by Juel Mahoney
“The 2011 Sauternes and Barsac are great.” And so ends University of Bordeaux Professor Denis Dubordieu’s paper on the Bordeaux 2011 vintage.
Is there a need to say any more?
Indeed, they are great in 2011. Yet it seems sweet wines from Sauternes and Barsac can have many good vintages but only gain interest in a great vintage. Otherwise they are ignored by most Bordeaux drinkers and investors (except for those generous souls who buy Sauternes to treat family and friends on special occasions or rainy weekends).
These wines are sorely undervalued compared to how much work goes into making the wine. And how much pleasure it provides. This is not all bad news – it can mean you are getting incredible value.
“For Sauternes we only make money, on average, over a ten year period. It is a very small profit and the output is tiny,” says Christian Seely, the MD of AXA Millésimes when we visited him to taste Chateau Suduiraut 2011.
A labour of love
Why? The wines are risky and expensive to produce and hail from tiny pockets of land in southern Graves. The Chateau depend on perfect weather conditions to rot the grapes across the whole vineyard at the same time. When this happens they are unreplicable in the world – they have an unparalleled richness and complexity which ends with a mouth-watering freshness.
There is a shift in Sauternes to create less gooey and heavy wines and emphasise the freshness. However, the taste of sweetness can be deceptive. The sugar levels have never been higher, but the perception on the palate is fresher.
2011 Vintage in Sauternes and Barsac
The weather conditions in 2011 were perfect for fast concentration of the sugar in the grapes. Morning mists in September followed by temperatures of 30 degrees for several days created a burst of Noble Rot. In 2011, you will often find excellent freshness and acidity. The pure botrytis gives the wines complexity and depth with a long, chewy finish.
“In 40 years of making wine in the region, I have only seen this phenomenon twice, in 2009 and 2011,” notes Professor Dubourdieu.
Olivier Castéja, owner of Château Doisy-Védrines, Barsac Second Cru Classé, says in French Wine News: “… the juice is fabulous: rich, complex, and pure, with extraordinary fruit. I’ve never seen juice with such even quality. It is a totally atypical year”.
Due to the high sugar levels the wines at the top Chateaux will peak between 15-20 years and many will continue to develop for decades. Petit Chateaux provide plenty of pleasure between 5 -10 years.
If you enjoyed 2001 and 2007, then stock up on 2011. Even the biggest names are undervalued compared to other First Growths. And your friends and family will love you for years to come. This is a great year for Sauternes and Barsac.
Taste 2011 Sauternes for yourself…
All these wines (and more than 80 Chateaux) will be available to taste at our Annual Bordeaux Tasting Extravaganza on May 9th at Lord’s Cricket Ground in London.
If you would like to taste these spectacular wines for yourself, tickets are available here.