Our small wine group got together the other night for a horizontal of sweet wines from the 2002 vintage, primarily from Sauternes and Barsac, along with a couple of Australian stickies, two Tokaj and one German Beereenauslese.
It was actually put together by Jeremy, our sole vigneron amongst the group, who as it happens has an incurable fetish for Chateau D’Yquem and wanted to corroborate his penchant for the said nectar by tasting it in a masked line-up amongst the main Sauternes-Barsac pack, verified by the dexterous and multifarious palates of our group.
I might add we are quite an endowed cabal. A melange of wine pros and enthusiasts counting amongst the ranks, a Master of Wine, two wine scribes, a merchant, a vigneron, a restaurateur, a couple of hardcore collectors and a few bods that simply enjoy wine – to bring some balance to the collective of otherwise, wandering palates.
We actually warmed up with five masked Champagnes – woofed down. As it turned out there was an imposter in the line-up, a 2003 Hardy’s Arras sparkling from chilly Tasmanian that absolutely ran rings around a Perrier Jouet Belle Époque 2004, Perrier Jouet Belle Époque Rose 1988, Gosset 2000 and Veuve Clicquot 1988. Sure, a rather eclectic quintuplet of bubbles, but the Arras unquestionably outclassed the others with finesse and verve to which we all thought was a seriously good Blanc des Blanc – from Champagne.
We proceeded to agglutinate our palates with the 13 stickies, poured in three flights by our very competent sommelier, unbeknown of order but with knowledge of the actual wines and that they were all from the 2002 vintage.
Much to Jeremy’s gratification, he did pick the Yquem, as many of us thought we had as well, as tabulated in our popular vote, wine no 8 unanimously being the most preferred, followed by and equally enjoyed wine no 5, and wine no 9 (Chateau Doisy-Verdrines) coming in third, by a nose.
Only thing was, wine no 8 was Chateau Climens! And what a profoundly powerful mouthful of ambrosia this was; rich and spicy, creamy and peachy, yet with tantalizing marmalade acidity, oozing class and seductive textures with extraordinary length and balance – surely it had to be Yquem.
That is not to say wine no 5 (Yquem) was no slouch either. Again, a powerful and gorgeously rich wine with noticeable length and certain degree of oak nuances, all quite voluminous and commanding although appearing lower in acidity, not as penetrating as no 8.
At this point, a word on 2002 Sauternes-Barsac vintage, not seen as a great year by Bordeaux braggarts with the pox of a cold, wet red Bordeaux vintage and the stigma of poor ratings frustratingly hinged to all wines in the region. The harsh reality being there is an overwhelming preference for red Bordeaux with the sweet wines of Sauternes-Barsac only having a niche following. Apart from the trophy status of D’Yquem, it is arguably one of the most underrated wine styles/regions in the world.
Moreover these miraculous wines are one of nature’s miracles, an aberration in viticulture with a peculiar mould (botrytis cinerea or ‘noble rot’) that transforms an otherwise tart and shy white grape, semillon, to nectar of unparalleled concentration of exotic fruits, honeyed sweetness, sumptuous richness and a creamy viscous texture, yet with a harmonious marmalade-like piquancy, pleasant bitterness and powerful natural acidity that imparts a tantalizing freshness and length.
Not wanting to harp on this, for those interested, I have written at length on the subject: Sweet, but not just, Dessert Wine
Our 2002 vintage also suffered from following an exuberant, rampant noble rot year 2001 with wines like D’Yquem clocking 100 points; a bit like 2001 red Bordeaux was majorly bagged because it followed a hyped millennium 2000 vintage. The Bordelaise practically couldn’t give away the 2001s red and yet the wines from the vintage are now proving to be absolutely charming. Ah, the fickleness of the commodity market.
It was however evident that the 2002 Sauternes-Barsac did not have the pronounced and evocative musky perfume of botrytis that enhances the bouquet and the subsequent concentration of sweetness. Does this really detract in the quality of the wines? I don’t think so, personally I enjoy years like this where you see more purity of the semillon grape and the minerality shines through.
Whilst the 2002 wines are discernibly not is as sweet or intense, there is a relative level of restraint that makes them a good partners to dishes beyond the missionary position of dessert, such us the excellent duck confit that we had, and equally the pan fried fois gras (talk about calorie overload that night – halfway between heaven and a heart attack). These lighter wines are sublime with Peking duck and Chinese style roast pork belly, of course brilliant cheese wines, nothwithstanding less sweet desserts. Above all, they simply wonderful drinking – on their own.
All the Sauternes and Barsacs on the night were still youthful and whilst appealing enough to drink now, I would easily give them another 5 years and well beyond a decade for most of them to flourish. The Barsacs clearly had more structure and length and breadth of acidity with the Sauternes showing a little more flabby, although this is being hypercritical.
This is where the Chateau Climens showed its strength, and the only wine in the region that is 100% semillon planted on a unique limestone plateau. The Chateau Doisy Vedrines also excelled, and whilst a relatively elegant wine, showed some lovely freshness and balance.
I liked the Chateau Lafaurie Peyraguey (Sauternes), with designs on it being an excellent Peking duck wine with some more bottle age, and the Chateau Guiraud did not disgrace itself either in a richer, toasty-butterscotch, unctuous style.
From Australia, the Mount Horrocks Cordon Cut Riesling shone well, indeed at was for me unmistakably Clare Valley before it was more obviously riesling with the distinctive dried straw and limestone-wet pumas minerality I associate to the Watervale region. It was travelling well for a wine that only runs for a decade. More on this wine and extended tasting shortly – with a second bottle about to be liberated with some journos tonight.
The De Bortoli Noble One looked flabby and oversaturated with Botrytis, completely advanced in colour – all toffee and overly sweet. Not my thing, although might go well with a stinky blue cheese or more at home on a winter’s night.
The two Tokaj Aszo did nothing for me, in fairness the Oremus 5 Puttonyos out of condition and the Disznoko 6 Puttonyos a little overbearing or overly sweet without the freshness to make you want more.
Our lonely Leitz Rudesheimer Kirchenpfad Beerenauslese Riesling from the Rheingau was strange, if not completely disappointing and representing nothing what understand of this ilk.
In summary, I would highly recommend sweet wine enthusiasts to grab any 2002 Chateau Climens you can lay your hands on, and whilst it is the most expensive wine after Chateau D’Yquem, in relativity it’s a bargain. And this makes the Chateau Doisy Verdrine 2002 an absolute steal – a brilliant wine and sleeper of the vintage – purchase in large quantities!
As for those ignorant and banal palates whom treat the sweet wines of Sauternes-Barsac with a vinous social leprosy, you might want to have read of Mat Kramer’s latest column, The World’s Most Underrated Wines – Some wines gorge on hyper-praise, while too many others starve for attention
Many thanks to the team at Michaelangelo’s who provided seamless service and solid, stickie absorbing food, www.michelangelos.com.sg
List of wines in order of my personal preference
2002 Chateau Climens – Barsac (ranked 1 by the group)
2002 Chateau D’Yquem – Sauternes (ranked 2 by the group)
2002 Chateau Doisy-Verdrines – Barsac (ranked 3 by the group)
2002 Mount Horrocks Cordon Cut Riesling – Clare Valley
2002 Chateau Guiraud – Sauternes
2002 Chateau Lafaurie Peyraguey – Sauternes
2002 Chateau Rieussec – Sauternes
2002 Chateau Suduiraut – Sauternes
2002 Chateau La Tour Blanche – Sauternes
2002 Disznoko Tokaj Aszu 6 Puttonyos
2002 De Bortoli Noble One – Griffith
2002 Leitz Rudesheimer Kirchenpfad Beerenauslese Riesling
2002 Oremus Tokaj Aszu 5 Puttonyos