This was a fabulous sauternes-only dinner with just three attendees (all sauternes fanatics): Geary, Fred, and me. Thanks Geary and Fred for attending!
Every wine showed very well. Most of the wines we tried (other than the 01 Coutet) were from half bottle. My stand-out favorites were 2001 Rieussec (which is finally starting to integrate, thanks Geary!) and the 2001 Fargues (which, despite being one of the darker bottles, was fabulous... thanks Fred!). The Lafaurie Peyraguey was also excellent, though very young. My bottle of 2001 Coutet was a great aperitif wine. Although I agree with detractors that the 2001 Coutet is atypically light for the vintage, I do not think that is a bad thing. I think its elegance and acidity as well as its strong personality allow it to pair well with almost any food, unlike the other 2001s which seem to want to stand on their own without any other competition for the palate.
Coutet and Rayne-Vigneau
Served with one blue points oyster from long island and one hamma hamma oyster from washington. Both were an excellent pairing with the Coutet. The Rayne Vigneau was excellent as well. I don't have much experience with Rayne Vigneau, and this was likely one of the best in decades, but it still paled somewhat in comparison with the rest of the wines on the table to come...
- 2001 Château Coutet - France, Bordeaux, Sauternais, Barsac
From a 750. Color is deep yellow transitioning to golden; nose shows great honey aromatics, some fresher citrus fruit, intense guava; palate has explosive tropical fruit, pineapple, guava, medium bodied with more refreshing balance than concentration, good acidity to balance the sweetness but not over-the-top acidity that produces that effervescent effect, slightly thinner midpalate; finish is medium length. This is a solidly made barsac that still drinks quite young but is enjoyable now. Many see this as a disappointment for the vintage compared to other chateaux, but I see its role as different. Most 2001s are very concentrated wines that stand alone, but Coutet is always a wine that pairs well with food due to its elegance. This wine may never reach the heights or the ridiculous complexity of Suduiraut/Fargues/Yquem, but it provides much pleasure now and in the next 2-3 decades with a special meal. This is also an ideal aperitif wine. 91-93
Update day 2: Holds up nicely with excellent complexity to accompany its light body. Such a great wine to sip with food.
Update day 4: Integrated nose with more spicy fruit marmalades instead of crisper fresher fruit like on day 1. Otherwise very similar. (92 pts.)
- 2001 Château de Rayne-Vigneau - France, Bordeaux, Sauternais, Sauternes
From a half. Deep golden color with just the earliest hints of orange; intense nose with some secondary notes, caramel, apricot, baking spice, some green like fennel, lighter-styled nose; palate is medium-full bodied, great complexity with stone fruit, apricot marmalade, but slightly hollows out in the midpalate; finish is medium length. Opened up nicely with some air. This is a sauternes entering early maturity with good complexity for its history but perhaps doesn't quite stand up to the best in this vintage. On retasting this evening, I think it drinks well today (and for the next 5-10 years) but the drop in the midpalate concerns me for aging, since I'm uncertain whether complexity will fill in the gap as the fruits integrate and recede. Excellent now. 90-92
Update Day 4: The balance on this wine fell apart. The palate shows too much alcohol now, even when well chilled. The midpalate seems thin, there are still some fruits but they don't begin to make up for the other flaws in this wine. This is quite surprising, as young sauternes seem to improve for at least a week after opening. Too bad; this was quite nice when opened. I would recommend drinking these sooner rather than later. Score is 80 today. (90 pts.)
Served with Conchitas- seared diver scallops with sweet plantain tostone, black quinoa sofrito, cilantro mojito sauce. A wonderful pairing with the more substantial Doisy Vedrines. The palate on this wine was stunning. If the nose develops a bit more and opens up with more bottle age, this wine will be even more of a stunner.
- 2001 Château Doisy-Védrines - France, Bordeaux, Sauternais, Sauternes
From a half. Less aromatic at first compared to the others, but it opened up nicely with air; the palate is much more explosive and complex, medium bodied, fantastic spiciness, dried apricot; very nice long finish. The palate on this wine is seriously impressive. This wine is drinking at very early maturity with a long window ahead of it. 92-93 (93 pts.)
Lafaurie-Peyraguey and Fargues
Served with Atun Encendido- achiote grilled ahi tuna, coconut risotto, sauteed spinach, pineapple chimichurri, aji amarillo beurre blanc. Both of these were were stellar and would have been at the top of the heap with any other company.
- 2001 Château Lafaurie-Peyraguey - France, Bordeaux, Sauternais, Sauternes
From a half. Deep yellow color with just a hint of gold; nice light and fresh floral nose with some citrus, orange blossom; concentrated palate, full bodied, dense tropical fruits, pineapple, slightly too sweet/cane sugar in the midpalate; long finish. This sauternes is very primary, still needs a bit of time to come together a bit more, absorb a bit more sugar, and develop its own personality. Interestingly, the hallmark of Lafaurie (present in this wine) seems to be a lighter styled floral nose but great density on the palate. This needs at least 5-10 more years to age before trying again. 93-94+
Day 2: Maybe a tad more integrated, but hasn't changed much. Still has a slight too much sweetness on the palate. When tasted first, the palate had great complexity and this is obviously a great wine. When tasted after the 2001 Rieussec, it seemed simpler in comparison. This is a great wine in its own right, but the 01 Rieussec is even more stellar today.
Day 4: Retained its freshness better than any of the other wines with days of air. The Rieussec was excellent but bigger and integrated. The Lafaurie Peyraguey is still refreshing and floral. (94 pts.)
- 2001 Château de Fargues - France, Bordeaux, Sauternais, Sauternes
From a half. There are two obvious populations of these bottles: Some lighter (50%, nearly perfect wines) and some darker (50%, stellar but not perfect). This is one of the darker half bottles. Nose was a little reticent but showed great baking spices at first, and then opened up nicely with 30-60 minutes of air; palate shows medium body, great acid, caramel notes of a maturing sauternes, great spices, amazing complexity, dried and fresh apricot fruit; long finish. This is an excellent wine, and the most stunning feature is that it straddles the balance between concentration and freshness (like Yquem), and despite a bit of advancement, it has so much fresh acid on the palate that it comes across as vibrant and alive. I would recommend drinking up these darker bottles over the next 5-10 years and the lighter bottles over the next 30-40 years. 95++ (95 pts.)
Served with purple corn creme brulee- peruvian chicha morada custard. The dessert was good, but I didn't actually drink the sauternes with dessert. Sauternes tend to not pair well with sweeter desserts. On their own though, the Rieussecs were both awesome. The 1996 was a classic maturing sauternes, and the 2001 Rieussec was a pleasant surprise... after many years it finally seems to be coming together! Phenomenal wine, and it could easily be perfect someday.
- 2001 Château Rieussec - France, Bordeaux, Sauternais, Sauternes
From a half. Yellow-golden color; nose of honey, tropical fruits, baking spices, apricot, fresh spice; palate shows great intensity, full bodied, tropical fruit, tangy, very primary, clean midpalate; clean, profoundly long finish. For a long time, this wine hadn't integrated and was hard to appreciate. This is the first time that I'm trying this wine where I see its true potential. This is a truly exceptional sauternes that is just now starting to leave infancy and approach youth, but it is still very far away from even early maturity. This kind of reminds me of Yquem in that respect (which is extraordinarily young). Long life ahead... a 50 year wine, but don't touch the next bottle for 7+ years. 96-99
Day 2: The palate today is showing slightly more integration while preserving the amazing full bodied complexity that it showed yesterday. Still very young. Completely showed up an 01 Lafaurie Peyraguey in a head to head comparison (though that was an excellent wine as well). The Rieussec is more a spice and concentrated fruit based wine with great depth, while the Lafaurie Peyraguey is more of an aromatic upfront floral-based wine.
Day 4: With days of air, the palate has lost some of its freshness but has picked up more integrated fruit aromas on the nose and is showing greater intensity on the palate. The future evolution of this wine looks bright. (97 pts.)
- 1996 Château Rieussec - France, Bordeaux, Sauternais, Sauternes
From a half. Deep golden-orange color; nose has some orange notes with the purity of icewine fruit, caramel, stone fruits, some saffron; palate has density but also great acidic balance (better than I was expecting--completely cleans up the midpalate and finish), good fruit, some mature copper notes; medium length finish with a slight bitterness just at the end. This is a classic Rieussec and perfectly represents sauternes making a graceful transition to maturity, and it's showing much more complexity (and less of a one-note saffron) than the last time I tried this in 2009. Excellent now with a long life ahead. 92+ (92 pts.)
I think the lessons I learned were that though the 2001 Sauternes are all fabulous, the higher end ones really need time. Rieussec and Lafaurie Peyraguey are just starting to integrate, and I know lighter bottles of 01 Fargues and 01 Yquem also have a long way to go. Thanks again to the wonderful company. Hope to see all of you again soon.