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BFWE 2012: Sauternes & Barsac discovery theatre

While young reds were frantically being poured in the grand ballroom and masterclass sessions heaved with keen vertical-seekers, upstairs, tucked away in a calm corner, was a veritable haven of tranquility - a prospect made significantly sweeter by the promise of an hour with some of Sauternes' greatest wines (no pun intended).

This, the only discovery theatre of this year’s Bordeaux encounter, had been keenly anticipated – not only for line-up of wines, but equally the calibre of the speakers, namely two of the regions most eloquent Sauternes communicators.

True to form, both Aline Baly, co-owner of Chateau Coutet and Pierre Montégut, technical director of Chateau Suduiraut led an engaging hour of tasting, learning and discussion, centered around two of the region’s great estates.

The tasting element was particularly good for two reasons; firstly to examine some of the stylistic differences between the two properties (Suduiraut being Sauternes, and Coutet proudly Barsac) and secondly to charter the evolution of Sauternes after 8 years, 15 years and 23 years, which turned out to be as much of an intellectual pleasure as the tasting itself, given the questions over colour variations, aroma profiles and the appearance of sweetness and acidity over time.

Montégut explained that 2004 was his first vintage and, having been forced to leave 75% of his crop on the ground, one of his hardest. For him, the character of each of the grape varieties was the key to understanding Sauternes, he said. ‘I use Sauvignon Blanc and Muscadelle for aromas and freshness, and the Semillon for body and structure,‘ he added, before explaining that despite knowing the weather forecast up to three days, often there would be a last-minute panic as conditions in the ripening process changed overnight.

Rot is something that’s not often discussed as Decanter Encounters, but Montégut’s insight was invaluable. We’ve all know grey rot, for example, but did you also know about orange, purple and green rot too?

Many people will know Aline Baly, co-owner of Chateau Coutet, as a Decanter Encounter regular, having presented several masterclasses and discovery theatres before. And as anyone who follows her work on a number of social medias knows, the all-tweeting face of one of Barsac’s most famous residents works tirelessly to promote the wines not just of her own property, but of the whole Sauternes region through education and social engagement.

To those who weren’t familiar with Sauternes, she offered with a new concept, Vin Blanc d’Or or Gold wines, having coined the phrase only a few days beforehand. It’s a concept she clearly believes in, having already registered the vinblancdor.fr wesbite, so expect to see more of this in future.

For Baly, aromas are probably the most defining feature of the region’s style, and she pressed on their importance to the wines’ character. ‘Aromas to Sauternes and Barsac, are what bubbles are to Champagne,’ she said, before explaining the evolution process of the grape varieties, and how each affects the aroma profile.

‘Are you only permitted to use the three grape varieties?’ asked someone.

‘Well, apparently you can also use Sauvignon Gris,’ said Baly. ‘But I don’t know anyone who does.’

‘Oh’, said Montégut. ‘We do…’

For many people, after tasting through 2004 and 1997 – including a minor dispute over the generalising of colour profiles – the highlight of the session was tasting the wine both properties made in 1989. Baly called Coutet 1989 ‘the meditation wine’, though on reflection, this tag could probably have applied to all the Suduiraut and Coutet wines in the tasting, or indeed the tasting itself, such was the level of indulgence, intelligence and escapism that summed up the session.

A brilliant hour spent with amazing wines and interesting speakers. Who could ask for more?

Wines tasted:
Chateau Coutet 2004
Chateau Suduiraut 2004
Chateau Coutet 1997
Chateau Suduiraut 1997
Chateau Coutet 1989
Chateau Suduiraut 1989

John Abbott

Masterclass reports:
Chateau Lynch Bages  – Jean-Charles Cazes
Chateau Gruaud Larose – The jewel of St Julien – David Launay
Legendary wines from Pessac-Leognan – Olivier Bernard and Laurent Cogombles

Decanter’s Great Bordeaux Fine Wine Encounter: the day in pictures

Written by John Abbott

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