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  • Jancis Robinson
Written by
  • Jancis Robinson
1 Jan 2016

From €10, HK$95, £9.99, $12.99, 550 New Taiwan $ per half-bottle, and from €19, £19.95, 279.90 Norwegian krone, 239 Danish krone per bottle 

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Unless you are the strictest of climbers on to the January abstinence wagon, 'tis still the season to be jolly and to indulge in sweet wines – not least in order to finish off the Stilton or Stichelton you laid in for the festive season. 

Sauternes continues to be one of the great bargains of the wine world, especially in view of how difficult and labour-intensive it is to make a good one, as Ch Suduiraut do year after year. (Just take a look at our consistently high scores for this sumptuous, gently stylistically evolving wine.) The team here manages to do this only by the strictest of selections and by bottling wines that are not absolutely superlative and set for decades (not years) of ageing under labels other than that of the grand vin.

Top Sauternes will never be cheap but the alternative labels of Ch Suduiraut are very much worth looking out for. Slightly confusingly, they make two of them, Castelnau de Suduiraut and Lions de Suduiraut.

On their website Castelnau de Suduiraut is described thus: 'Castelnau is a wine with a distinctive character for which the groundwork is prepared far in advance, even down to the choice of specific plots to give it its own unique identity. Made from portions of the harvest that are expressive earlier than those used for Château Suduiraut, this wine with aromas of candied yellow fruit, quince, frangipani, mild spices and a hint of minerality is more approachable when young in terms of tasting than its elder.'

Lions de Suduiraut meanwhile is described as 'an ideal introduction to Sauternes, this wine has been specifically designed to reveal the pleasures of taste provided by Sauternes wines. With a blending style that is absolutely unique, this wine is more velvety, fresh and mineral than other wines in the range. With a more creative profile, modern and easily approachable, it is an ideal complement to any social or festive event: for happy hours, light meals, or as an aperitif.'

All this online flummery left me a little confused. Was it better to be mineral or to have a hint of minerality? Lions is more velvety than the others, but also fresher. Not sure this made sense, I went to the head honcho of Suduiraut, Christian Seely of AXA Millésimes, who was kind enough to interrupt a game of pool with his sons to enlighten me, with his usual lightning email speed, about Lions, telling me it is a 'different blend. With the Castelnau we are aiming for a structured wine capable of ageing - Suduiraut in a minor key. With Lions we try to select light, bright and fruity lots with fresh citrusy elements for the blend with the aim of making a younger more approachable Sauternes. Or more approachable by the younger.'

Ah, that makes much more sense. Well I'm not so sure about the younger consumer. Nick has been sneaking draughts from the leftover bottle of Lions de Suduiraut 2012 Sauternes I tasted, and enjoyed, for our Strong and sweet compilation throughout the Christmas season. A little bit with our Stichelton, another while watching And Then There Were None… I was very impressed by this wine, as well anyone might be since there is no Ch Suduiraut 2012 and Castelnau (residual sugar 110 g/l) and Lions (RS 100 g/l) are the result of grapes that would normally have gone into the grand vin. My only sadness is that Lions 2012 currently seems to be available only in France.

Tam, on the other hand, has recently tasted Lions de Suduiraut 2011 Sauternes (to which all the prices above refer) and was very taken by it. She described it when she tasted it last month thus: 'Gunpowder and ash to start, which does blow off slowly, leaving sweet notes of apple pie. Dense, baked apple and pear, opulent and honeyed without heaviness. A slight metallic note, which adds interest rather than detracting from the whole. Orange peel. Tight, long finish. GV (good value) 15%'

She gave it a score of 16.5 out of 20 and recommended drinking it between 2015 and 2018.

Note how relatively easy it is to find this already charming wine in pretty inexpensive half bottles (click on the Find this wine link), and do try it. Sweet wines do not bite – and it is a sign of great sophistication to appreciate them. You can sip them with puddings (so long as the sweet food is not too terribly sweet), cheese, by themselves, and with Agatha Christie.

Got that?

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