Usually get to posting notes on this region in the way you usually arrive at the wines, but I’ve shunted this region up the batting order for two reasons. Firstly, Sauternes and Barsac have made some of the most thrilling wines of the 2011 vintage, red or white. Secondly, it seems a bit unfair that they should always trail the reds, especially so in this vintage. Sauternes and Barsac are always appealing young, particularly during a week of tasting tannic, sappy reds, but defining their exact scale and grandeur feels tricky to me. Not this year. 2011 Sauternes is clearly in the same league as 2010 and 2009. It may even be the best year the region has had since 2001.
The 2011 growing season got off to a flier in Sauternes as elsewhere. Temperatures in April and May were record. This meant that vintage was likely to be three weeks to a month ahead of schedule. The end of April did bring localised hail in the region but not necessarily at a critical stage, unlike the pre-vintage hail in St Estephe later. Summer here was much cool, which helped preserve some of acids in the nascent white varieties in the appellation. Things picked up in August and the good weather generally lasted until October with warmer days and rainfall a third down on usual. Given all this the vintage here began very early. Some properties even began picking for their dry white blends as early as mid August. Showers brought the first flush of botrytis at the end of the month and a small amount of rain between 2nd and 5th September, allied to the warm conditions, proved ideal for the further development of noble rot. Estates began picking at the beginning of September and at various stages on from this. Rain on the weekend of September 17th was followed by a period of warm, dry weather and picking continued during the last week of September and into early October, some continuing into November, as at Chateau Rieussec.
The results? A wonderful set of wines. If you buy anything in 2011, buy Sauternes and Barsac, not for investment reasons obviously but to lay your hands on some delicious wines. Prices already released seem reasonable, though of course there’s still a lot of 2009 and 2010 on the market from what I can see. My favourites? Chateau d’Yquem is obviously wonderful, as was Chateau Rieussec, Chateau de Fargues, Chateau Sigalas Rabaud, Chateau Doisy Daene as ever, and a stunningly rich effort from Chateau Doisy Vedrines. There’s a lot to consider here. The following properties are listed in alphabetical order.
Chateau Bastor Lamontagne
Pale straw; gold; hint of green; some citrus and sherbert notes; crisp; less fab than de Fargues but that’s unfair. Fresh lemony palate with grass. Nice race and acid. Very good effort. Acid and sweetness nicely balanced. 90-92+
Pale gold; hint of green; sturdy nose; lacks flamboyance; some spiky apple notes; some wax on the palate and cream; full of fruit with a little bit of the wet dog. 75% Semillon, 15% Sauvignon Blanc, 10% Muscadelle. 88+
Pale straw; sturdy Sauvignon styled nose but also with wax and apples; quite piercing; palate pretty good; lacks the complexity of the best but has race and freshness. 88-90
Brilliant pale gold; full and substantial; botrytis, cream and honey; citrus notes too; concentrated and very creamy in texture; quite fat and sweet; rich vintage. 93-95+
Gold with a hint of green; wax, big and full; honey and really big; lots of fruit and peaches and cream notes; very big, unctuous wines. Feels big in alcohol too. Big wine. 90-92+
Chateau de Fargues
Bright gold; lovely nose; honey, lift, cream; gloss but quite piercing; real precision; creamy unctuous palate; absolutely sumptuous; real richness but acid too; very, very good indeed. 94-96+
Chateau de Malle
Pale gold; some grass, apples; feels fresh; botrytis here but not over-the-top; palate full yet elegant; some spiky acidity; apples and grass almost floral notes; this is elegant but wonderfully refined. 64% Semillon, 36% Sauvignon Blanc. 90-92
Chateau de Myrat
Green gold; some honey; cream; little reductive note; some grass and fruit along with the sweetness; crisp; feels a bit second draw compared to the very best but potentially very good nevertheless. 88-90
Chateau de Rayne Vigneau
Pale straw; more citrus and honeycomb notes; lots of cream; quite fat, big wine; some citrus notes and orange peel. Very good. 92-94+
Deep gold; mealy, creamy botrytis; big and thick; crème brulee; brioche, butterscotch; weighty; lovely mouthfeel; round; terrific; layers and great length; overall wonderful balance and length. This is virtually perfect. 96-98+
Pale straw; fresh; some grass; clean and lean; very attractive and precise; some cream but also restraint; surprisingly weighty palate; bolder and fuller than the nose suggests; honey; balanced and sweet and exceptionally good. 93-95+
Pale straw; full; almost thick; strong and unctuous; layers of ripe flavours; rich style; big; maybe lacks a little bit of zip but a wonderful effort. 92-94+
Deep and golden; high toned and quite floral and fruity; some grass too; bite here on the palate, apples; sweetness too. Pretty good effort 89-91.
Brilliant pale gold; lots of honey and orange; pretty unctuous; thick; full and thick on the palate; this is the best Guiraud I’ve had in a while; big and thick; lots of creamy mouthfeel. Very powerful and very sweet. 93-95+
Brilliant gold; little reductive; Semillon on the nose; wax and soap; less finesse than de Malle; little cloying maybe but not that bad. 87-88+
Chateau Lamothe Guignard
Bright gold; money honey, depth and sweetness to the nose; lacks a bit of clarity on the palate. 86-88
Pale gold; green hints; creamy, buttery nose; lots of botrytis here alongside citrus notes; very attractive nose; crisp palate, some apple and lots of flavour and race; this is exceptional Nairac. Wow. 92-94+
Pale gold; thick and creamy botrytis on the nose; some honey and citrus notes; fresh and appetizing, not at all cloying; some Sauvignon notes; open palate with life; honey, cream, hints of brioche; very unctuous. Lovely stuff. 93-95
Golden straw; honey and cream; lots of botrytis; thick and rich; quite a lot of race on the palate with nice acid; terrific zip here. Really nice acid balance. 94-96+
Chateau Sigalas Rabaud
Pale gold; honey; little dumb; some cream, whiff of toffee; crisp palate; fresh; seemingly less sweet but woth balancing acid. Nice pretty finsh. This is deceptively elegant, the acid cutting through the sweetness. Like it a lot. 92-94+
Pale golden straw; quite brilliant in the glass; nice botrytis; cream and fine; full bodied, nice crisp quality; good acid; this is very good. Lovely length. 92-94+
Pale straw; piercing nose; very fine and clear; some honey and citrus; clean and creamy; lots of botrytis and layers of sugar; lots of residual sugar but balanced by nice acid. 90-92+
Tags: 2011, Barsac, Bordeaux, botrytis, Chateau Bastor Lamontagne, Chateau Broustet, Chateau Caillou, Chateau Coutet, Chateau d'Yquem, Chateau d’Arche, Chateau de Fargues, Chateau de Malle, Chateau de Myrat, Chateau de Rayne Vigneau, Chateau Doisy-Daene, Chateau Doisy-Vedrines, Chateau Filhot, Chateau Guiraud, Chateau Lamothe, Chateau Lamothe Guignard, Chateau Nairac, Chateau Rabaud-Promis, Chateau Rieussec, Chateau Sigalas Rabaud, Chateau Suduiraut, Clos Haut-Peyraguey, Sauternes