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Bordeaux 2014: Top 10 Sauternes & Barsac

See the top ten St-Emilion wines from the 2014 en primeur tastings, tasted by Ian d'Agata.

The wines of Sauternes and Barsac are among France’s most famous. And the good news for wine lovers is that the 2014 vintage is exceptional for these wines, characterised by amazing total acidities and a noble rot bonanza (a very lemony rather than marmaladey botrytis that further contributed to the impression of high acidity). Much like 2007 or 2011, it is the wines of these communes that are very clearly the best of Bordeaux in 2014.

And thanks to the high acidity, it’s a vintage of truly unique Sauternes and Barsac, in which the average 130 grams per litre of residual sugar seems almost too low; many wines finish as if they were highly concentrated dry white wines (sometimes almost too dry), not unlike richer-styled, aged white Burgundies. In fact, total acidity sampled in Sauvignon Blanc berries was higher than ever in 2014: by comparison, 4.6g/l in 2010, 5.6g/l in 2011, and 7.6g/l in 2014.

If I have one caveat, it’s that some wines taste as if they were made with higher percentages than usual of Sauvignon Blanc, not a good idea. It is Semillon that makes for truly great Sauternes and Barsac.

In 2014, a cold and wet en d of April hampered flowering, contributing to very low yields another characteristic of the vintage: ‘When I tell Bordeaux red wine producers that my yields were lower than  10l/ha, they can’t believe it! Bérénice Lurton of Château Climens said. Summer was neither particularly sunny nor warm, ensuring very high acidity in the white grapes. However September to October were near perfect, recording the fourth highest average temperatures since 1896;  three successive spells of rain were each followed by two  to three weeks of warm, dry weather allowing for development of noble rot and sugar concentration by evapoation. But the heat and paucity of rainfall delayed the appearance of large volumes of noble rot: estates delayed most of their picking until the last two weeks of October. A minority of estates (including Château d’Yquem) were able to pick 50% of their total harvest by early October, allowing for wines marked by even greater freshness and very pure noble rot.

In ultimate analysis, the 2014 Sauternes and Barsacs are high refined wines that dance lightly on the palate. They lack the supple richness of the 2009 or 2001 vintages, but are more politely styled and devoid of heaviness, making for some of the easiest to drink Bordeaux sweet whites in memory. They will be absolutely ideal restaurant wines, enjoyable not just as aperitifs but with the whole meal as well.

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