2007 and 2005 Sauternes and Barsacs

If 2007 was a challenging growing season for making red wine in Bordeaux, the region’s white wines—dry and sweet—are another matter entirely. I normally wait a while to present tasting notes on young Sauternes and Barsacs, but because there is considerable early buzz for these wines in 2007, I have provided notes below. Keep in mind that they are preliminary in nature, as most samples shown by the châteaux in the spring following the harvest are only rough approximations of the ultimate blends. Château Climens, for example, did not present a sample of its 2007: proprietor/manager Bérénice Lurton told me that the wine was still months away from being blended.

The appeal of the 2007s lies in the way they combine richness and freshness. These are elegantly styled wines with lovely purity and definition of aromas, as well as a good deal of residual sugar. They are quite different in style from vintages like ’05 and ’03, which are softer and in many cases even sweeter—and generally higher in alcohol. Most insiders believe that the ‘07s will turn out to be the best vintage for Bordeaux’s sweet wines since 2001, even if the 2001s are more powerful wines with generally stronger acidity and higher levels of residual sugar. (The range of acidity in the 2007s I sampled this spring was 3.8 to 4.7 grams per liter; by comparison, in 2001 all the wines were over 4.2.)

Following the cool, damp summer of ‘07, dry weather in September nipped in the bud any incipient gray rot and began to concentrate the fruit through passerillage (i.e.,the shriveling of grapes by sun and wind). Then warmer weather and some rain in early October triggered an outbreak of noble rot. With the last two-thirds of the month mostly temperate and dry, with cool nights, the estates were able to pick highly concentrated and thoroughly botrytized fruit at their leisure during the second half of the month and into November. The harvest was long and drawn out, and most estates carried out at least four or five tries, and in some cases six or seven. The botrytis in October was pure and fruity, and the sweet spot of the harvest appears to have been the week of October 15. By most accounts the latest pickings showed a more roasted character to the botrytis, with a glyceral richness and in some instances even greater complexity as sugars continued to concentrate through evaporation. The nature of most wines will ultimately depend largely on which pickings make it into the final blend. At Suduiraut, for example, the first trie was mostly passerillé grapes, and this fruit is likely to make up no more than 25% of the blend.

My report on Sauternes also features notes on the finished 2005s. This was a highly successful vintage, with plenty of noble rot arriving late in this very warm, dry growing season (most of the best fruit was picked in October). From the start, the wines displayed lovely clean fruit, considerable power and residual sugar, and generally sound acidity. The better examples are constituted for a long and slow evolution in bottle. That said, I suspect some of these wines are better than they showed in early April, when their fruit element, so glorious from barrel a year ago, was often muted by slightly aggressive alcohol or oak, or was simply suffering from bottle shock, which in the case of Sauternes and Barsacs can be exacerbated by significant doses of sulfur dioxide.