A Sauternes and Barsac vintage guide back to 1961.

Sauternes and Barsac are the world-famous sweet wines of Bordeaux, though this part of France produces other similarly luscious wines (such as, Loupiac, cérons, Saussignac and cadillac) that can also be outstanding in many vintages. rarely, however, do they reach the same lofty heights – or prices.

In those vintages in which weather conditions are just right, Sauternes and Barsac are home to unforgettable wines.

The Sauternes region is located 40km southeast of the city of Bordeaux, in the southern end of the Graves wine district. Though it is commonplace to refer to all the sweet wines made there as ‘Sauternes’, in fact there are five different communes: Sauternes, Barsac, Preignac, Bommes and Fargues.

Sauternes and Barsac map

While all the wines made in the region can be labelled Sauternes, producers in Barsac may label their wines under the Barsac appellation, should they choose to do so. this is not a bad idea as Barsac’s silty, alluvial soils tend to give wines of greater freshness and lightness than the other communes – all known for creamier, rounder wines.

Noble rot

Much like Bordeaux’ famous châteaux classification, Sauternes and Barsac have their own ranking, which was also presented at the 1855 World expo in Paris.

Just like the Médoc, the Sauternes region is subjected to the same highly variable maritime climate, and so vintages are all-important. Perhaps even more important than in the Médoc, as the area is famous for the presence of noble rot – a fungus (Botrytis cinerea) that awakens under specific weather and geographical conditions.

Primarily this is when the different water temperatures of the two rivers (the Garonne and its tributary the ciron) mix, giving rise to morning mists. additionally, on warm, sunny days grapes can dry and concentrate without being ravaged by grey rot or other diseases.

If and when all this occurs, noble rot can then attack the grapes, contributing greater concentration, acidity and complexity to the wines. It also adds recognisable aromas and flavours, ranging from hints of varnish to nail polish, intense tropical fruit notes and smoke, that may not be to every wine lovers liking. therefore, knowing a little about each vintage is important in picking wines that will prove most suited to your palate.

Sauternes and Barsac: the facts

Grape varieites: Semillion, Sauvignon Blanc, Sauvignon Gris and Muscadelle

Area under vine: 2,000ha

Cases produced: 480,000 a year

Estate size: Fewer than 20 estates own more than 20hs; 160 estates own less than 5ha

Classed growths (1855 Classification): Premier Cru Superieur (1-Chateau d’Yquem); Premier Cru (11); Deuxieme Cru (15)

Sauternes and Barsac: know your vintages

2014 Outstanding year of pure wines marked by lemony botrytis and high acidity.

2013 Very good year but uneven quality; for the most part, top names did well.

2012 Difficult year in which many estates did not make their grand vin. Barsac wines fared best.

2011 Opulent, very precise wines, with a light-on-their-feet quality.

2010 Discreet and ageworthy wines with high acidity, but very well balanced. More delicate than 2009 and 2011.

2009 Rich, decadent and opulent. Some blowsy and over the top, others among the best Sauternes ever made.

2008

Keep

The best wines – from the top terroirs – are fresh and elegant but ultimately lack concentration and depth. Exceptionally small harvest. Nudging three stars…

Weather Conditions

2008 was particularly challenging in Sauternes where the hard frost of 6-7 April combined with mildew-inducing rain, hail and constantly changing weather for much of the season reduced yields dramatically. Average for the crus classés was just 6.5hl/ha, though there were big variations: some vineyards were devastated, others lost nothing.
As elsewhere, the Indian summer brought salvation. The unbroken sunshine and humid conditions were good for botrytis and vineyards were full of noble rot by late September. Warm Atlantic breezes helped concentrate juice and flavour further.
Though the botrytis of late September/early October was never really improved upon, harvesting nonetheless continued well into a sunny November as producers strived to pick bunches in optimum condition. Château Rieussec finished 19 November, the latest in memory.

Best Appellations

The exceptionally low yield – 35% down on the average – was not good news for the growers. In Sauternes and Barsac higher yields allow the winemakers to sort grapes rigorously – selecting those best affected by botrytis – and for that reason terroir really mattered.
With few exceptions, the premier crus classés, with their more assured quality, outshine the others. At Château d’Yquem, for example, botrytis cinerea developed magnificently, and the wine has a delicious tropical fruit quality and good complexity.
On the whole, the wines are fresh and elegant with lovely acidity and fruitiness, yet there’s no great depth or concentration. They lack distinction. They’re refreshing and youthful – ideal for aperitif drinking – while the high acidity means they will hold together.

Best Producers

Châteaux d’Yquem (Sauternes), Guiraud (Sauternes), Climens (Barsac), Suduiraut (Sauternes) de Fargues (Sauternes), Rieussec (Sauternes), Coutet (Barsac)

2007

Keep

Outstanding vintage that combines richness and purity with balance and breed. Exceptional freshness too.

Weather Conditions

Out of the whole of Bordeaux, only Sauternes made indisputably great wines in 2007. The region laboured under the same weather problems that beset the rest of Bordeaux from May to the end of August (patchy flowering and ripening and a chronic lack of sunshine). However, because botrytis determines the quality of sweet wines, the district was able to capitalise on the superb autumn weather to a far greater extent than the reds. Botrytis even turned the uneven ripeness into an advantage. The harvest itself, though, was slow and painstaking. Botrytis was generally slow to develop and growers had to wait patiently for desired concentrations to develop – and then harvest grape by grape. The final yield was well below average.

Best Appellations

Both appellations have produced wines of great concentration, thus very high sugar levels, but also exceptional freshness – because of the cold nights in September – and also great purity of fruit because of the quality of the botrytis. Very aromatic too, due to the differences in day and night-time tempertaures in September. The vintage is being compared with 2001 for its richness and purity, 1988 for its balance and breed, with sights set on 1967 as the ultimate role model.

Best Producers

Sauternes: châteaux Suduiraut, Rieussec, Rayne Vigneau, d’Yquem, de Fargues, Lafaurie-Peyraquey, La Tour Blanche. Barsac: châteaux Climens, Coutet, Doisy-Daëne.

2006

Keep

A challenging harvest but with potential. The successes are impressively pure, fresh and complex, for drinking in both short and long term.

Weather Conditions

A year of great opportunities but also great challenges. There was very ripe fruit thanks to the heat of July and early September and very fresh fruit from the cool August, but also ‘aigre’ grapes (bad rot) which had gone volatile.
Heavy rainfall mid-September was to blame, turning a forecast easy harvest into a difficult one (smaller yielding too). 17mm of rain fell in Barsac in one night, while from 14-18th September, 100mm of rain drenched Sauternes. Then more rain in both appellations until the 25th.
Sémillon on early ripening soils had split skins in the centre of many bunches with acetic spoilage, while later maturing clay slopes had no botrytis until late September. Sauvignon Blanc and Sémillon on low and middle slopes ripened early and became botrytised early September.

Best Appellations

2006 more than many another vintages saw winemakers having to very work hard in the vineyard to have any chance of reflecting the potential of the vintage. Crop thinning, leaf plucking (to promote ripeness) and diligently sorting after picking were vital if costly.
Despite the odds, many growers pulled it off, and while most critics hesitate to call the vintage outstanding, they are impressed with the cool purity of the fruit and overall complexity of some of the wines, from both appellations.
Freshness, long flavours and good length are key characteristics, and while many of the wines are approachable young (from 2010), they have the structure to age for decades.

Best Producers

Barsac: châteaux Climens, Coutet, Nairac, Doisy-Daëne, Doisy-Védrines. Sauternes: châteaux d’Yquem, Giraud, La Tour Blanche, Rieussec, de Malle, Suduiraut, de Fargues, Sigalas Rabaud, Romer du Hayot.

2005

Keep

Everything came together beautifully in 2005, and in terms of power and elegance, the vintage may well become one of Sauternes’ most classic.

Weather Conditions

As with the rest of Bordeaux, the drought was the outstanding feature of the summer. 2005 was the second driest year since 1897 and between June and October, the fifth hottest. Interestingly, Sauternes’ other hot, dry years (2003, 1949, 1921, 1906 and 1899) have all proved great years for the appellation.
However, to start the necessary botrytis, you need moisture, and between the 8th and 12th September about 30mm of rain fell, more than for the entire months of August, July or May. This was followed by perfect anti-cyclonal conditions, with the classic morning fogs and afternoon sunshine. The harvest kicked-off late September, and while lack of rainfall during the growing season reduced yields, the reduction was not dramatic.

Best Appellations

Top-class wines from both appellations, with all producers emphasising the purity of the botrytis and resulting must – key precursors to a great Sauternes vintage. The wines are rich, though less so than 2003, and lower pH gives them great freshness, hence balance and complexity. They are typically concentrated and opulent, and should age for decades.
Though the Barsac appellation actually lies within Sauternes, its wines are typically racier and lighter. The 2005 vintage is no exception, though they are noticeably weightier than usual.

Best Producers

Sauternes: châteaux d’Yquem, Rieussec, Lafaurie-Peyraguey, de Fargues, de Rayne Vigneau, La Tour Blanche, Suduiraut, Giraud. Barsac: châteaux Climens, Nairac, Coutet.

2004

Keep

Balanced wine rich in botrytis from better producers who selected for noble rot affected fruit

Weather Conditions

The weather returned to a more typical pattern after the excesses of 2003. The harvest was nearly a month later but more in keeping with the norm. A dry, sunny June assisted with a swift and uniform flowering. Temperatures for July, August and September were above the 30-year average while sunshine hours were below (but on a par or better than 2001 and 2002). Rainfall was consistent for the region and without surfeit except for the 71mm that fell in August putting initial doubts over the potential of the year. A relatively warm, dry sunny spell through September and early October compensated. Intermittent rain from 11 October resulted in a degradation of quality in Sauternes (the quality botrytised grapes were picked 15 September-8 October). A small quantity of quality botrytised wine will be produced but this will not be considered a great year.

2003

Keep

From the best estates, ripe, powerful, concentrated sweet wines with excellent botrytis expression and aging potential; watch out for flabby wines from lesser estates

Weather Conditions

Already well concentrated by the summer heat and drought, light rainfall between 5 and 10 September promoted the botrytis which attacked the grapes in a uniform manner.
This alternating heat and moisture, helped by an east wind, completed the process of concentration. After a first picking of certain parcels which appeared passerillized by the heat, the remainder of the crop was gathered in a single picking, an exceptional harvest for Sauternes.
Extraordinarily rich and opulent, the first musts show sugar-levels rarely achieved in the past, together with very high alcohol content with aromas of apricot symptomatic of top-quality Sauternes. Conditions for sweet wines were similar in St Croix-du-Mont, Loupiac and Cadillac on the opposite bank.
Unlike yield in other parts (red or dry white), production of the sweet botrytized wines this year showed a net increase over 2002 which produced an average yield for Sauternes of 16 hectos/hectare. Quantity will therefore be greater since the weather conditions promoted early picking, and less waste. Quality + quantity should be the end result.

2002

Drink now

Light with little botrytis so drink early

Weather Conditions

Light with little botrytis so drink early

2001

Keep

A very great vintage, with wonderful succulence and aromatic complextity.

Weather Conditions

Enjoying the same ideal vintage conditions throughout August and September as Bordeaux‘s dry whites, the three sweet white grapes were also favoured by October’s perfect Botrytis weather. Regular showers with warm days, cool nights and soft, dry breezes during the sunny afternoons provided ideal conditions for the fungus to grow. This helped concentrate the musts, which are showing great aromatic complexity and the typical ‘rôti’ style for noble rot.

Best Appellations

All the sweet white appellations achieved excellent quality, though perhaps Sauternes, with its inimitable, succulent sweetness, benefited more than Barsac from the ideal vintage conditions this year.

Best Producers

Sauternes
Yquem and Rieussec are the stars, with Guiraud, Suduiraut and de Malle also achieving remarkable quality.
Barsac
Coutet is the top performer for this vintage, with Doisy-Védrines and Doisy-Daëne close behind. De Myrat and Nairac are runners-up.

2000

Drink soon

Little botrytis: 2000 in Sauternes will be inferior to 1999 and the great 2001

Weather Conditions

The Sauternes region enjoyed the same hot weather from mid-July as the rest of Bordeaux. Some growers began picking as early as 11 September, as the grapes were ripe, but there was little botrytis at this stage. In early October some good quality grapes were picked, but heavy rain arrived on 12 October and dashed all hopes for a great crop. In Barsac, Ch Nairac reported a small quantity of ‘correct’ but unexciting wine. Estates with early ripening Sauvignon Blanc tended to fare slightly better than those planted solely with Semillon. At Yquem 90 percent of the crop was rejected, giving an average yield of a minuscule 2.5 hl/ha. 2000 in Sauternes will clearly be inferior to 1999 and the great 2001. There appears to be little regional variation within the Sauternais, since the October rains affected the whole region. Initially it seems that vines on sandy soils, being more precocious and receptive to botrytis, may have given riper wines than those planted on clay, but other factors, such as the severity of the selection, are likely to count for more than soil structure.

Best Producers

In March 2001 Broustet, Coutet, Filhot, Guiraud, Rieussec, and Suduiraut showed well. But these are very early days, and the wines cannot be properly judged until the final selections have been made and the wines have been bottled.

1999

Keep

A very fine vintage of classic quality

Weather Conditions

There was rain during the second half of September, and October was fine. The Sauvignon Blanc matured very rapidly, and could be picked in early September. The vintage was swift, as sugar levels were high and botrytis was widespread. There was little variation in quality between early and late pickings. Quality is homogeneous, and seems slightly better than 1998.

Best Producers

(based on preliminary tastings) Lafaurie-Peyraguey, de Malle, Sigalas-Rabaud, Suduiraut

1998

Keep

Rain caused problems throughout the vintage but a number of excellent wines were produced nevertheless

Weather Conditions

The weather pattern was uneven, but by the time botrytis arrived in mid-September the grapes were fully ripe. Spells of rain complicated the harvest, and acidities were lower than in 1997. Some wines were difficult to ferment, resulting in relatively low alcohol and high residual sugar. The best wines are excellent, but others are patchy.

Best Producers

Bastor-Lamontagne, Doisy-Védrines, Clos Haut-Peyraguey, Nairac, Rieussec

1997

Keep

The finest vintage since 1990. Many excellent wines

Weather Conditions

Very warm spring, but some frost in October reduced the crop. Hot humid August, but September was dry, and picking began around 11 September. The first pickings were of concentrated but not botrytised fruit, and botrytis only set in during October. Some estates continued picking well into November, and those who picked late had wines in rich botrytis character. Quality slightly higher in Sauternes than Barsac, but excellent throughout the region. Probably the best vintage since 1990.

Best Producers

Climens, Extravagance de Doisy-Daene, Lafaurie-Peyraguey, de Malle, Nairac, Sigalas-Rabaud, Tour-Blanche

1996

Keep

A high quality vintage with rich and concentrated wines

Weather Conditions

Rain in August swelled the grapes but also encouraged some botrytis to set in. September was mixed, with some cold weather and rain towards the end of the month. There was grey rot, and affected bunches had to be removed. Botrytis was widespread by early October, sugar levels were high, and the harvest was in full swing. The best wines were rich and concentrated. Very high quality.

Best Appellations

Overall, Sauternes fared better than Barsac.

Best Producers

Clos Haut-Peyraguey, Haut-Bergeron, Lafaurie-Peyraguey, Rayne-Vigneau, Tour-Blanche

1995

Keep

A classic vintage with many very fine wines

Weather Conditions

The winter was mild, the spring warm and dry, as was the summer. There was rain in September and botrytis spread rapidly from around 20 September; thereafter the harvest proceeded rapidly. Some picking were greatly inferior to others, so selection was essential. Many very good wines, but some lack botrytis character.

Best Producers

Yquem

1994

Drink soon

An indifferent vintage of irregular quality

Weather Conditions

There was some frost damage in Barsac in April, but flowering was normal. By September the grapes looked promising, but rain from 15 to 24 September wrecked hopes of a great vintage: there as grey rot, mould, and dilution. Fine weather returned on 5 October. Some good wines made, but the vintage remains very patchy.

Best Producers

Nairac, Lafaurie-Peyraguey

1993

Drink soon

Very heavy rain ruined this vintage

Weather Conditions

A frustrating year, as the summer was glorious, and by late September the grapes were in excellent condition, although they lacked concentration. Then very heavy rain arrived and grey rot and other moulds set in. Most of the wine produced never ended up under the chateau label. Barsac was particularly badly affected.

Best Producers

No producers to recommend.

1992

Drink soon

A poor vintage in which very little wine was produced

Weather Conditions

Flowering was prolonged, and the summer was unusually wet. Botrytis set in mid-September, but growers also had to battle with grey rot. Harvesting began around 16 September, but most grapes were insufficiently concentrated. Rain on 29 September caused further problems, and by the time dry weather returned in mid-October, most estates had given up. Slack wines with little distinction; some estates released no wine in 1992.

Best Producers

No producers recommended.

1991

Drink soon

A very small vintage with few noteworthy wines

Weather Conditions

The April frosts were as devastating in Sauternes as in the Médoc, so yields are extremely low, especially since flowering was uneven. The summer was fine, and the storms in August prompted botrytis to attack the vines. Picking began in late September, but quantities were pitiful, and some estates such as Suduiraut didn’t bottle any wine. Overall, Barsac was less affected than Sauternes.

Best Producers

Climens, Lafaurie-Peyraguey.

1990

Keep

A very fine vintage; the best are sensational

Weather Conditions

Very early flowering, and a summer marked by heat spikes and occasional downpours. Storms in August provoked early botrytis, and the weather remained very warm in September and October. The harvest took place between 11 September and 16 October, although many estates such as Guiraud picked in ten days. Some estates found they had grapes with excessive maturity, leading to problems during fermentation, but by and large quality was sensational. Some wines lack the rich botrytis character of 1989 and some are too alcoholic, but the best wines are magnificent.

Best Producers

Yquem.

1989

Keep

An excellent vintage of power and concentration

Weather Conditions

Flowering was early, and the summer very warm and dry. Hail in early July reduced the crop by up to 75 percent at some properties in Bommes. Botrytis spread rapidly in September, despite the absence of morning fogs until early October. Grapes were very rich in sugar, and some wines showed a touch of heaviness, but overall quality is splendid, with excellent concentration and power. Wines from Barsac are in general slightly superior to those from the other communes, but there are many exceptions.

Best Producers

Yquem, Coutet, Rieussec.

1988

Drink soon

An outstanding vintage with a large number of richly classic wines

Weather Conditions

The sporing was mild and wet, bu flowering was normal, and the summer dry and warm, with hot weather in September. Botrytis did not develop until well into October, and most top estates picked their best lots in November. By then the grapes were fully ripe and botrytis widespread. Quality was outstanding: rich complex fruitiness combined with elegance and length of flavour.

Best Producers

Yquem, Climens.

1987

Drink now

A small vintage of light, short-lived wines

Weather Conditions

A particularly long, cold winter that dragged on well into spring, adversely affecting the flowering. July and August were both cool and there was little sunshine. September was very hot, but the rains set in towards the end of the month, affecting the harvest. The weather conditions resulted in a marginally more successful white vintage, but this is still not an exceptional year. Botrytis was sporadic, and overall the wines are light and pretty, but not for long ageing.

Best Producers

No producers recommended.

1986

Drink soon

Many rich and complex wines

Weather Conditions

Winter was harsh, although the frosts were not as sharp as the previous year. The spring was cool, but the late spring and summer were warm and dry. Rain in mid-September fell at the right time, and was succeeded by fine weather, allowing botrytis to develop copiously. Picking took place through October, but the weather deteriorated at the end of the month, and the last picking were not necessarily the best. Although acclaimed as a great year, some of the fruit was not sufficiently overripe by the time botrytis struck. The wines are rich and complex, but many lack acidity and finesse.

Best Producers

Climens, Fargues, Lafaurie-Peyraguey, Raymond-Lafon, St Amand, Yquem

1985

Drink soon

Fresh, fruity wines without much botrytis character

Weather Conditions

Despite a stormy May, growing conditions were normal through the summer. September was glorious, perfect for sunbathing but hopeless in terms of botrytis development. Some showers in late September persuaded some growers to start picking, but the best properties showed patience. Yquem was still picking on 20 December. Overall the wines are clean and fruity, but only a handful show noble rot character.

Best Producers

Climens, Lafaurie-Peyraguey, Sigalas-Rabaud

1984

Drink now

A small crop of light wines

Weather Conditions

Unpredictable weather in 1984 resulted in a poor crop. Early spring conditions were not particularly notable, but April was exceptionally warm, which promoted the growth of the vines, but this development was halted as a result of a cold and very wet May. A hot June saw an over-enhanced flowering. July and August were sunny and hot, but the crucial ripening period at the end of summer was ruined by heavy rainfall. A hurricane on the 5th of October, towards the end of the harvest period, did not help matters. The crop was small and the wines light in character and structure, suitable for aperitif drinking rather than as luscious dessert wines.

Best Producers

No producers recommended.

1983

Drink soon

A very late vintage produced some truly classic wines

Weather Conditions

An unexceptional winter was succeeded by a cool, damp spring. The flowering had a good start in a warmish early June, but cool weather followed. The temperatures picked up in early July and carried on through August but, even though the weather was particularly hot, a good deal of rain fell as well. Drier conditions took over in the latter half of August, but temperatures dropped too. A fine September led into a good harvest in early October. Botrytis was slow to develop, so patience was essential, and top estates were still picking in mid-November. However, some growers, mindful of the conditions in 1982, were tempted to pick too early. The fine warm conditions of late summer led to the development of a crop of particularly fine botrytis-affected grapes.

Best Producers

Yquem, Lafaurie-Peyraguey.

1982

Drink soon

This vintage was spoiled by rain. Early-picking properties made a few rich wines

Weather Conditions

Spring was mild and dry, with little frost. An early flowering took place under perfect conditions. The start of summer saw a good deal of fine, sunny weather. Light rain fell towards the end of July and continued on, in bursts, throughout a coolish August. Early September, in contrast, was exceptionally hot and dry, promoting a ripening that was so fast that the start of the harvest was one of the earliest in many years. The hot summer resulted in a crop with a very high sugar content, and the change in late September promoted the growth of Noble Rot.
Unfortunately, however, high levels of rainfall in October washed away the botrytis and the disappointing harvest took place in terrible weather. The best quality fruit was the 20 percent or so picked before the rain. Most wines lack a strong botrytis character, although they are rich and fruity.

Best Producers

Suduiraut.

1981

Drink soon

Inelegant wines of moderate quality

Weather Conditions

The weather conditions in 1981 resulted in the production of rather lean wines. There was light frost damage in April but the flowering was successful, despite a lack of sunshine. Early summer was, again, rather cold and wet, although conditions improved in August, which was dry and sunny, and continued through until late September, when heavy rains fell, bringing the harvest to a temporary halt. Whites : The warm conditions from August onwards pushed sugar levels up, and the botrytis was well developed. Overall quality is good, but the wines are stylistically gawky and lack richness and flair.

Best Producers

No producers recommended.

1980

Drink now

An under-rated vintage which produced a number of succulent wines

Weather Conditions

An uneven growing season, with a poor spring, a cold damp July, and then hot weather in August. September was cool and wet, but then conditions improved in October, and some estates were still harvesting well into November. The wines are better than their reputation, and there is no lack of botrytis and succulence.

Best Producers

Rieussec, Raymond- Lafon.

1979

Drink soon

Relatively light but elegant and charming wines

Weather Conditions

The extremely wet conditions of winter lasted well into spring, although conditions improved in time for a successful flowering. Little rain fell during July and August, and temperatures were low. September fared little better. The result was an abundant crop of poorly ripened grapes. The summer was cool and botrytis very slow to develop. The best wines are medium-bodied, no blockbusters, but elegant and charming and gently marked by noble rot. They are now ready to drink but will keep.

Best Producers

Guiraud, Nairac, Raymond-Lafon, Yquem

1978

Drink soon

Many wines lacked concentration but the finest were rich and well-structured

Weather Conditions

The summer was dull, but the growing season was saved by a warm dry autumn that lasted well into October. The splendid Indian summer inhibited the development of botrytis, but some wines show good concentration because the grapes became raisined. Only the best estates made wines of distinction.

Best Producers

Climens, Raymond-Lafon.

1977

Drink now

The worst vintage of the decade

Weather Conditions

The drought that affected much of Western Europe throughout spring and summer made its impact felt in Bordeaux. The hot, dry weather continued until storms began in mid-September, interrupting the harvest, which had started early. Another fine vintage, but very different in character from the more classic 1975. The summer was extremely hot, but there was heavy rain in mid-September. Picking began on 21 September, but the best estates waited a while longer for botrytis to become widespread. Not all the fruit was healthy and some wines showed premature oxidation. The best wines are rich and unctuous, the lesser wines lacked acidity and soon became blowsy.

Best Producers

Yquem, Climens.

1976

Drink soon

A mixed vintage. The finest wines were rich and unctuous

Weather Conditions

Another fine vintage, but very different in character from the more classic 1975. The summer was extremely hot, but there was heavy rain in mid-September. Picking began on 21 September, but the best estates waited a while longer for botrytis to become widespread. Not all the fruit was healthy and some wines showed premature oxidation. The best wines are rich and unctuous, the lesser wines lacked acidity and soon became blowsy.

Best Producers

Yquem, Climens.

1975

drink soon

Late-picked wines were rich yet balanced and have aged very well

Weather Conditions

A warm dry spring, followed by a fairly hot summer, with some rainfall towards the end. Botrytis was slow to develop because of mainly dry conditions in September and early October. Those who harvested late made excellent wines, with ample botrytis character and good acidic backbone. The wines are balanced and still drinking well.

Best Producers

Yquem.

1974

Drink now

A poor vintage producing a few, lean wines

Weather Conditions

Conditions in spring promoted a healthy flowering. Summer was hot and dry, but September saw the start of intermittent periods of heavy rainfall. The rainy, cold weather continued throughout the harvest period, which started early in October. The Sauternes crop was particularly badly affected by the conditions. The crucial autumn months were marred by steady rain and cool temperatures. A few wines were made, but they are lean and relatively characterless.

Best Producers

No producers recommended.

1973

Drink now

Variable vintage of mostly light wines – Barsac fared best

Weather Conditions

The weather was dry and warm throughout most of spring, providing good conditions for flowering. Heavy rain fell during much of July, but the month that followed was hot and dry. September began fine, but wet conditions returned from the middle of the month onwards. As with the red wines, the wines of Sauternes and Barsac were light and pretty, but without the structure for long-term ageing. Most wines should have been drunk up, but some wines from Barsac may still be holding up well.

Best Producers

Yquem, Climens, Nairac.

1972

Drink now

Few wines of any distinction

Weather Conditions

Poor weather throughout the year resulted in a poor vintage. Winter and spring were cold, and flowering was late. Although July was warm, the rest of the summer suffered from prolonged periods of rainy, cold weather. September was warm and sunny, although by then it was too late for the quality of the crop to improve much. The crop did not thrive under the prevailing climate. Many Sauternes were declassified and the quality of the Graves was uneven. The growing season was dry but cool, and estates had to wait until well into the autumn before the grapes were sufficiently ripe to be harvested. The wines were feeble, but by no means a wash-out.

Best Producers

No producers recommended.

1971

Drink soon

Elegant, well-balanced wines which have aged well

Weather Conditions

The cold, damp spring did not clear until towards the end of June. The weather picked up during summer, which, on the whole, was warm and sunny, although punctuated by showers. Good conditions prevailed for the harvest, which started early in October. Botrytis attacked the grapes in late September, and picking began in early October, delivering elegant, well balanced wines that have aged well.

Best Producers

Climens, Coutet, Rieussec, Yquem.

1970

Drink soon

Ripe, luscious wines but lacking complexity

Weather Conditions

Climatic conditions were perfect – but not for the development of noble rot, which was inhibited by the long dry sunny autumn weather. Nonetheless many luscious wines were made, with masses of ripe fruit but little of the complexity that derives from botrytised grapes. But the wines remain fruity and enjoyable.

Best Producers

Doisy-Daene, Doisy-Vedrines, Gilette Crème de Tête.

1969

Drink now

One-dimensional wines with excessive acidity

Weather Conditions

An unexceptional winter was followed by bad spring weather. June continued cold, but July and August saw a rise in temperatures and reasonable amounts of sunshine. Rain fell throughout the first fortnight of September, but warm, sunny weather afterwards continued until the harvest – of a very small crop – in early October.

Best Appellations

Sauternes: these were the only wines to develop into something worthwhile, and it was the lighter, more elegant wines that did best.

Best Producers

Sauternes: Coutet and Filhot both produced light, fruity, elegant wines that are still enjoyable.

1968

Drink now

No decent wines produced this year

Weather Conditions

One of the worst vintages of the century, exacerbated by the weather. A cold winter and spring saw flowering take place under conditions that were far from ideal. There was little sun throughout summer, and August was the coldest and wettest for nearly 20 years. The weather did not help to promote adequate ripening, and the abundant, poor-quality crop was harvested in early October.

Best Appellations

Sauternes was a washout.

Best Producers

No producers recommended.

1967

Drink soon

Late-picked properties produced rich, full-bodied wines

Weather Conditions

Flowering took place slightly behind schedule after a relatively mild winter. The weather warmed up by summer, and July and August were both hot and dry. The pattern was reversed in the first three weeks of September, with cold, damp conditions, although the end of the month saw a return to sunshine. The September rains, which diluted the reds, had little discernible impact on the whites. The late sun gave a boost to the Sauternes crop, and picking began on the 27th of September.

Best Appellations

Sauternes: this was a great vintage for sweet wines, probably the best of the decade.

Best Producers

Sauternes: the magnificent Yquem marked the opening of the stewardship of Alexandre de Lur-Saluces, which continues to this day. Then luscious, long- lasting wines were made at Climens, de Fargues, Sigalas-Rabaud and Suduiraut.

1966

Drink soon

Lean wines with high acidity

Weather Conditions

The mild conditions of winter and early spring were followed by fine weather in late spring, producing a food flowering. Most of summer was cool and dry, although July saw some rains. August was mostly dry, but the sun failed to shine. This was compensated for by a return to hot, sunny weather in September. Despite intermittent rain just before the harvest, the crop
survived intact, with no rot. Early October saw the start of the harvest take place in perfect conditions. Red wines did far better under the prevailing conditions that whites.

Best Producers

Sauternes: Yquem is rich and impressive but without the style of ’67, which overshadowed ’66 here and throughout the appellation.

1965

Drink now

A disastrous year

Weather Conditions

A disastrous year, for which the blame can be fully laid on the weather. The cold winter conditions were prolonged throughout much of spring, and summer was washed out with heavy rains. The final straw was a wet September, which resulted in rot and irregular ripening. What few grapes
there were were harvested in October. Rain during the harvest led growers to pick unripe grapes, so less rot than ’63, but green, acid wines. Nothing to recommend.

Best Producers

No producers recommended.

1964

Drink now

A few acceptable wines but most properties were plagued by rain at vintage time

Weather Conditions

A mild, wet winter led into a warm spring. Summer continued hot and dry, resulting in the development of a well-ripened crop by mid-September. The harvest started well, but the latter part of it was badly affected by the heavy rains that fell without respite for a fortnight. The timing of the rains completely ruined the Sauternes harvest.

Best Appellations

Sauternes was washed out by the rain.

Best Producers

No producers recommended.

1963

Drink now

A very poor vintage with no wines of note

Weather Conditions

Winter was harsh, but there was little frost damage to the crop in spring. The weather did little to promote successful flowering, and the weather continued cold and damp right through to September, resulting in rot and delayed ripening. Finally, the sun began to shine at the start of the late harvest, October 3. Rot spread across the region as rain and warm conditions affected ripe grapes. No area escaped.

Best Producers

No producers recommended.

1962

Drink soon

Elegant, harmonious wines still drinking well

Weather Conditions

Conditions were cold and rainy from winter onwards right through to the end of May. June’s good weather developed into an extremely hot summer, although a reasonable degree of rainfall prevented drought from developing. Good weather continued throughout the harvest, which began on the 1st of October.

Best Appellations

Sauternes: the wines were more harmonious than in ‘61, rich and with lovely fruit flavours.

Best Producers

Sauternes: Yquem and Suduiraut are outstanding, Climens and Coutet are classics.

1961

Drink soon

A small crop of well-concentrated wines

Weather Conditions

Despite a frosty spring, vegetation was advanced, but as the months progressed cold conditions reduced the flowering and rain washed away the pollen, reducing the potential crop. At the end of July persistent rain fell, and drought conditions prevailed in August, which was followed by a warm, sunny September.This pattern effectively ‘pruned’ the crop, then ripened the remaining fruit thoroughly. The harvest began at the end of September.

Best Appellations

Sauternes: tend to lack balance.

Best Producers

Yquem, Climens, and Coutet are the best of the bunch.