23 April This article, one of our 11 Bordeaux 2014 tasting articles, was first published last week. We are publishing it free today in an attempt to encourage more wine lovers to realise what great wines these are and how successful the sweet whites were in 2014. Many of the prices have already been released and are generally the same as last year, which means that, considering the enormous effort required in Sauternes and Barsac to pick the grapes at the right moment, and make and blend the wine, these are bargains relative to reds of the same standing. Note too that the Sauternais were relatively modest in their pricing even of the 2009 and 2010 vintages.
15 April Because the first releases of Bordeaux 2014 have been dominated by several important Sauternes, and in answer to a (single, admittedly) request via this thread on our Members' forum, we have brought forward publication of this article. See Bordeaux 2014 – the guide for the rest of our extensive coverage, whose timetable has been slightly rejigged to take account of this change.
This is the single category that undoubtedly triumphed in 2014, producing wines that combine botrytised richness with unusual freshness – so not just massive bundles of sugar, but wines with real energy and finesse. Arch Sauternes-supporter Bill Blatch of Bordeaux Gold expresses the hope that this style of wine will herald a new era of popularity for these unjustly neglected wines. You can see a helpful video of Blatch explaining the vintage and the weather that made it.
But if you prefer reading to watching, you may be intrigued to know that the exceptional 2014s were the result of three sets of botrytis. The first gentle wave followed the mid September showers on 17 September which affected vines that had not seen any rain for quite a while. Then there was rain in early October which encouraged a second bout of noble rot, the grapes picked as a result of these first two botrytis episodes typically accounting for about a quarter of the 2014 crop. But the most important botrytis infections followed the rains of 9 and 10 October and are described by Blatch as ‘marvellous’, resulting in ‘totally fresh’ wines which he believes could be the best Sauternes vintage of the century so far. ‘The 2007s are for drinking young and the 2014s are not like the monsters of 2005 and 2009 that you have to lay down.’ I was a little disappointed to see such a cursory mention of the sweet wines in the official report on the 2014 vintage from the University of Bordeaux.
As you can see from the tasting note on the widely acclaimed Yquem 2014, a good portion of the grapes had their sugars concentrated by drying rather than by botrytis infection.
To my regret, I did not manage to get to Ch Climens this year, where the totally devoted Berénice Lurton was, as usual, showing an array of ingredients in the final blend rather than a sample of the final blend.
One attempt to invigorate the Sauternes category has been made by the Cathiards of Smith Haut Lafitte and their partners in Bastor-Lamontagne. They are managing this property along with Beauregard, Pavillon Beauregard and Saint-Robert for their new owners the Houzé-Moulin family. Together they have concocted SO, a Sauternes cocktail that is the sweet stuff mixed with Perrier water. I must say I am not totally convinced, but I am convinced that we should all be buying and drinking these wines more, with water alongside.
See the planned final tasting article on the Bordeaux 2014s [to be published tomorrow, 24 April] for news of the rash of dry wines made from grapes grown in the Sauternes vineyards.
Eagle-eyed readers will spot that today's picture has no direct connection to sweet white bordeaux. I took it at the new Le Pin winery and it shows two of Decanter's crack tasters, Steven Spurrier on the left and Stephen Brook. Both were part of our anglophone tasting group this year. We move about in a pack so as to minimise the number of individual appointments for each establishment, though we hardly ever have time to discuss the wines, alas. We're always moving on, in too many cars because we are usually staying in different locations. See more detail in Bordeaux 2014 – our methodology.
The 38 wines below are listed in alphabetical order.
Slightly raw edge to the nose – a little greenness? Mid weight but very clean and with some liquefied lemon cough sweets about it. Very pretty aperitif Sauternes. Fresh finish. Medium length.
Ginger beer on the nose and relatively low acidity on the palate. Not the purest. But tangy.
First vintage now that it is co-owned by the Cathiards and the family behind Galeries Lafayette. They have created the cocktail with Perrier water! Rich nose and some substance on the palate although there’s a rather dry note on the end. Almost painful citrus note on the end.
Rich, complex nose. Medium weight and only medium botrytis impact but with lots of lemon and lime.
Not the purest nose. A little muddy overall but with masses of sweetness even if not masses of subtlety. A bit chewy on the end.
Denis Dubourdieu. Pale greenish gold. Round and pure in pear-juice style. Just lovely combo of freshness and sweetness. Not heavy but great tension and balance. Lightly grilled finish.
New Russian owner. One of the sweeter 2014s – really attention grabbing with an overlay of ginger. Interesting stuff! Not the most luscious. A little tense and febrile. Just a tad tentative.
Not much nose. But masses of sweetness. Just a little rawness on the edge. Masses of texture. But some slightly raw note.
Intense nose with really dense fruit but strong citrus-peel and light astringency insists on the palate. Nose much more impressive than palate.
Looks heavy in the glass. Unusually spicy. This wine really grabs the palate in a tactile way. Lots of texture and tension between sweetness and acidity. Exuberant. And unashamed.
Smoky and pretty with some floral elements. No more concentrated than La Tour Blanche but very pretty indeed. Lots of vegy floral elements.
Light and clean on the nose. Pears and riches and very nervy. Exciting wine that is not playing the concentration card. Neat and correct.
Subtle nose and extremely rich on the palate. Very beguiling. With a tingly finish.
Heady nose and relatively low acid for 2014 but lots of botrytis and sweetness. Pungent and traditional. Impressively persistent.
Quite dark honey colour. Light pear juice with a lightly beery overlay. Not the finest Sauternes, with lots of green acidity on the end, but a light emissary of the vintage. A little astringent.
Lively and very Sauvignon on the nose. Then broad and slightly sugary on the palate. Nothing wrong with this but not that complex and the botrytis factor seems relatively low.
Relatively deep gold. Lightly cheesy nose and then massive sweetness on the palate. Really full and impressive. Long and full but with freshness on the finish. Interesting!
Pungent and lightly cheesy on the nose. Big and beefy and very sweet indeed. Just a trembling edge suggests it is not perfection.
Correct and rather attractively burnished. Very forward and slightly brûlée but an easy Sauternes for early drinking.
Quite pretty and pointed. Racy with just enough sweetness for the acidity. Lots of green notes. Not the richest Sauternes by any means.
Lift on the nose and rather heavy sweetness on the palate. Could do with a little more freshness on the palate though it’s a style that will stand up to lots of sweet foods. Rather severe finish.
Bernard Magrez’ first sweet wine.
Not much nose. But a good combination of weight, sweetness and acidity. I‘d have thought the analysis looks perfect! Liquefied lemon cough sweets again. Very much more emphatic, almost heavy, than most. Some may accuse it of being sickly.
Low-key nose but neat balance and some attractive botrytis in evidence. Racy and rich. Could be GV.
Rather muddy, simple nose. Just sweet and a bit astringent rather than complex and weighty.
Not the purest nose. Lots to chew on. Just a bit sugary – like barley sugar.
Heady and concentrated. Lime syrup and tension. Just a hint of mouse fur! Then acid. Not quite knit but pretty impressive. Very fresh.
Quite rich nose and then masses of electric lime juice on the palate. A certain smokiness. No shortage of pace though not a blockbuster. Quite rewarding though not one of the finest.
Heady botrytised nose. Lots of citrus peel and on the palate it’s just a little light but it certainly refreshes! Sinewy.
Full and subtle with full sweetness but lots of acidity too. Needs time. Very embryonic.
Mid gold. Very subtle nose. Quite heavy and dense with real weight and a hint of ginger. Ambitious and not that sweet at all but full bodied. Almost savoury in fact! But neat balance without excesses of sugar nor acid, as clean as a whistle and I’d love it with cheese (which is what it rather tastes of).
Light pear-juice nose. For the moment there is no great subtlety but this may develop. There is grapefruit peel and some syrup quality in abundance. Just a slight hole in the middle at the moment but otherwise pretty impressive.
Lightly cheesy nose and then rather simple grapefruit syrup. Almost painful acidity at this stage.
Rich and pear-juice flavoured. Dry end. Lots of interest here and vivacity too. Racy. Quintessential aperitif style. Great energy. Though the finish is not that dense.
Really quite subtle nose. Big and bold – much richer and sweeter than most 2014s. Lots of different wild-flower aromas in here – interesting. Relatively heavy. But then there is lots of acidity on the end. Reverberant.
Subtle and luscious without any excess of sweetness. Bravo! Layers and real interest. Not fat – more sinew than fat. Long and with the richness well balanced by freshness.
Floral and lively. Not that rich. Some greenness and it fades a little fast.
Light nose. But there is real weight and sweetness on the palate. Albeit in slightly raw form. Lots of citrus peel.
Everything was very early, although they are always a week earlier at Yquem. Harvest started on 8 October with grapes slightly dried as well as botrytised. These grapes gave great freshness. They picked up until 28 October thanks to at least three botrytis infections. 15% passerillé grapes. TA 4.9 g/l (= 7.5 g/l expressed as tartaric) – a record. RS 135 g/l.
Bright gold with a green note. Intense freshness on the nose. Fabulous nose of richness and freshness. The residual sugar is not high but the balance is great. Lime and pears and great richness and almost like a fruit juice, it’s so refreshing yet dense and sweet.