In recent weeks, I’ve enjoyed 3 excellent sauternes from different vintages – from full-sized bottles.
The underlying question is “what is the right age to drink sauternes?”. There must be some allowance made for half vs full bottle size, producer and vintage, but is there even a rule of thumb?
Certainly we would aim to avoid immature wines, wines that are nowhere near their optimum; similarly we want to avoid drinking relics, whose best times are well past.
I want to see interplay of fruit flavours and development, with the desirable attributes of balance, length, concentration and a sense of place.
Sauternes have the ability to mature for a long time; their regime of high alcohol, medium sugar – say 120 to 150 g/l, low acid contrast to say a Mosel Riesling equivalent BA with its low alcohol and high acid; but both contain the stuffing to ensure a long life – cork permitting.
So 3 different vintages with ratings and general comments from Wine Spectator Sauternes vintage chart
1995 87, drink- sweet and balanced, uneven quality
1998 88, drink- elegant, refined and delicious
2005 93, hold- opulent and structured with underlying finesse
1995 Ch Suduiraut 13%
90% Semillon, 10% sauvignon blanc in Preignac. Amber/gold colour, but alive with pear, apricot, marmalade and vanilla bean. Fully ready, and its churlish to mention how a 21- year-old wine needs a touch more acidity to provide better refreshment, and an even higher score; being tasted next to the de Fargues did it no favours, but in its own right – no problem!
Drink now-2020; 93 points
1998 Ch de Fargues 13.5%
Owned by the de Lur Saluces family, the wine (80% semillon, 20% sauvignon blanc) is from a highly regarded property -whose wines I have not previously tried- made in the same fanatical and meticulously low yielding methods as Ch D’Yquem. Lighter in colour than the Suduiraut, this wine is a stunner, very ripe and sweet with a lime-juice and guava palate, refreshing acidity and the finest ultra-silky palate.
Drink to 2025, 96 points
2005 Ch La Tour blanche 14%
Approx 80% Semillon, 15% sauvignon blanc, 5% muscadelle, from Bommes. Gold/Amber colour, barley sugar, vanilla, citrus and poached pear. Ripe, with grippy balanced phenolics. Almond meal, and some complex tropical fruit reverberate on a long creamy palate. Fantastic fresh wine, with buckets of time ahead.
Drink to 2025, 95 points
High scores, and these wines often come up at auction with prices that are – relatively speaking, value for money (the 1995 Suduiraut and the 2005 La Tour Blanche for under $100). And my conclusion for optimum decadent drinking? From lesser years, 10-15 years; from best years 15-20 years, with numerous exceptions.