Saturday, November 24, 2007
I never thought I was into sweet wines, that is, until I traveled to France and spent some time in Bordeaux and the French Perigord. The most renowned sweet wines from that part of France are Sauternes. Sauternes is made from Semillion, Sauvignon Blance, and Muscadelle grapes that have been affected by Botrytis cineria, also known as "noble rot". This causes grapes to become partially raisined, resulting in concentrated and distinctively flavored wines, typically with an arresting golden color. It is hard to imagine what accident occurred that would make a winemaker want to ferment rotten grapes, but these wines are in a word: "spectacular".
The fruit profile often has an intense peach, or apricot component and descriptions of honey, caramel, creme brulee, baking spice and vanilla are all common. These wines also typically have a sharp acidic edge that balances the sweetness. These are not a sweet wine in the mold of a white zinfandel, these are an entirely different animal.
I had a chance to taste an 8 vintage vertical of the Premier Cru producer Chateau Rieussec. This estate is currently owned by the Lafite Rothschild family and great care goes into each bottle. These wines are typically expensive and in relative short supply. I felt very fortunate to be able to sample vintages that spanned from 1961 - 1986.
Here are my notes from that tasting, as well as my ranking for the evening.
Chateau Rieussec 1961: Honey and caramel notes on the palate, great balance and a very full body. 2nd
Chateau Rieussec 1964: Slightly maderized (oxidized), petrol nose, nice acid balance. 8th
Chateau Rieussec 1967: Baking spices on the nose, with a nice acidity. 4th
Chateau Rieussec 1971: A light vanilla toastiness on the nose that gives way to honey and ripe concentrated peach fruit. Nice acidity and a very BIG finish. 1st
Chateau Rieussec 1975: Baking spices on the nose, apricot fruit and great body. This wine also had a tremendous finish. 5th
Chateau Rieussec 1976: Deep amber color, concentrated fruit, licorice. Long finish. 3rd
Chateau Rieussec 1983: Light, nice stone fruit, barnyard nose, some mint on the finish. 7th
Chateau Rieussec 1986: Lightest wine of the flight, creme brulee nose, soft fruit and moderate finish. 6th
All but the 1983 and 1964 (bad bottle) I scored at least 17pts or more on a 20pt. scale. My wine of the night was the 1971 and I would be more than happy to have a case of that in my cellar.