Sauternes salvages positives from 20125th April, 2013 by Gabriel Savage
The decision by Château d’Yquem not to make a sweet wine in 2012 should not drive people to write off all Sauternes in this year, according to other producers in the appellation.
“It’s not a quality problem; it’s a concentration issue,” argued Christian Seely, managing director of AXA Millesimes, which owns Château de Suduiraut.
Although this estate also decided not to make any of its grand vin in 2012, Seely suggested that it was almost a very different story.
“If we’d had 10 days of dry, sunny weather instead of four, we would have made a great Suduiraut,” he observed.
Instead, producers were forced either to pick before the grapes had become fully concentrated or lose their already botrytised crop to rain.
Having chosen to pick, Seely described the result as being “perfect” for Lions de Suduiraut, a wine that seeks to offer a lighter style and – at around a quarter of the price of the grand vin – “more easily accessible pleasure.”
What’s more, he stressed, “the circumstances we saw at Suduiraut are completely different from one place to another. There definitely will be some very nice things.”
Despite the setback of 2012, Sauternes producers expressed confidence in the general quality from a region where prices and reputation have remained far more stable and low key than the red wine appellations of Bordeaux.
“It is one of the great terroirs for white wine”, asserted Remi Edange, assistant manager at Domaine de Chevalier, whose owner Olivier Bernard also holds a stake in Château Guiraud, as well as having more recently acquired another Sauternes estate that has since been renamed Clos des Lunes.
While the main focus at Guiraud is on sweet wines, at Clos des Lunes the approach is almost exclusively dry, with its three-tier range labelled as “Bordeaux” rather than “Sauternes” to avoid confusion from the appellation’s sweet image.
“Sauternes is one of the best wines in the world, but people don’t drink it,” lamented Edange to explain this shift towards drier styles. With 2012 production having almost doubled to around 100,000 cases since the property’s first vintage under new ownership in 2011 and set to increase significantly again in 2013, Edange described the market’s reaction as “incredible”.
Despite this promising commercial result from pursuing a dry style, Seely maintained that, for Suduiraut at least, “dry is not the answer.”
Although his estate introduced a dry expression in 2004 called S de Suduiraut, the property makes no more than about 500 cases each year.
Explaining the decision to keep quantities of the dry style low, Seely observed: “The only way we can make this style is by taking grapes we would have used in Suduiraut. If I try to make a dry wine from secondary terroir it’s not as exciting as it might be – the only way is to cannibalise Suduiraut.”
Despite the appellation’s ongoing struggle to achieve commercial success, Seely echoed Edange’s belief in the inherent quality of the wines. In fact, he highlighted a major leap forward in quality across Sauternes.
“Sauternes has got purer and more precise,” Seely summed up. “There’s been a collective desire to learn and get better and that’s had really concrete results.”