Thursday, February 21, 2013

Wine Review: 1990 Chateau Suduiraut Sauternes

It isn't often that I get the chance to drink a 23 year old wine. Again, thanks to the amazing generosity of one of my classmates, I had the opportunity to taste a bottle of wine that I would probably never had the chance to enjoy. As I've discussed here before, I am currently enrolled in the WSET Level III certification class, and Week 4 was an exploration of Bordeaux.   I'll talk more about my Bordeaux headache a little later on in this post, but first I want to share something really special with you.

Two aged Sauternes: '02 Ch Rieussec and '90 Ch Suduiraut
Our classmate Jim, who I've spoken about before, brought in two bottles of Sauternes from his collection to finish up our Bordeaux tasting.  Always thinking ahead, one was a backup bottle, in case the older of the two wasn't showing so well.  Well, let me inform you that the older was showing spectacularly

Sauternes are dessert wines made from the combination of three permitted grapes: Semillon, Sauvignon Blanc and Muscadelle (please don't confuse it with Moscato).  Normally these grapes would produce dry wines.  But when infected by a near magical fungus, Botrytis Cinerea, they produce dessert wines of unparallelled excellence.  Under auspicious circumstances, botrytis causes white grapes to shrivel and concentrate their sugars.  This produces a precious juice that is amazingly fragrant and delicious and well suited to extended aging. 

I always think it's pretty cool to see the way a Sauterne deepens in color as it ages.  If you ever have the chance to see several lined up, of different ages, you will see a spectrum of color that begins at the pale gold for younger ones and extends to a deep amber for older ones.  Because these wines are higher in sugar and acid, they can go in the cellar for decades.  And as they age in bottle, they will deepen in complexity and take on breathtaking tertiary flavors.

Liquid Gold
The 1990 Chateau Suduiraut had a stunning amber gold color, but threw some tiny particulate; probably a little tartrate bound with sugar crystal.  It had a strong, seductive nose of spice, honey and apricot.   While it was sweet, it was sweet in a restrained way, one that allowed other notes to swim to the surface.  There was a hint of anise that played around the edges, and its inherent acidity kept it from being too weighty.

 Assessment?  Liquid gold.  This wine possessed characteristics  that can only be achieved  through bottle aging.  It was a true pleasure and privilege to sample.  One of our younger classmates was born in the same year this wine was harvested, and it was evident how impressed and delighted he was to be drinking something as old as he was. I will definitely be buying some Sauternes with the intention of holding on to them. 

Mr. James, again, my gratitude and appreciation for your generosity.  Thank you so much for sharing.   Without your contributions, this class would not be what it is.   I can only hope that my cellar looks like yours when it grows up.  Cheers!


Exploring (Explaining?) Bordeaux

As anyone remotely familiar with wine can tell you, Bordeaux is a real brain-buster of a region.   While the styles of wines produced are pretty straightforward (dry red, dry white, dessert white), there is an ossified hierarchy of producers, originally meant to single out the best in the area, that requires a lot of rote memorization.  That would be the Grands Crus Classes of 1855, a list of 61 Chateaus situated in a very small portion of this region.  Below them are the Cru Bourgeois, a classification of the best producers among the multitude who were excluded from the 1855 classification.  To complicate things further, there are other classifications of the best producers in a competing sub-region, basically the guys on the other side of the river, who make wines in a slightly different style, with a slightly different blend of grapes.  Getting confusing yet?  Wait, there's more.  There is also a classification hierarchy for sweet dessert wines.  Then there are other, teeny-tiny producers, who call themselves the "Garagistes."  They get this colorful name because they are so small they are practically making wine in their garages, and comprise what are known as the Cru Artisan.  Add to this the unceasing legal battles going on over who did and didn't make the cut for some of the above classifications, and you have a wine region that is a Napoleonic bureaucrat's wet dream.

Of course, that's a lot of information to be able to sift through, and it isn't easy to keep it all straight.  Consider as well the extreme variations in quality and taste from vintage to vintage within this region, and the fact that one Chateau may make a great wine in a poor year while another flubs it in a great one, and you can see why this chapter can have even the most dedicated students of wine pulling their hair out.   In the opinion of Your Humble Narrator, Bordeaux is the main reason that wine was for so long the intimidating, unknowable provenance of somber sommeliers.  We all have the cartoonish image in our heads of the dour, tuxedoed sommelier looking down his splendidly Gallic nose at the clueless, confused couple who just want something that will taste good with their dinner. 

That history of snobbery has ultimately been both the blessing and curse for this region.  While some of the world's most  famous, and famously expensive wines originate here, the little guys of the region are getting beat up pretty bad.  Other regions in the world, who don't labor under the Byzantine label restrictions of the French AOC laws and the weight of tradition that they bear, are eating the Bordelais' lunch.   Bordeaux is France's largest wine producing region, and a lot of it is very good and reasonably priced, but it no longer holds the sway over the world's wine markets the way it once did. 

Our lineup from the red part of our Bordeaux tasting was a difficult thing to work through.  While of course they all possess their own individual character, these wines are all powerhouse, austere reds.  They have a lot of grip, and when tasted in a group like this, it is just a festival  of tannin.   One bottle with dinner?  Lovely.  Six of them, back to back to back?  Whoa.  Can I get a steak or something?  While this is a poor cellphone pic, wine #4, the '09 Chateau Lanessan was the standout for me.  I admit it, I like a more supple style of Bordeaux.  The Chateau Lanessan had ample fruit to balance against its tannins, and had a nice polish to it. 

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