Sauternes Wine Region Summary
Sauternes is home to the finest and most famous sweet white wines in Bordeaux, or, indeed, anywhere in the world. Royals and nobles have prized this ‘liquid gold’ for centuries, for its special tropical, honeyed fruit bouquet and silky mouthfeel.
Semillon grapes are particularly susceptible to attack from botrytis, a fungus prized for the way in which it causes grapes to become shriveled, leaving behind a concentrated juice with a very high sugar content. In order for this ‘noble rot’ to take place, the combination of atmospheric conditions must be just right; a warm autumn with morning mists that encourage botrytis especially crucial.
No Sauternes wine is ever guaranteed – if the weather in unkind, then there may be no vintage at all. This is winemaking of painstaking effort. Producers must pay close attention to the progress of ‘noble rot’ among their vines and perform multiple sweeps at harvest, removing by hand just the bunches that are ready. Yields are far lower than in the rest of Bordeaux. These factors are all reflected in the high market price of the unique finished wine.
The luscious juice of Semillon grapes affected by noble rot is blended with Sauvignon Blanc, imparting balancing acidity, and sometimes Muscadelle. The wine matures in-barrel for longer than the reds and dry whites of Bordeaux and it may be years after harvest that a vintage finally comes to market. Once bottled, it continues to mature, visibly changing from light gold, to amber, to toffee-coloured, as it develops ever more layers of fragrant perfume.
Highest rated vintages for Sauternes
There are 10,000 cases of this perfect sweet white Bordeaux. The 2001 Yquem reveals a hint of green in its light gold color. While somewhat reticent aromatically, with airing, it offers up honeyed tropical fruit, orange marmalade, pineapple, sweet creme brulee, and buttered nut-like scents. In the mouth, it is full-bodied with gorgeously refreshing acidity as well as massive concentration and unctuosity. Everything is uplifted and given laser-like focus by refreshing acidity. This large-scaled, youthful Yquem appears set to take its place among the most legendary vintages of the past, and will age effortlessly for 75+ years. Anticipated maturity: 2010-2100+.
A monumental effort, the 2001 Rieussec boasts a light to medium gold color in addition to a fabulous perfume of honeysuckle, smoky oak, caramelized tropical fruits, creme brulee, and Grand Marnier. The wine is massive and full-bodied yet neither over the top nor heavy because of good acidity. With intense botrytis as well as a 70-75-second finish, this amazing Sauternes will be its apogee between 2010-2035.
1990: An extraordinary effort, Yquem's 1990 is a rich and fabulously superb, sweet wine. This wine also possesses lots of elegance and finesse. The wine's medium gold color is accompanied by an exceptionally sweet nose of honeyed tropical fruits, peaches, coconut, and apricots. High quality, subtle toasty oak is well-integrated. The wine is massive on the palate, with layers of intensely ripe botrytis-tinged, exceptionally sweet fruit. Surprisingly well-integrated acidity, and a seamless, full-bodied power and richness have created a wine of remarkable harmony and purity. Certainly it is one of the richest Yquems I have ever tasted, with 50-100 years of potential longevity. An awesome Yquem! Anticipated maturity: 2003-2050+.
Tasted single blind against its peers. Under blind conditions, the Yquem 2007 shines like a diamond. Nevertheless, it is initially rather taciturn on the nose, eventually opening up beautifully with touches of lemon curd, Mirabelle, and clear honey. The palate is medium-bodied with very fine definition and there seems to be a great deal of energy and vigor dispensed for your pleasure. There is such race and nervosity, and then that finish just purrs with harmony and focus. This Yquem feels just so alive and vivacious, yet there is an effortless quality here that is unmatched by its peers. Tasted January 2011.
With greater evidence of botrytis than the colossal 1983, but less power and alcohol, the 1986 d'Yquem tastes reminiscent of the 1975, only more precocious. Several highly respected Bordeaux negociants who are d'Yquem enthusiasts had claimed the 1986 d'Yquem was the greatest wine produced at the property since the legendary 1937. However, after the release of the 1988 they concluded that the 1988 surpassed even the 1986. The 1986's enthralling bouquet of pineapples, sauteed hazelnuts, vanillin, and ripe apricots is breathtaking. Compellingly concentrated, its breadth as well as depth of flavor seemingly know no limits. This full-bodied, powerful, yet impeccably elegant d'Yquem should provide memorable drinking for 40-55 more years. Anticipated maturity: 2000-2040. Last tasted, 7/93.
The 2011 d'Yquem seems to be a close cousin of the 2001 and possibly the 1988. Light gold in color, restrained but pure and noble, it offers an intense bouquet of honeysuckle, caramelized apricot and white peach with a subtle hint of toasty oak. It builds slowly but beautifully to a full-bodied wine with a long finish. This vintage is about restraint and perfect balance despite the 144 grams of residual sugar. Some vintages are more exuberant or flamboyant, but 2011 is racy and compelling. Of course, these wines can be drunk young, but expect the 2011 to age for 50-75+ years in a good cellar.
Picked predominantly over 10 days from October 14, the 2010 d’Yquem has 141gms/L residual sugar and pH 3.80. It is a slow-burner, the nose understated at first but unfurling with each passing moment with subtle scents of freshly sliced apricots, Clementine, clear honey and white flowers. There is an underlying minerality that really defines this bouquet. The palate is similar to the nose, revealing hidden facets with almost each swirl of the glass – orange blossom, limestone, white peach and honeysuckle. This is such a precise d’Yquem; it is after you have swallowed the wine that one comprehends just how brilliant it is.
The team at Chateau Rieussec have conjured a stellar wine in 2009. There is a little reduction at first that fortunately blows away, revealing thickly layered scents of honey, Danish pastry and quince that appear to gain vigor with every passing sip. The palate is stunning: very viscous in the mouth with tangy grapefruit, honey and white peach. It is still primal, but the acidity is perfectly judged and there is a life-affirming sense of precision and tension towards the finish. Exceptional. Drink now-2045.
The 2009 Yquem has an almost ethereal nose, beautifully defined with scents of honey, honeysuckle, pear, fresh apricot and a hint of quince. It blossoms in the glass, gaining intensity and expanding across the ether. The immediate impression is not of a powerful, rich, botrytis-laden Yquem, but one that has semblances with the 2007 in terms of poise and precision, the acidity defining the wine in its youth and around that, subtle notes of honey, fig, pear, apricot and just a hint of ginger adding vibrancy and edginess towards the pure and tensile finish. As expected, there is extraordinary persistency, lingering in the mouth long after the wine has disappeared, yet it will remain long in the memory.
While no surprise here, this wine, which will be bottled in 2009, is certainly this estate’s greatest effort since their 2001. It completely outclasses everything from the appellation, but even when you’re number one, that’s often hard to do. This light gold wine offers up a sensational smorgasbord of aromas including huge honeyed pineapple and other caramelized tropical fruit flavors, massive richness, and a viscous, unctuous texture with the oak beautifully integrated. The wine has enough acidity to buttress its full-bodied mouthfeel, but this is not by any means the sweetest or most alcoholic of the d’Yquems I have tasted. In fact, in the range of d’Yquems, this is a powerful wine, but it is one built more on finesse and elegance, a la the 1988. Nevertheless, this wine will prove to have 50+ years of longevity. The finish, the mid-palate, the sensation of looking at a skyscraper of Semillon with a small dosage of Sauvignon, is impressive. Like all of the sweet wines of Barsac and Sauternes, one can drink this young, but the nuances and complexities really don’t emerge for at least a decade, especially in the case of a wine such as this. Bravo!