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The Other Great French Blancs: Champagne and Sauternes

Wink Restaurant, Austin, Texas

Tasted December 12, 2010 by austinwinesalon with 1,355 views


The annual holiday wine salon, drinking white in winter in a most appropriate setting, the best New Year's Eve venue in Austin. Wink, wink.

The salon had never had more wine offered by its generous donors than for this salon, and we've never had a better response to an invitation. Indeed, we had to cut attendance and targeted mostly sommeliers and our wine and food professionals. The wines were fine indeed, matching the quality of last summer's Great French Blanc salon, and the quality of our tasting notes quite good. As usual, our food accompaniment was excellent, with oysters freshly shucked with a champagne mignonette by James, a caviar-tasting salmon apertif from Earl, some beautiful tarts, and an array of cheeses, including Roquefort for the Sauternes and triple creams for the Champagnes.

This salon had six tasting groups of 5-7 people each, and each flight of wine was tasted by two of these groups simultaneously over an hour period. The cellartracker notes here were compiled and edited from more than four hundred tasting notes, some lengthy and some quite brief. A "best" and second "best" were chosen by tasters for each flight. Sometimes our tasters use the 100 point score to taste and rank wines, and when they do we use those scores in our cellartracker notes, but for this salon most tasters did not score wines and we have no scores.....but lots of favorites.

Flight 1 - Non-vintage Brut-off (5 notes)

A virtual tie between Le Brun Servenay and Egly-Ouriet, with a Veuve Clicquot disappearing and a George Lacombe champagne bargain.

White - Sparkling
N.V. Veuve Clicquot Ponsardin Champagne Brut France, Champagne
Light straw color, baking spices and yeasty toast on the nose but strong acidity overpowers the flavors on the palate. Lemon sour at first, with a sharp, chalky texture, this had notes of lemon and ripe green apple, some pepper, was a little green and vegetal. Refreshing and crispy clean, but short, its effervescence faded quickly; “not exciting,” “uneventful,” “monolithic.” Maybe needs time, and is not the wine for celebrating in this new year. Least favorite in a nv brut flight.
White - Sparkling
N.V. George Lacombe Champagne Premier Cru Brut France, Champagne, Champagne Premier Cru
A favorite of a salon restauranteur, this is indeed a fine value. A deep straw color, with ripe apple, curd, and caramel on the nose, it was almost “sea mist” in its initial mouthfeel. It had good acidity and the palate was integrated and finished longer. With rich dried fruits on the front of the palate, it developed flavors of big yeasty brioche, red delicious apple, vanillin, toast, caramel popcorn, along with some minor notes of earth, chalk, limestone, petroleum, and oily wood. Finish was a bit sour but soft, with lots of minerality and very clean. Is 65% pinot noir, Went very well with our fresh oysters. Quite pleasant, even elegant. A great candidate for the every week affordable champagne.
White - Sparkling
N.V. Henri Giraud Champagne Grand Cru Hommage A François Hemart Brut France, Champagne, Champagne Grand Cru
Took some time for the nose to develop (one taster described it initially as Beaucastel-like) , but once warmed up gained aromas of citrus, lemon, grapefruit, honey, white flowers, and the familiar toasty flavors of champagne (yeast, vanilla, honey, cream, biscuits) with some mineral, fresh cracked white pepper, pear, and, even, washed cheese rind notes. Powerful and clean, but not as rich as the Le Brun Servenay in a flight of five nv bruts.
White - Sparkling
N.V. Le Brun-Servenay Champagne Grand Cru Brut Sélection France, Champagne, Champagne Grand Cru
The favorite in a flight of nv brut, this was a deeper yellow than the other champagnes and had an elegant floral nose, not toasty but slate-y, with some white pepper and lemon/key lime pie notes. With tiny, silky bubbles, the Le Brun Servenay was light and refreshing on the front end, moderate in the mid-palate with a lime/lemon yogurt palate, and had notes of caramel, green apple, chalk, limestone, and rose. Had a long, velvet finish which held its tart/lean lemon palate. Ultra crisp, it went great with fresh oysters, especially the mignonette. A perfect apertif , gentle, creamy, showing maturity. Happy MMXI!
White - Sparkling
N.V. Egly-Ouriet Champagne Grand Cru Brut Tradition France, Champagne, Champagne Grand Cru
This was a strong favorite in the flight for about half the tasters, while the other half wasn’t so enthralled. A bit like some Krugs, there are those that do and those that don’t….enjoy rich and somewhat oxidized flavors. This brut had a beautiful color, deep with pink and green tones. Huge and yeasty, it had an almost brine-y nose bordering on chemical, savory with chalk and clay minerality. One taster described the nose as like opening a gulf oyster. It had some strange flavors. One not-impressed taster found red flowers, young red berries, full and rich on palate but without length; another described this as a red apple palate. But the fans, and there indeed were fans, found good aging (“like premier cru white burgundy“), great balance (“could drink the whole bottle now”), and notes of wedding cake and dolcé de leché, yeast and sweet cream (“a fine match with crème brulée”), caramel, sourdough, honey apple sauce, quince, nuttiness, and lots of complexity. So the notes went from excellent, very well-balanced, and “really terrific now” to " thick and unevolved," acrid, rich but funky. And Krug isn’t bad either....... for some.

Flight 2 - The Bubble Spread (5 notes)

This flight was a broad look at good sparklers, with an Italian and an American bubbly amongst the French, vintages and non-vintages, and blanc de blancs, blanc de noirs, and old school blending. Surprisingly, these wines drank well together and selecting the favorites was difficult: the old classic Venoge and the Ca' de Bosco Franciacorta tied for best, but the Oregon Argyle was well-received and the others enjoyed......with fresh oysters!!

White - Sparkling
2000 Argyle Extended Tirage Brut USA, Oregon, Willamette Valley
I think the word “light” was used every fifth word in our tasters’ notes: light floral, light nutty finish, light toast, light fruit, light jasmine, etc. This drank better than expected for our two tasting groups. Perfume-y, it had a white fruit, lemon, and soap-film nose, with a light mouth-feel and was quite bright and lively. Sweeter up front than the finish, it did not have strong flavors but, well, light flavors of red and green apple, peach, Asian pear, fresh lemon, pear, tangerine, almond, and caramel, with slight yeast and toast. The finish was nutty, steely, citrus peel, and long. Though not complex, it was balanced, “mellow,” and a good sipping champagne - the favorite in the flight forf a couple of tasters.
White - Sparkling
N.V. Ca' del Bosco Franciacorta Cuvée Prestige Brut Italy, Lombardia, Franciacorta DOCG
The co-favorite of the flight, this was a powerful sparkling wine. It had a creamy, butter, pie crust nose, with some mineral, and lots of sweet and tiny bubbles in the mouth. With strong acidity and good balance, it delivered lots of flavor: burned biscuit, lemon curd, peach, sweet apricot, citrus, white grape, cashew, and strong notes of steel-y mineral and nuts. It finished well, and its toastiness, minerality, and pronounced acidity reminded of an Italian Krug. A very good value if you can find this sparkler.
White - Sparkling
1995 de Venoge Champagne Brut Louis XV France, Champagne
The bottle had a bizarre presentation, as it sprung from a large, pretty blue box with a decanter top inside, golden script, and and a history of the Comte and his drink here. Pre-revolution! The bottle looks like a crystal decanter, but would not be very useful for 750cl wines. Anyway, it delivered a sophisticated drink and was a co-favorite of the flight. It had noticeable yeast on the nose and palate, one could smell and taste the age. It was quite nice for most tasters, juicy from front to the mid-palate, but the finish was slightly disappointing. It started with a nice creaminess, some nutty marzipan, green apple, candied orange, lemon, butterscotch, toast and honey flavors. Quite dry, it had a steely and waxy finish. A few tasters found some oxidation, sourness, and saltiness, but almost all the tasters scored it one or two in the flight.
White - Sparkling
1999 Delamotte Champagne Blanc de Blancs Millésimé France, Champagne
This wine has worked well for several Austin restaurants, but it seemed a bit ordinary in this flight. A grand cru, it had strong Chardonnay characteristics. A light nose of toast and butter, hay with a hint of manure, what one taster called wheat and pasta water, it had fresh acidity and was salty-sweet. It was light and clean, with less bubbles than our other wines, and had a good balance of mineral, lemon, green apple, lime zest, and some strawberry. One taster found some herbal and green pepper notes. A nice wine but got lost in this flight.
White - Sparkling
N.V. Dosnon Champagne Recolte Brute France, Champagne
Finally, some pinot noir. This probably needs more time, which one could tell from its flat finish and apparent lean-ness when compared with other flight wines. It started fresh, with lots of carbonation and a sweet, musty nose. The acidity was good, with lots of citrus flavors and yeast, lilac, light fruit, straw, green apple, lemon, some pear, pomegranate, raspberry, peanuts, and dried pasta notes. Had a short, wet stone/flint finish. I drank this wine a few weeks later and it was quite good, but here it seemed lean and was likely too young. Interesting that the "recolte" is emphasized in the title of this wine, so we don't have to find and read the miniscule RM at the bottom of the label.

Flight 3 - Non-vintage Rosé-off (4 notes)

One donor/taster forgot the salon date so this flight lacked the Billecart-Salmon, a good reference Rosé. Nevertheless, this was a surprisingly fun and excellent non-vintage flight that would compete well with many vintage Rosés. The Krug and Chartogne-Taillet tied for best wine of flight.

Rosé - Sparkling
N.V. Krug Champagne Brut Rosé France, Champagne
Disgorged in 2005, this was a very intriguing, elegant, and complex wine, quite tart, well-balanced, with a long, mineral finish. Pale gold or burnt orange (in Austin we think of gold as burnt orange) in color, described by some as yellow onionskin, with fine and persistent bubbles. It had aromas of custard, earth, matchstick, honey, some gun flint, green apple, and slight strawberry. With bright acidity and a creamy, brioche palate, it had flavors of honey, toast, granny smith apple, orange, macerated strawberry, citrus, cranberry persimmon, and some mineral and game. A long, silky finish with crisp green fruit, it tied for best rose of the flight.
Rosé - Sparkling
N.V. H. Billiot Fils Champagne Grand Cru Brut Rosé France, Champagne, Champagne Grand Cru
So pink! Sweeter than the Krug, the previous wine in the line-up, it had a weird intriguing character amid strong notes of strawberry. With a deep salmon pink color, it had fine and persistent bubbles and was very bright and fresh, with high acidity and a good nose of strawberries, rose, toast, some orange zest and green apple skin. A few tasters noticed a slight hint of autolysis (toast) and acetone, but the wine was well-liked. It had high acidity and notes of, again, frozen and ripe strawberries, raspberries, flowers, meyer lemon, some faint pineapple and honeysuckle, and chalky minerality. It was well-balanced and rich, and had a nice finish, with strawberry and green apple showing through. A few cognoscenti thought that this bottle did not show well, but it might have been the company it was keeping here, as most tasters liked the wine fine, it just wasn’t the favorite in a solid group of rosés.
Rosé - Sparkling
N.V. Chartogne-Taillet Champagne Le Rosé France, Champagne
A co-favorite of a Rosé flight, with the Krug, this had lots of fruit and quite a sexy finish. With bright, “beautiful” acidity balanced by a round, full textured body, its color was between salmon and peach and it had very fine and persistent bubbles. The nose was variously described, as “green apple, not pronounced, hint of root beer, some gunflint,” “almost sauvignon blanc,” and “crushed oyster shells.” With medium-high acidity, this very round bubbly had lots of marmalade, described repeatedly as orange, kumquat, or grapefruit; one taster called it dreamsicle, another orange blossom special, another strawberries and cool whip (an all-American dessert). So much cream and fruit, with some light asian spice, melon, cranberry, and mineral notes. All in all, a Franco--American dessert wine, by itself.
Rosé - Sparkling
N.V. L. Aubry Fils Champagne Brut Rosé France, Champagne
A well-liked rosé, one taster suggested that this had the biggest nose of the flight whilte it was the least complex, tasting like a high-end Cava with a lot going on. A pale salmon pink with fine bubbles and super-fine mousse, it had an acidic zing and was quite lively. With a nose of ripe strawberry, toast, and some minerals, what a taster described as un-buttered dinner roll, this was riper than our other roses, creamy, and well-balanced, with good yeast notes and lots of red fruit, a bright lemon flavor, some tart green fruit, and chalk/limestone minerality. It had a pleasing bitterness on the finish and a very thick, viscous mouth-feel. Not a favorite but a second favorite of many in this flight.

Flight 4 - Drawing a Blanc (4 notes)

Four very good Blanc de Blancs's drawing fans across the flight. They all received best of flight votes, with the Charles Heidsieck top vote-getter, followed closely by the Pierre Peters.

White - Sparkling
1996 Pierre Gimonnet & Fils Champagne Premier Cru Blanc de Blancs Brut Fleuron France, Champagne, Champagne Premier Cru
A lovely, mature champagne with nice effervescence and big bubbles, caramel colored and light, with medium acidity and a myriad of flavors: honey, light caramel, dried apricot, and some yeast on the nose, with a palate of peach, cantaloupe, apple, orange peel, lychee, toasty yeast, apple, some popcorn, and toffee. Quite creamy with a bitter but pleasant finish. Paired very well with our salmon.
White - Sparkling
2002 Pierre Péters Champagne Grand Cru Blanc de Blancs Brut Millésimé France, Champagne, Champagne Grand Cru
Quite fragrant with pronounced powdered chocolate and some grapefruit and apple on the nose. More ripe than the Gimonnet previously tasted, this was light, crisp, dry, and holding up well. With a tight bead, the palate started with light cream, some sea salt, flowers and citrus and developed into pears and apples in cocoa, with some brandy notes. It had an excellent, light acid finish with some lemon, tobacco, and lees notes.
White - Sparkling
1995 Charles Heidsieck Champagne Blanc des Millénaires France, Champagne
The favorite in a flight of blanc de blancs, “a classic benchmark .” It had great balance, was light, open, soft, and yummy. Very dry with some faint oak on the nose, it had “perfect balance between acidity and creaminess,” with notes of honeysuckle, toasted marshmallow,caramel, yeast, bread, lemon, citrus peel, and some nuttiness. This went extremely well with our brie and triple cream cheeses. “Really quite lovely.”
White - Sparkling
N.V. Jacques Selosse Initial France, Champagne, Champagne Grand Cru
I would have thought this the front-runner in a group of top Blanc de Blancs, but this was either a bit-off bottle or a “controversial style” bubbly. Some tasters thought it over-ripe and possibly oxidized, others that it was expansive, interesting, even “cool.” It had a straw nose, what one taster described as “unfiltered sake,” along with some cantaloupe, was big and rich, of fruit and botrytis flavors, including cantaloupe and honeydew, lychee, banana, almonds, hazelnut, and, even, brandy. One unimpressed taster found it tasted like grappa at the finish. Those that liked this style loved it, and those that didn’t, well, they let it finish last in this flight. Although this is labeled a brut, it is a brut blanc de blancs as the Initiale is all chardonnay.

Flight 5 - Champagne that is Special (4 notes)

The special club designation is gaining much recognition this holiday season, and this flight showed why. Rich and complex at less than a third the cost of like wines. The Marc Hébrart stood out in this flight, but the others weren't far behind.

White - Sparkling
2000 Gaston Chiquet Champagne Special Club Brut France, Champagne
Calm bubbles, looked like chardonnay (lemon with gold flecks), had a bouquet of warm yellow fruits, yeast, saline, some honeysuckle, green apple. Smooth and lightly creamy, with medium acidity, this had pronounced green apple flavors, noted by many tasters—under-ripe green apple, green apple skin, baking green apple, very intense green apple, and just green apple. Oh, and under-ripe yellow pear…… Some thought this finished with some citrus notes, chiefly lemon zest and meyer lemon, with some chalk/limestone minerality. Had very good length and a drew some good applause: “incredibly yummy,” “let’s drink it,” “delicious,” “lean and clean and doesn’t taste old.” Not the favorite by any means in this flight, but very well regarded and recommended.
White - Sparkling
2002 Pierre Gimonnet & Fils Champagne Special Club Millesimé de Collection France, Champagne
All chardonnay, this seemed a bit closed but it may have been its high acidity and lively lime zest notes It had a pale lemon color, fine and persistent bubbles, and a strange, beer and heather nose (and “bruised apple”), with some flinty minerality and soft creaminess. It had good acidity while the palate was slightly astringent and flavors reticent but the palate developed after awhile, with the lime zest and some grapefruit, apple skin, golden apples, pear, marzipan, toast, nuts, and crushed limestone showing through. It was a little chewy and its finish fell off. Tasters thought this would improve with some age, but for now, the least favorite of a special club flight.
White - Sparkling
2002 Henri Goutorbe Champagne Grand Cru Special Club France, Champagne, Champagne Grand Cru
“Yeasty, delicious, and long finish, with an incredibly intense nose.” Pale lemon color with very fine bubbles, the nose had pronounced yeast and baking spice notes, and after 15 minutes developed into old green apple and toast. With light-medium acidity, this was a well-balanced, fruit extracted, sticky drink. It had strong pineapple and tropical fruit flavors, along with ginger, caramel, apple tart, golden raisin, and green apple notes. A few tasters detected some oxidation, and one thought it off, but its intensity led it to narrowly beat out the Gaston-Chiquet as second favorite oin a special club flight. Sounds like a dessert in itself, but I imagine it would have been great with our cream puffs and triple cream cheeses.
White - Sparkling
2005 Marc Hébrart Champagne Premier Cru Special Club France, Champagne, Champagne Premier Cru
A complex and impressive special club, the favorite of the flight. With a pale lemon color and very fine and persistent bubbles, it had a crisp nose of toast yeast and green apple. An incredible burst of bubbles on the tongue created an impression of whip cream with slight bitterness, followed with another “beautiful burst of citrus fruit, ripe lemon and tangerine, lime zest,” with great texture and fine balance. This was well-made and elicited comments of “This is out of control,” “Intense, a monster, “ “the real deal,” and “more complex than Dom Perignon!” There were lots more flavor notes: crisp green apple, very creamy, toasty brioche, crème brulée, white flower, lemon, honeysuckle, and lemon cream. And this will likely get better. A favorite of the day.

Flight 6 - Graceful (and aging) (5 notes)

A broad look at older champagne, including rosé, blanc de blancs, and extra lees aged, this was a treat. The Cuvée Charlie was voted best, followed closely by the Dom Oenothéque. The Henriot rosé in magnum was quite young still, and an old Moet Impérial was a fascinating sip, full of grace.

White - Sparkling
1983 Moët & Chandon Champagne Brut Impérial France, Champagne
This was meant to be drunk by an English gent in another era. It was well-aged, mostly flat with an over-riding oloroso sherry palate.. Surprisingly most tasters liked it, though it couldn’t compete with “the bubbles.” Dark golden brown in color, with slight but underlying bubbles, it had a cake batter nose, also described as amaretto and port-like. It had plenty of acidity and some traces of oxidation, but lively creaminess and nuttiness, and flavors of caramel, coffee, toffee, ripe apple fruit, and yeast. And the finish was very good. It went very well with our cream puffs. Pocket billiards anyone?
White - Sparkling
1985 Charles Heidsieck Champagne Cuvée Charlie France, Champagne
A favorite champagne of the afternoon and chosen best in this flight of older bubblies, it had great balance and a rich mouth-feel, and seemed at its best now. With a nose of toast with honey, yellow apple, and lemon curd, it showed great acidity and weight, had crisp minerality, and a complex palate of green apple, pear, meyer lemon and lime, some berry fruits, white pepper, fresh herb, and wet slate. Creamy and nutty. Wonderful.
Rosé - Sparkling
1988 Henriot Champagne Brut Millésimé Rosé France, Champagne
Perhaps still young as it was in magnum, this improved with time. Light strawberry or rose in color, it still had good and fine bubbles an hour after opening. It was dry with nice acidity, well-balanced, and did not taste like a rose, perhaps more like a blanc de noir with some under-ripe cherry and citrus orange undertones. It had a rich, full mouth-feel, with ripe fruit and some interesting flavors: caramel, white chocolate, peanut, green apple, orange rind, apricot, and some strawberry/raspberry creaminess. But for all this, it seemed simple, and, again, it might improve with a few more years of age. Interesting!
White - Sparkling
1988 Ruinart Champagne Dom Ruinart Blanc de Blancs France, Champagne
Almost half of the tasters thought this oxidized or maderized, but others found much to like. The nose was a bit rough at first, with dust, dirt, and slight TCA, but it picked up after awhile and developed some vanilla custard and yeast notes. I thought it tasted like a thirty year old Meursault as much of the flavor character resembled a good aged white burgundy. It was rather light, had some acidity and much yeast, and flavors lingered on the front to mid palate, and then finished cleanly and quickly. The palate included butterscotch candy, yeast, marzipan, peanut, meyer lemon rind, almond, and walnut. One mid-aged taster said it reminded of an old man’s beach, circa 1988. Shuffleboard, anyone?
White - Sparkling
1993 Dom Pérignon Champagne Oenothèque France, Champagne
A real treat, this wine went very well with our sweets and not so well with sea food and cheese. Light yellow in color, its nose was alive with spicy youth, maybe a bit of petrol, citrus, some flint and limestone, and lots of earth. It had aggressive bubbles at first, quickly moving into a rich full finish. It had lots of character, good acidity, a nice balance of lemon/citrus/yeast with earth-driven mineral flavors. Tasters added notes of green apple, lemon rind, chalk, and slight butter. The finish made this wine, as citrus and minerals coated the mouth and lingered. Second favorite and youngest in a flight of older champagne.

Flight 7 - Magnifique (5 notes)

A taste of some of the greatest champagne in a great vintage, 1996. The conclusion was ...... wait awhile. The response to a question about why the Cristal and Dom Perignon had no votes was, "No, no, you don't understand. These wines were great, but the others were greater, and they all will even become greater...." So the 1995 Salon, inserted as a comparison for the 1996 vintage, was voted best, and the very young Krug a distant second best.

White - Sparkling
1995 Salon Champagne Blanc de Blancs Brut France, Champagne
The favorite of a magnificent flight of 1996 champagnes, the year older won out because ….. those top 96's need more time to hit their stride. This Salon was golden yellow, had an intense, nutty, toasted almond, apple tart nose, with some mineral and yeast, and a fine mousse with little effervescence. Well-balanced, it was rich and bright with a palate of apples, lemon curd, raw bread dough, and minerals. It had a long, fine finish, and might still be a bit young.
1 person found this helpful Comment
White - Sparkling
1996 Salon Champagne Blanc de Blancs Brut France, Champagne
What a treat to drink this with the 1995 Salon and other top 1996's. Compared with the 96, this Salon was way young, had a very “austere” nose, and lots of citrus. Pale yellow, its high acidity and youth took time for the wine to develop. Eventually the nose shed some minerality and had pecan pie and pie crust notes. Creamy, silky, chalky, and heavy on the palate, tasters found flavors of bright pear and apricot, very bright lemon, smoke, minerals, herbs, saline, and cracked black pepper. Wait 3-5 years and pop the cork, it might top the 1995's notes, but for now it did not show nearly as well.
White - Sparkling
1996 Louis Roederer Champagne Cristal Brut France, Champagne
How does Cristal fall to the bottom of a champagne flight? When it's a 1996. This was a very instructive flight of wines, as it showed that the vintage has much power. I wish we had put some 96 Deutz or Alfred Gratien in this flight to compare the drinkabiity of the 96 good with the great, but we settled for a 1995 Salon, and wines like this Cristal closed up and disappeared next to it. This was pale yellow, had excellent bubbles, a reticent nose of some apple and east, fine balance, high acid, and an intense palate. Some called it light and delicate, others big and round, another medicinal, so this had subtle flavors and might have been continuing to develop with air. It had a palate of brioche, apple pie, toasted nuts, white flowers, and “pretty lemons,” along with pear, citrus, yeast, honey, flowers, and minerals. Its finish was long and somewhat bitter, maybe a sign that this Cristal will likely improve and drink well for another ten years. One taster volunteered to drink it over the next five years.
White - Sparkling
1996 Krug Champagne Vintage Brut France, Champagne
Voted best 1996 in this flight, for its fans it was a classic Krug, with a nose of apples, sherry, brioche, and toast and a “fantastic balance between the caramel, sherry, and acidity.” Golden yellow, it was “oxidized just right” on the nose,” yeasty with citrus peel and slight toast. Barrel-fermented, it had acidity that one taster claimed was “ripping the enamel off my teeth”-then she wanted ceviché as it was so “delicious and tart.” The palate had bread dough up front followed by significant key lime character, some apple, pear, stone fruit, and toast. Most tasters thought the 96 was drinking very well now, though would improve with time.
White - Sparkling
1996 Moët & Chandon Champagne Cuvée Dom Pérignon France, Champagne
How strange? I thought this the best young Dom I'd ever had for several years, and now that it's grown up, it practically disappeared in this flight--a champagnophile told me that it was the company it had in this flight. The wines were that good. Clean, lean, with many layers, it had a slightly restrained nose of white flowers and citrus acid, followed by a bright citrus and mineral palate that had lots of descriptors: “salty air, wet stone, hot concrete and cold rain,” lemons, creamy tart, vanilla, “masculine sandalwood and man-sweat,” dirt yet floral, very strong limestone mineral flavors, saline/yeast/pepper, and light, delicate lemon spritz. Wow, and this wine seemed closed compared to the others in the flight. Will continue to improve, and may jump over its competitors here some day.

Flight 8 - Two producers of Sauternes (5 notes)

A look at top Sauternes in some average vintages, except for a 1988. The year difference in the Rieussec and d'Yquem bottlings were profound. The 1993 d'Yquem and 1980 Fargues tied for best wine of flight.

White - Sweet/Dessert
1980 Château de Fargues France, Bordeaux, Sauternais, Sauternes
Tied for best in a flight of some top aged Sauterne, this is the lesser wine of a fairly good vintage for owner d’Yquem. Gold with amber flecks, it had a nose of pronounced crème brulée, fresh plastic, deep honeysuckle, apricots, earth, and gunpowder. Medium to high in acid, it was rich and slightly tart as it had a palate of orange peel, honeycomb, lemon curd, molasses, a touch of pine forest, iron, apricot, and some peppermint. One taster found it oily, another with a meaty beef quality, another not too sweet. It had a short finish, faded a bit, and then came back.
White - Sweet/Dessert
1988 Château Rieussec France, Bordeaux, Sauternais, Sauternes
Enjoyed much more than the 1989 Rieussec drank alongside, it improved after 15 minutes of air. It had a pale gold color and a nose of gunpowder, menthol, some fresh plastic, sautéed pineapple, honeysuckle, and some acetone. With medium-high acidity, it had some metallic notes that eventually fell off and was lush with good structure. Tasters found notes of marmalade, brown sugar, honeycomb, toffee, caramel, lemon, raisin, grilled apricot, smoke, and pine cones. Its finish was light, and some found the wine disjointed, slightly bitter and green, without the depth of some of the other Sauternes. The 88 Climens and 88 La Tour Blanche in the next flight were much better.
White - Sweet/Dessert
1989 Château Rieussec France, Bordeaux, Sauternais, Sauternes
Had no fans, this was very metallic and required some food to tone this down. It was a medium gold color with a bouquet of medicinal herb, apricot, and grilled pineapple. It had little apparent acidity, some balance, and notes of green tea, apricot, pineapple, honeyed pear,green fruit, caramel, cinnamon, honey, and clove. It took some time and food to develop.
White - Sweet/Dessert
1993 Château d'Yquem France, Bordeaux, Sauternais, Sauternes
Shared top honors in a good flight of Sauternes, it had the darkest hue of the flight, deep gold, and a slightly medicinal nose, maybe like poultry right out of the bag. Tasters had various opinions about the palate here, most of them positive: notes of dried fig, apricot, dried fruit, lemon peel, candied orange rind, lemon meringue, tart coffee puffs, petrol, pine, plastic, gunpowder, and some iron minerality, with a hint of smoke or toast. A critic of the wine thought it tasted like sour drapes and tired laundry. Was that sour grapes or sour drapes Some tasters thought the finish amazing and layered, others that it was quick and the flavors flattened. This difference might have been due to how long the wine had been opened, because this wine might be better if decanted for at least 30 minutes.
White - Sweet/Dessert
1994 Château d'Yquem France, Bordeaux, Sauternais, Sauternes
Not liked as much as the 1993 d’Yquem, this was much simpler and flabbier. Medium gold, it had a metallic nose with some fruit and petrol, and little apparent acidity. It had some good notes of fruit peels, lemon, orange, honeysuckle, rich apricot, pear, honeydew, vanilla, cinnamon, baking spices, orange mint, eucalyptus, and menthol. For some the finish was good. I think these wines needed food, especially blue cheese, and did not drink as well as most d’Yquems do without food. This might improve with some time on the bottle.

Flight 9 - A quarter century on Sauternes (5 notes)

A nice over-view of Sauternes as it ages. These wines may have been a bit better than our previous flight, as almost all the tasting notes were laudatory. The 1988 Climens was voted best wine, followed by the 1979 d'Yquem, and all wines received a best vote. They were an outstanding match with the Roquefort, and the pear tarts.

White - Sweet/Dessert
1975 Château Coutet France, Bordeaux, Sauternais, Barsac
A surprisingly good wine that had a strange cross between cognac and spice on the nose, with some petrol and burnt rubber. Very pleasant, it was not as sweet as the other Sauternes, had a deep orange, apricot color, and had medium acidity. After a few minutes it gained some balance and notes of candied orange, caramel, pear, nuts, apple peel, smoky apricot, and creamy/stinky cheese. One taster described the Coutet as spiced Christmas orange tea with honey and flowers, another “a museum piece, still pleasant with almost brandy-like acetate. Interesting.
White - Sweet/Dessert
1979 Château d'Yquem France, Bordeaux, Sauternais, Sauternes
A very nice d'Yquem that has little presence in the American market, it had good aromatics of sugar and smoke, with some herbal and brandy notes, and mouth-cleansing acidity. Quite viscous, it had a sweet palate of apple and tart pear, mandarin orange, honeysuckle, nutty caramel, almond skin, tobacco, petrol, spice, and some citrus. Had a bitter note on finish. Voted second best in a strong flight of Sauternes.
White - Sweet/Dessert
1988 Château Climens France, Bordeaux, Sauternais, Barsac
Voted best in a strong flight of Sauternes, it was the most perfumed, complex, and balanced between its acidity and sweetness. A light pale yellow hue, it had a hayfield nose with light lemon and honeysuckle, medium-light acidity, and a creamy, round mouth-feel. It had some delicious flavors of meyer lemon, pear, apple crème brulée, citrus, mint, apricot, honey, and stone. It went very well with our lemon tart. A very fine 1988 Sauternes.
White - Sweet/Dessert
1988 Château La Tour Blanche Sauternes France, Bordeaux, Sauternais, Sauternes
We drank this with a 1988 Climens and the 2001 La Tour Blanche, and of course it showed somewhere in the middle. Slight gold/yellow in color, the alcohol was a bit strong on the nose (thin cognac) and it was well balanced between low acidity and graceful sweetness. More nutty and minty than the Climens, it had some light citrus and honeysuckle on the nose, solid tannins, and some bitterness along with its creamy richness. The palate had notes of honey, spearmint, kumquat, pear, apricot, lemon, and nutty syrup. This was nice to drink alongside the 2001 LTB because a character of low acidity, mint, citrus, and honey seemed to pass on more than a decade later.
White - Sweet/Dessert
2001 Château La Tour Blanche Sauternes France, Bordeaux, Sauternais, Sauternes
Of course this needs more time, but it has been an interesting Sauternes to drink since it hit the market, probably because of its low acidty and mild sweetness. It has always had lots of citrus rind and pear notes and drunk very smoothly (I've had about a dozen bottles of this over the years.) One taster called it “sunshine in a bottle,” maybe from the fresh grapefruit rind nose and strong floral mid-palate. The palate has very strong pear and grapefruit zest, along with flowers, honey, ginger, and grass. Thick and intense, this had a clean finish and promises to be a “fantastic classic” in another 5-10 years. With some nice, older Sauternes, it did not stand out as it usually does.
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