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BFWE 2010: Treasures of Sauternes

Decanter Bordeaux Fine Wine Encounter Discovery Theatre - 2: Treasures of Sauternes.

Marie-Louise Schÿler (Ch Suduiraut)
Aline Baly (Ch Coutet)

This Discovery Theatre seminar offered the perfect introduction to the way that great sweet wines evolve in bottle, presenting six wines from four vintages and three different decades – from two of the world’s finest exponents of the craft.

The idea was to allow the audience to make up their own minds about how they like their Sauternes: young, forward and fruity, or more honeyed, evolved and mature. Vintages dating back from 2006 to 1989 were on offer.

Aline Baly offered a dissection of Sauternes and Barsac in numbers: at 5,500 acres, the appellations account for only 2% of Bordeaux’s total vineyard area, but produce 57% of the area’s sweet wines.

Geographically, both Sauternes and Barsac occupy perfect positions to benefit from the autumn mists which encourage the growth of botrytis – the noble rot that so concentrates the sugars in the grapes and creates such luscious dessert wines. ‘We are probably some of the very few people in the wine world to get so excited about a little bit of fungus on a grape,’ said Marie-Louise Schÿler.

But the differences between Sauternes and the Barsac enclave were also exposed: warmer, more diverse soils in Sauternes, but clay and limestone in Barsac encouraging a crisper, more linear style with enhanced minerality.

Best audience question: How does noble rot affect the acidity of the wine?

Answer (from Marie-Louise Schÿler): It doesn’t really affect the acidity. It affects the concentration, the aromas and the sugars.

Q: But then how do you keep the acidity in the wine?

A🙁Aline Baly): Botrytis really has an impact on sugars and aromas, but not on acidity.

Best panel comment: Marie-Louise Schÿler on the folks next door: ‘We are the second biggest estate in Sauternes to our neighbours at Chateau d’Yquem. We are very pleased to have them as neighbours, although they don’t often say the same about us!’

Hot topic: As with Bordeaux’s red wines, vintages like 2006 in Sauternes are often – and undeservedly – overlooked. Presenting the 2006 Suduiraut, Marie-Louise Schÿler told the audience it ‘had the misfortune’ to follow 2005.

‘Everybody was crazy about the 2005s,’ she added. ‘It is maybe on the lighter side, but it’s beautiful as an aperitif or at the end of the meal.’

Richard Woodard

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