Grapevine Archive for Sauternes

Recently I was at my village wine club tasting (nothing to do with my job at The Wine Society) in the local parish rooms for a tasting. Our host Simon brought along some wines he’d bought en primeur, some from us and some from another merchant.

He wanted to see how the wines had developed and to see if buying them en primeur had ‘paid its way’ in terms of initial cost (including storage) vs how much the wines would cost now.

The wines were great (with just one that was ever so slightly past its best), and Simon had done his calculations and seen that, for those wines which he could still get, the prices now were much higher on almost all the wines.

En Primeur tasting

It was a fascinating evening for me as I look after our en primeur offers at The Society and it was very reassuring to meet another wine drinker so interested in it and getting such satisfaction from the service; both in terms of value and, more importantly, pleasure from the experience.

I buy en primeur myself mainly for the enjoyment and delayed gratification of having it stored away – sometimes for decades – only to get them out, having long forgotten what I paid for them and slightly smug about being able to drink something so mature that not many others can!

So it was nice that, for the wines we had last night anyway, the numbers also made great sense…

I did come in to work the next morning feeling that what I do gives enormous amounts of pleasure to a lot of our members and it offers good value too. Oh, and none of the wines were the stellar-expensive wines you often hear about – most were in the £15-£40 bracket.

With our 2015 Rhône offer available now, it also felt like a good time to share the experience!

Shaun Kiernan
Fine Wine Manager

Here are some quick notes from what we tasted:

1. Three vintages of Clos Floridène Blanc, one of members’ favourite dry whites from Bordeaux.

Clos Floridène Blanc, Graves 2010
Real class here – exactly what you’d hope for from this excellent wine and vintage. The sauvignon blanc and semillon that make up the blend were in perfect balance, and this wine will still keep for some time yet.

Clos Floridène Blanc, Graves 2009
Still very good too with real class and finesse, and a long satisfying finish.

Clos Floridène Blanc, Graves 2007
Sadly this wine was just outside its drink date and should have been drunk already. It was slightly oxidised but still interesting, but its mature flavours may not be for everyone.

2. Four vintages of Vacqueyras Saint Roch from Clos de Cazaux. This family-owned southern Rhône producer is another popular name at The Society, featuring regularly in our regular and en primeur offers – not to mention being the source of our Exhibition Vacqueyras – so I was especially intrigued to taste these.

Vacqueyras Saint Roch, Clos de Cazaux 2010
From a great year, this is still muscular and would benefit from further ageing. You could certainly see its potential though. Keep for two more years: will make a fab bottle.

Vacqueyras Saint Roch, Clos de Cazaux 2009
Similarly young as per the 2010 and would be better kept for longer, although the 2009 was lighter in weight. Still highly enjoyable.

Vacqueyras Saint Roch, Clos de Cazaux 2008
Smoother and more mature, this was just about ready, and backed up by some appealing sweetness of fruit.

Vacqueyras Saint Roch, Clos de Cazaux 2007
Wonderful wine – for me, this is what what en primeur is all about. Totally à point, this is all chocolate and cream, with the freshness that demanded we try a second glass! Best wine of the night for me.

3. Three vintages of Château Dutruch Grand Poujeaux, a bit of a Bordeaux ‘insider’s tip’ gaining an increasingly large following for its excellent claret, which is offered at reasonable prices.

Château Dutruch Grand Poujeaux, Moulis-en-Médoc 2009
Lovely sweetness here, and quite tannic. Not typical of 2009, so without the heaviness I sometimes associate with the vintage. Good wine.

Château Dutruch Grand Poujeaux, Moulis-en-Médoc 2008
Leave a little longer: quite typical of 2008 (not my favourite vintage) in its austerity, but the quality was evident and there is more to come from this wine.

Château Dutruch Grand Poujeaux, Moulis-en-Médoc 2005
From a classic vintage, this is now ready but was drier than I thought. Slightly muscular, and would come into its own with food.

4. Two vintages of Château Suduiraut, Sauternes, one of the grandest sweet wines one can find in Bordeaux, and which still offers excellent value for its quality.

Château Suduiraut, Sauternes 2010
This is rich but also very fine with lovely balancing freshness, and will keep well. Marmalade nose and lemony freshness on the palate but rich too.

Château Suduiraut, Sauternes 1997
A lovely contrast to the 2010 with the aromas and flavours that come with maturity. A barley-sugar nose but rich on the palate, and again with good acidity. Needs drinking now but won’t go over the top for a few years. Very good indeed!

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Tue 02 Aug 2016

Remembering Denis Dubourdieu

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Raise a glass to the memory of Denis Dubourdieu, who died on 26th July.

Many members of The Wine Society will know him as the owner of Château Reynon in Premières Côtes, Clos Floridene in Graves, Château Cantegril (the excellent source over several vintages of The Society’s Exhibition Sauternes), and, with his father, of Château Doisy-Daëne in Barsac.

The Society has been regularly following his wines for over 30 years, because they have been consistently excellent examples of red, dry and sweet white Bordeaux at prices most can afford.

Denis Dubourdieu at The Wine Society in April 2015Denis Dubourdieu at The Wine Society in April 2015.

He first made his reputation by revolutionising the quality of white Bordeaux, but a tasting we organised in London recently of ten vintages of Château Reynon Rouge for Jancis Robinson showed the keeping quality and class of his red wines too, with his 2005 and 2010 more delicious than many classed growths.

Not so many may have known of Denis’ immense importance in raising the standards of Bordeaux wines in general and that his influence extended far beyond his home patch. He was a highly valued consultant at châteaux as varied as Haut-Bailly, Batailley, Pichon Comtesse Lalande, Giscours, Cheval Blanc and Yquem, and many others in Bordeaux.

He consulted also in Burgundy, the Rhône, the Loire, Languedoc, Italy, Spain, Greece and in Asia.

Although he first made his reputation by revolutionising the quality of white Bordeaux, Denis Dubourdieu's influence extended far beyond his home patchAlthough he first made his reputation by revolutionising the quality of white Bordeaux, Denis Dubourdieu’s influence extended far beyond his home patch.

He believed passionately that a wine should express the terroir it came from, quoting Émile Peynaud: ‘A cru wine is a taste one can recognise.’ He said that a terroir is not only the soil, climate and grape varieties of a place, but the capacity of all these to give a wine a delectable and specific taste recognisable by the customer who cannot find the exact equivalent elsewhere.

Denis, the son of Jean-Pierre Dubourdieu of Doisy-Daëne, was born into wine and married Florence, the daughter of a vigneron owner of Reynon, which they made their home. Together they created, almost from scratch, Clos Floridene, a property whose vines planted on limestone have produced wines that often outperform and outlive many Pessac-Léognan crus classés.

Visits each year in spring to Reynon to taste his newly made wines were an essential pleasure.Visits each year in spring to Reynon to taste his newly made wines were an essential pleasure.

As Professor, since 1988, at the Oenology faculty of Bordeaux University and, since 2009, director general of the Science of Vines and Wine at the university, he gave countless young vignerons and winemakers the benefits of his scientific knowledge and practical experience.

For me, as wine buyer, visits each year in spring to Reynon to taste his newly made wines were an essential pleasure, because I could not only assess his own wines, but learn from his honest, informed view of the recent vintage all over Bordeaux; both its strengths and its weaknesses.

Denis proved that, if you worked hard in the vineyard, it was always possible to make good wine. He brought an extraordinary attention to detail, needed to make good Sauternes, to the making of red and dry white too, often making several consecutive pickings to catch grapes at their optimum.

The Dubourdieu family. Left-right: Fabrice, Denis, Florence and Jean-JacquesThe Dubourdieu family. From left to right: Fabrice, Denis, Florence and Jean-Jacques.

Florence, his wife, and his trained oenologist sons Fabrice and Jean-Jacques will continue, I am sure, to make excellent wine at the properties they own, but this remarkable, modest man will be very much missed, while his legacy lives on.

Sebastian Payne MW
Society Buyer

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Fri 28 Mar 2014

Video: Value and Variety in Bordeaux

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What do you think of when you heard the words ‘Bordeaux’ and ‘wine’?

Value? White wine? Sweet wine? All three of these components are arguably overlooked in this vast region, spanning over 10,000 properties.

Recently we caught up with two of our most valued and long-term Bordeaux suppliers, Basaline Granger Despagne and Fabrice Dubourdieu to discuss just that. You can take a look at the video there and browse some of our Joanna Locke MW’s best buys from the region (available until this Sunday) here.

Categories : Bordeaux, France
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Wed 24 Apr 2013

A Tasting of Château d’Yquem

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This was the Society workshop that many had been waiting for – a tasting of what is reputed to be the best sweet wine in the world, Château d’Yquem, hosted by The Society’s buyer for Bordeaux, Joanna Locke MW.

A group of 48 happy members tasted their way through eight vintages of Yquem, starting with 2003 and finishing with the 1954. I must confess at this point that I had never been lucky enough to try Château d’Yquem before. I’d heard so much about this liquid gold that I was slightly apprehensive that it might not live up to the hype that surrounds it. However, I was not disappointed. Even in ‘lesser’ vintages, the sheer quality was apparent.

Château d’Yquem tasting

Château d’Yquem was recognised as being pretty special in the Bordeaux Classification of 1855, which saw the creation of a ranking system based on the wines market price at the time. Awarded the status of ‘premier grand cru superieur’, Château d’Yquem continues to be recognised as producing the best dessert wine in the world.

Though sold in 1999 to the luxury goods company LVMH, Yquem is still managed by the family and in 1998 Sandrine Garbay was appointed as cellar manager – a rather daring move in a very male-dominated world perhaps, and one which has proved to be a success.

The greatest vintages are those which have been affected by noble rot, a rather unattractive mould which leads to a biochemical process in which the volume of water in the grapes is reduced, leading to a loss of water and a concentration of sugar, whilst retaining the high acidity that gives the wines their freshness and stops them from being leaden on the palate. Unlike other properties in Sauternes who pick whole bunches affected by noble rot, Château d’Yquem pride themselves on picking the grapes individually; the must is then fermented in 100% new oak barrels for 36 months.

As with any great wine there is a lot of vintage variation with the wines of Château d’Yquem: the levels of residual sugar vary, as does the colour, particularly if the weather was warm towards harvest. There are also, as became evident during the workshop, differences in style due to the quality and quantity of noble rot present in each vintage. Whilst some of the wines showed better than others and we all had our own favourites, which of course all differed, this workshop was an amazing opportunity to taste this world-renowned wine. At the prices some of these wines now command, this is quite possibly the only way I would be able to try such treats.

The wines:

Y de Yquem, 2000
Château d’Yquem’s dry white was included in this tasting as a little ‘extra’. This was an interesting wine, reminiscent of white Rioja in style. It is a wine of two halves – the first round of sauvignon and semillon to go into the blend were picked early to retain their crisp acidity and primary fruit character, then after the grapes had been picked for their sweet wine, a second round of late-picked, fully ripe semillon was added to the blend to give the wine added body and richness. Incredibly complex, with some citrus, white-peach and pineapple fruit and nutty walnut and caramel notes (partly from the oak ageing, partly from some oxidation), long length and fresh acidity. I could see this being a bit of a marmite wine – you either love it or you hate it. I loved it.

Château d’Yquem, 2003
2003 was a plentiful, highly regarded but atypical vintage with a very warm summer producing super-ripe grapes. The grapes were not affected by noble rot, but achieved their concentration of sugars due to dehydration, being left on the vine after the vine had started to go into its winter dormancy. As such, the vintage was picked in one pass through the vineyard (the average vintage takes six passes to pick all the botrytised grapes). This gives a wine which has a purity that you don’t sometimes get with botrytis, but also lacks the complexity botrytis can give a wine.
The 2003 had a mid-gold colour, with an intense nose with notes of honey, blossom, peach, apricot, creamy citrus and nuts. On the palate the wine was intensely sweet but beautifully balanced. Honey, toast and nuts, with cream, apricot and peach. Clean and refreshing, with high acidity, high sugar levels (147g/l of residual sugar) and typically for Sauternes, highish alcohol (14%).

Château d’Yquem, 2001
Considered to be a great Sauternes and Barsac vintage. The botrytis was prevalent this year and took hold quickly, ensuring healthier grapes that were not affected by undesirable grey rot, and a faster concentration of sugars in the grapes.
Again pale gold in colour with notes of honey, toast, peach and apricot, hazelnut and a touch of the medicine cabinet (a good thing: an indicator that there has been botrytis) on the nose. The palate had all of the above, with great complexity and very long length. Intensely sweet (150g/l residual sugar), beautifully complex and utterly balanced, this was perhaps the star wine of the workshop? The 2001 is still very young – the French consider it to be infanticide to drink Sauternes younger than 10 years old!

Château d’Yquem, 1999
Golden colour with some peach and apricot, creamy hazelnut and honey on the nose. Fresh acidity on the palate with marmalade notes and a little bit of bitter orange peel on the long finish. The quantities were small, and the quality good, though 1999 is not ranked amongst the best vintages. This wine is drinking well now.

Château d’Yquem, 1996
More old-fashioned in style, the 1996 does not have the reputation of other vintages and the quality is less consistent. It took five passes through the vineyards to pick the grapes for this vintage. With 122g/l of residual sugar, this wine lacks the fresh acidity present in the other vintages and is quite high-toned (has a lot of volatile acidity) in style. There is peach and apricot kernel here, with hints of mushroomy complexity (sign of botrytis).

Château d’Yquem, 1988
Not a heavily botrytised year – botrytis arrived late and was not consistent, therefore the wine has more purity than in more heavily botrytised years.
The wine has a deeper, more golden colour than previous wines. Brown sugar, golden syrup and honey on the nose, with a little bit of volatile acidity which adds complexity. There is very fresh acidity, with the usual creamy peach and apricot fruits, some walnut and floral notes, and excellent length. This is a beautifully balanced wine.

Château d’Yquem, 1986
1986 was made in the same style as 1996, but the noble rot was more consistent and therefore the resulting wine is much more complex. In addition to the peach, apricot, walnut and honey and fresh acidity, a few of us picked up a slight blue-cheese note, with the medicine cabinet lurking in the background. This wine had the second-lowest residual sugar levels of the workshop with just 97g/l.

Château d’Yquem, 1981
The property had high hopes for the 1981 vintage, which were unfortunately ultimately unfounded as the vintage only proved to be of modest quality and now lacks the freshness that other vintages displayed. Deep gold in colour the wine has the creamy, nutty peach and apricot flavours of the other wines, with some hints of blue cheese and good length.

Château d’Yquem, 1954
1954 was picked in two passes through the vineyard. A golden, tawny colour with nutty walnut and slightly oxidised notes, the 1954 is (unsurprisingly) starting to take on aged characteristics rather like a tawny port. In spite of its more advanced age, the 1954 still shows remarkable freshness, great length and has a lovely complexity. The residual sugar in this wine is 85g/l. A vintage in decline? Perhaps, but a real treat to have the opportunity to taste.

Emma Howat
Tastings & Events Co-ordinator

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Tue 15 Jan 2013

Sauternes 2012: Some Optimism

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Château d’Yquem has made the news recently, declaring loudly that it will not be releasing a 2012 because the quality is not up to scratch. The growing season and harvest was particularly complicated and stressful for the Sauternais, it’s true, and we have not heard anyone claiming the vintage of the century.

However, Yquem’s typically bold statement does rather queer the pitch for anyone who does plan to release! Château Climens’ Bérénice Lurton, who is President of the Union des Grands Crus de Sauternes et Barsac, offers her take on the vintage:

8 days of harvest over a period of 2 weeks (15 to 31st October) gave us a yield of 10hl/ha and moreover, quality that we could never had hoped for. For such a crazy harvest, frankly the outcome is positive. And more than that, it was great to cock a snoot at all those malicious gossipers who declared Climens to be ‘devastated by mildew’. Mother Nature was not so unkind after all!

As for biodynamics, without which we would almost certainly have lost fewer grapes to mildew, it did on the other hand help the vines to stand up to the drought in September and the unwelcome rains towards the end of the season.

The tastings post-fermentation are amazing: apart from 2 or 3 lots that are simpler but honest, the overall result is excellent. To start, the aromatic purity is perfect from beginning to end. And for most of the lots a long finish, complexity, elegance and panache are all there.

(Bérénice’s full harvest report can be found by visiting Climens’ website and clicking on the post entitled ‘Proud of our 2012 vintage!’.)

After a run of good Sauternes vintages, cellars may not be gasping for more. We’ll take a view after we’ve tasted in the spring. At least we know we don’t have to save our centimes for Yquem 2012!

Jo Locke MW
Society Buyer for Bordeaux

Edit, 29th January:
Château Rieussec
, we now know, is also not releasing a 2012 wine; but our first taste of the Dubourdieus’ Cantegril (The Society’s Exhibition Sauternes) and Doisy Daëne have indeed proved that some delicious Sauternes and Barsac have been made.

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Wed 27 Jun 2012

Sauternes and Strawberries: A Faultless Match

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Many refer to Bordeaux?s famous sweet white as a ?dessert wine?, but this only represents a fraction of its culinary capabilities. A good bottle of Sauternes is as at home in the pre-prandial sunshine as it is next to a winter pudding. The Bordelais themselves are known to serve it with main courses and cheeses, and often enjoy a well-chilled glass as an aperitif before the food has even arrived.

A recent tasting, prompted by a suggestion from Sebastian Payne MW, showed just how good the combination of Sauternes and strawberries can be. Though often overlooked in favour of sparkling alternatives, the 2009 Exhibition Sauternes (made for us by the Dubourdieus at Château Cantegril) proved its credentials magnificently.

The Sauternes strikes a balance between rich, honeyed flavours (derived in part from noble rot) and refreshing acidity from the grapes themselves. When combined with the juicy sweetness of the strawberries, the results were simply sublime, and all the more so with cream.

Below are some of the comments from Society staff after tasting the combination for themselves:

?It seems to become an even better marriage the more you have. I think what the Sauternes does to the strawberries and cream is give them more definition somehow: they both bring out the flavour of the other.?

?Put an instant smile on my face ? absolutely lovely.?

?The wine didn?t taste sickly at all with the strawberries and cream and also had a creaminess of its own. An unctuous trio!!?

?It?s satisfying and decadent but really brings out the brightness in the wine ? remarkably refreshing. Neither overpowers the other. Wonderfully indulgent, yet still it finishes fresh and makes you want another glass. This will surprise people.?

Certainly something to bear in mind for Wimbledon and beyond.

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Thu 03 May 2012

A Second Look at Bordeaux 2011

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The Society Bordeaux buying team of Sebastian Payne MW, Jo Locke MW and myself has recently spent a second week in Bordeaux, retasting many of the 2011s that we had sampled a fortnight previously during the annual ‘en primeur’ bunfight, and tasting many other 2011s for the first time. It is remarkable how in that short time many of the wines have evolved, and the week proved invaluable in helping us to distil down our selection for the main en primeur offer that we will be sending out next month. Over the course of our two sojourns in Bordeaux we have tasted several wines three, four and occasionally five times, so we feel we are well placed to put together a coherent and considered offer for members.

Week one had been a whirlwind, visiting some of the best-known wine names in the Bordeaux firmament, with one day that involved visits to Châteaux Léoville Las Cases, Lagrange, Pontet Canet, Mouton Rothschild, Lafite Rothschild, Latour and Ducru Beaucaillou ? and that was just in one morning?

Our second week was, with one or two exceptions, more modest in terms of the global renown of châteaux visited and wines tasted, but no less interesting or enlightening. The vast majority of châteaux that we have followed for a number of years have made fresh, attractive and classically proportioned red wines that we have no hesitation in recommending subject, of course, to the wines being sensibly priced. Examples include Château Le Conseiller, Château Bouscaut, Château Belgrave, Château d’Angludet, Château Cantemerle and Château Batailley, to name but a few. 2011 was also an excellent Sauternes and Barsac vintage, with consistently high quality across the board, and we will be offering several of our favourites in our main Bordeaux opening offer.

Week two was also an opportunity to taste at the esteemed premises of JP Moueix in Libourne. Having “extinguished” our mobile phones [see above], we were treated to a procession of delicious merlot-dominant right bank wines in the splendid Moueix tasting room ? a cavernous but tranquil setting for the Society tasters [right]. We also paid a visit to the strikingly Burgundian-looking cellars [below] of François Mitjavile at Château Tertre Roteboeuf in Saint Emilion, our annual opportunity to shoot the breeze with one of the most cerebral winemakers in Bordeaux, and taste the delicious fruits of his labours.

Our week ended with a visit to Château Reynon in the Premières Côtes de Bordeaux to see our old friend Denis Dubourdieu, wine guru, lecturer and oenologist to some of France’s most famous names; and a tasting at Château Climens in Barsac with owner Bérénice Lurton. Bérénice took us through no fewer than nine different barrels of 2011 Barsac, each cask containing the production of a single-day’s picking last autumn ? the later the harvest day the sweeter, more lush and complex the wines tasted. The 2011 Climens is a true labour of love.

All that we are waiting for now is for the châteaux to release their prices, and we are hoping that the owners and decision makers will take a pragmatic view this year and release the wines at sensible prices. We are expecting a flurry of activity from the Bordeaux négociants in the coming days, although the profusion of public holidays in France this month may hamper the process somewhat.

Tim Sykes
Head of Buying

The Society has put in place new procedures for ordering Bordeaux 2011 this year. The first of our two 2011 Bordeaux Opening Offers, containing 30 of the most sought after wines of the vintage, requires members to pre-order the wines before the prices are confirmed by the chateaux. The remaining, generally less expensive, wines will be offered as normal, in print and online, in June or July.

Tue 21 Dec 2010

Strong and sticky

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We’re on a roll with Jancis Robinson as she includes the following wines in her top 40 fortified and sweet wines for Christmas.

Herederos de Argüeso, Las Medallas Manzanilla NV Very light and delicate. It doesn’t even taste 15% alcohol. Juicy and fluid and refreshing. £6.95 for 75 cl The Wine Society


Sánchez Romate, Fino Perdido NV Very pale tawny. Chock full of character. Really light, dry and zesty. Screwcap with señorita label. £7.95 for 75 cl The Wine Society

Sánchez Romate, Cayetano del Pino Palo Cortado NV Obviously very old and super tangy. Lots to lose yourself in here though overall much more delicate than most Palo Cortados. Seriously interesting. £17 for 37.5 cl The Wine Society

Royal Tokaji, Late Harvest 2008 Tokaji The painless way to enjoy Hungary’s most famous wine. A super-fruity blend of the three Tokaji grapes: the great Furmint, Hárslevelu and Yellow Muscat. Shows the freshness that defines Tokaji without any of the complication. Super clean. £10.95 for 37.5 cl The Wine Society


Ch La Tour Blanche 2003 Sauternes Really luscious for drinking now. So big and round and unctuous. Yet it’s saved from flab by its structure. There’s a beginning, middle and end to this wine with some very agreeable toastiness in the undertow. Great stuff. Enjoy it while you may. £37 The Wine Society

Ch de Fesles 2005 Bonnezeaux Mid gold from the mid Loire. Nutty start and then beautiful, contained sweetness with a savoury streak. Impossible to spit. Great intensity with a hint of dill pickle. So long, so complete. Lovely already yet I’m sure it will last beautifully. £29 per 50 cl The Wine Society