuernes or Barsac is made by the more quality conscious producers. Despite this, the prices for these wines are remarkably fair, especially when compared with the prices currently fetched by the leading classed growth clarets. Overall, I found this a strong line-up of wines, but there were no real stunners. My favourite of the evening was probably the 1986 Climens.

Château Coutet 1975, Barsac 1er Cru
75% Semillon, 23% Sauvignon blanc, 2% Muscadelle. Deep golden colour. Rich nose of honey, spice and apricots. Rich and spicy on the palate: lovely fat texture and plenty of botrytis-derived spiciness. Still acidity left to hold it together. Very good.

Château Lafaurie Peyraguey 1981, Sauternes 1er Cru
90% Semillon, 5% Sauvignon blanc and 5% Muscadelle. Yellow/golden colour. This is a little more subtle than the Coutet (perhaps surprisingly). Lemony nose. Flabby on palate with some sweet, spicy and honeyed notes. Moderate acidity and botrytis, but overall this is quite a simple wine. OK/good.

Château Filhot 1986, Sauternes 2me Cru
55% Semillon, 40% Sauvignon blanc, 5% Muscadelle. Yellow gold colour. Medium bodied wine with a slightly muted nose. Moderately spicy with a rich texture, some sweetness and some botrytis evident. Pleasant wine: a good effort from this property. Good.

Château Climens 1986 Barsac 1er Cru
100% Semillon. Golden colour with a big, spicy botrytis nose. On palate there is marmalade and spice, with a touch of honey and high acidity. There is also some new oak influence. This is a lively wine which for me was the favourite of the night. Very good/excellent.

Château Coutet 1989, Barsac 1er Cru
Golden colour. Lovely lifted nose with a touch of oak, and spice and lemon notes. On the palate this is quite fat textured, with spice, toast, marmalade and barley sugar. Lively acidity is masked by the richness of the texture. Very good, possibly better.

Château Lafaurie Peyraguey 1989, Sauternes 1er Cru
Mature gold colour. Honeyed, waxy, spicy nose which lacks a bit of intensity. On the palate, marmalade-like spicy botrytis coupled with a rich, smooth, sweet texture. Quite soft, but still held together by reasonable acidity. Good to very good.

Château Guiraud 1990, Sauternes 1er Cru
Vineyard is planted with 65% Semillon, 35% Sauvignon blanc, but since the early 80s a dry white wine called 'G' is produced to use up some of the excess Sauvignon. Deep golden/amber colour. Unusual, lifted nose of nuts honey and new oak. On palate, powerful and rich with plenty of botrytis and with a toasty, nutty edge. Concentrated and intense, but quite unusual with its fat, rich texture only just held in check with moderate acidity. Very good, perhaps better.

Château Doisy Vedrines 1995, Barsac 2me Cru
Yellow gold with a bright nose of lemon and spice. On the palate there is intense citrus fruit (from the Semillon?) coupled with some new oak and moderate botrytis (marmalade notes). High acidity. It is a bit raw at the moment but may well develop nicely. Very good.

see also: 1998 Sauternes tasting

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