It’s a source of wonder that one area can produce a great dry wine styles of the world (red Bordeaux, with Cabernet Sauvignon allied with Merlot and other red varieties), and also one great sweet white wine style (Barsac and Sauternes, made generally from Semillon and Sauvignon Blanc). The dry whites can be tantalisingly complex too.
The Sauternes area is usually blessed by fogs, and botrytis can perform its magic. Low yields and the concentration delivered by botrytis mean the wines can absorb an extensive amount of oak, adding even more complexity, and while attractive as young wines, have the potency to last for decades.
Two wines were served masked; they turned out to be from the same producer with just one years difference in the vintage. While I successfully initially estimated the wines as around 20 years old, the more advanced nature of the second (and actually younger) wine made me guess a little older. The wines were from Chateau Coutet.
1996 Ch Coutet (barsac) 14%
75% Semillon, 20% sauvignon blanc, 10% muscadelle
The wine was a bright light copper orange liqueur colour, displaying some vanilla, dark honey, fresh and dried apricot plus crème brulee; the palate lush, with attractive slightly bitter orange marmalade, sweet spices and texture. Full-bodied with grace and balance. Harmonious with drive and length. At its peak.
Drink to 2026, and 93 points
1997 Ch Coutet (barsac) 13.5%
80% Semillon, 10% sauvignon blanc, 10% muscadelle)
Three bottles were opened, the bottle I was served from was most successful; another bottle was nearly as excellent; the third bottle however was plain and comparatively dull.
The wine had a similar bright dark gold colour, and showed darker, riper fruit flavours – stewed fruits with some ripe tropical notes. Overall, while seemingly a little sweeter, and with a silky palate, it was simpler in its characters, and seems a drink-soon proposition.
Drink to 2023, 90 points.
The next two wines were half-bottles from terrific QPR producers from the outstanding 2009 vintage. Dim restaurant lighting thwarted proper assessment of colour, and the bottles quickly emptied, preventing more leisurely appraisal at home.
2009 Ch la tour blanche (sauternes- Bommes) 13.8%
Semillon, sauvignon blanc and Muscadelle) 150 g/l rs
Bright and clear gold colour, this wine was packed with floral tropical fruit notes, of mango, orange peel, green pineapple backed up with green nettle and barley sugar; altogether complex and delicious. It was rich and complete on the palate, with racy acidity cutting through its lushness. I’m a happy purchaser, with a few more bottles for the future
Drink to 2030 and 92 points
2009 Ch Raymond Lafon (sauternes) 13.5%
80% semillon, 20% sauvignon blanc, 138 g/l rs
The colour was clear, albeit slightly darker than the wine above. It seemed to show brighter perfumed fruits, greater honeyed richness and a grippier palate, but not quite the intrigue of the first wine, and seemed readier,
Drink to 2026 and 91 points