Close Menu

Sauternes & Barsac 2023: tasting notes

Despite tragically small yields, the sweet whites from Sauternes and Barsac reach another level in 2023. The rainfall that came in mid-September provided near perfect conditions for the even and rapid spread of Noble rot, which formed on healthy and perfectly ripe grapes. db’s Bordeaux correspondent Colin Hay reports. 

Sauternes at the UGCB press

A note on the ratings

I have again decided to provide an indicative rating for each wine alongside the published comment. All such comments and ratings are necessarily subjective (they cannot be anything else when one thinks about it). I would urge you to look at the two together and, if anything, to privilege the comment over the rating. My aim is more to describe the wine in the context of the vintage, the appellation and recent vintages of the same and similar wines, rather than to judge the wine per se.

The ratings, of course, reflect my subjective evaluations and relative preferences between wines. Your palate is likely differ from mine. I hope that my comments give you at least enough information to be able to recalibrate my ratings and, in so doing, to align them more closely to your own palate. To give an example: if the idea of the ‘new classicism’ leaves you cold, you may well wish to discount the (typically high) ratings I have given to wines described in such terms.

2023, like both of its predecessors is, of course, a far from homogeneous vintage – and, consequently, my ratings span a considerable range (from the very top of the scale downwards). I see little interest, either for the consumer or the producer, in publishing very low scores. Consequently, I have decided not to publish scores for classed growths (or equivalent wines) that I have rated below 90 (here the range 89-91) and for crus bourgeois (or equivalent wines) that I have rated below 89 (here the range 88-90). Where no rating is published, the wine would have scored below these thresholds. Where my written assessment of the wine might also have proved unflattering to the property, I have simply chosen to publish neither the commentary nor the rating.

Finally, élevage is likely to be very important in determining the quality in bottle of these wines. I am no soothsayer and cannot predict how that will turn out (another reason for the use of banded ratings). But all en primeur ratings should be treated with caution and taken with a certain pinch of salt.

The wines of Sauternes & Barsac

Bastor-Lamontagne (Sauternes; 80% Sémillon; 20% Sauvignon Blanc; 130 g/l of residual sugar; pH 3.8; 13.5 % alcohol; tasted at the UGCB press tasting at the Cité du Vin). Fresh, crisp, bright and almost exclusively citrus – fleur d’oranger first, but then mandarin, satsuma, citron pressé and pink grapefruit. Grapefruit is the focus on the hyper-fresh and beautifully vivid palate. Radiant and yet incredibly refreshing. I love the note of fresh ginger on the finish. 91-93+.


Broustet (Barsac; 90% Sémillon; 7% Sauvignon Blanc; 3% Muscadelle; a final yield of a measly 6 hl/ha; 14% alcohol). Almost bronzed and orange in the glass and still very cloudy at this stage. Very rich and sweet, but with good botrytis character, if not the complexity of some of the others. Indeed, it lacks a bit of acidity and so comes across as very sugar-laden and viscous on the palate. Peach, peach melba, apricot, mirabelle, fresh, confit and preserved ginger (I’m almost thinking sushi here), frangipane and toasted almonds. Impressive in a way, but it has me craving a little more acidity. 89-91.


Caillou (Barsac). I don’t often taste this en primeur. Extremely saline and, like many others, very rich and sticky-style, but with a pleasing purity and sapidity at least in the mid-palate (if not really on the attack). Candle wax, peanut brittle (with all the salinity that it can have), roasted salted peanuts, pineapple (fresh and more confit) and fresh ginger (very present in a number of wines in this vintage). It might lack the complexity of the greats, but it’s very enjoyable nonetheless. 88-90.


Cantegril (Barsac; 65% Sémillon; 35% Sauvignon). Excellent. Salted freshly roasted peanuts, roasted oyster shell, toasted brioche, butterscotch, burnt sugar, toffee apple, pineapple flesh and juice, a little passionfruit too and confit citron and Mirabelle. On the palate this is intensely sapid and juicy, the sucrosity well balanced and in a dynamic and titanic struggle with the sapid citrus acidity. Brilliantly refreshing and fascinating texturally. A revivifying antidote to a long day of en primeur tasting. 91-93.


Climens (Barsac; 100% Sémillon; a final yield of just 2.7 hl/ha, with much of the potential harvest lost to mildew; pH 3.81; 130 g/l of residual sugar; 13.5% alcohol; only, alas, 4000 bottles; aged in oak barrels and wineglobes). Sublime. I have almost a tear in my eye. So incredibly pure. In the first aromatic encounter one immediately knows the identity of the wine. Heather, white flowers, lily of the valley and a parfumier’s essence of citrus. Subtle, delicate yet persistent and intense. Pure, rapier-like. A little crème brulée. Tarte au citron. Saffron. A touch of iodine and fleur de sel (from the limestone terroir). A hint of fresh pineapple Wonderful texturally, with such an impressively tight structure, the acidity holding the fruit so tightly strapped to an invisible central spine with juice and freshness rising up around it like a water fountain bathing the palate in fresh, sapid and gorgeous citrus juiciness. Effervescent and supremely energetic. As great a Climens as I have tasted en primeur. We finish on pineapple, very gently and subtly. Brilliant. It’s just a tragedy there’s so little of it. 98-100.


Clos Haut-Peyraguey (Sauternes; 70% Sémillon; 30% Sauvignon Blanc; a final yield of 9.7 hl/ha;14% alcohol; tasted at the UGCB press tasting at the Cité du Vin). Nuttier than most and waxier too. Walnut shell, toasted almonds, frangipane, fleur de sel, peach and apricot, roasted pineapple, a little guava and mango – more once one hones in on it. On the palate this is massively rich and viscous, with just enough acidity to cut that – but I find just a little less interest and complexity than with many of the stars of the appellation. 92-94.


Coutet (Barsac; 75% Sémillon; 23% Sauvignon Blanc; 2% Muscadelle; tasted – twice – at the UGCB press tasting at the Cité du Vin). Big and sticky, incredibly dense and viscous but, ultimately with just enough acidity to cut through (but God it needs it!). There’s a ton of botrytis here. Toasted almonds. Walnut oil. Peanut brittle. Brandy snaps. Butterscotch. Wild strawberry. Tarte au citron. Pineapple, pineapple chunks, confit pineapple. Peach skin, apricot and a hint of mango and even guava and passionfruit. On the finish much more grapefruit – rind and pith, freshening this up and drawing in the cheeks. Always a good sign. Much more balanced when re-tasted. 93-95+.


Doisy Daëne (Barsac; 90% Sémillon; 10% Sauvignon Blanc; tiny yields; tasted at the UGCB press tasting at the Cité du Vin and again from a sample sent to me to taste in Bordeaux). This is generally 100% Sémillon. Aerial and lifted. Confit melon, melon flesh, white pear, pear belle Helene, quince, white grapefruit, burnt sugar, a lot of fresh ginger (even if I think of that as more associated with Doisy Dubroca – but then, that’s only a row of vines away!). A searing freshness on the palate that is wondrous and makes this fabulously tense. There have perhaps been more complex Doisy Daënes but this is so brilliantly crafted and energetic on the palate that it really has me captivated. Exciting. 94-96.


Doisy Dubroca (Barsac; a tiny property of just 1.5 hectares given a new lease of life by Jean-Jacques Dubourdieu; tiny yields; 100% Sémillon; tasted from a sample send to me in Bordeaux). Very much a coup de coeur. The most gingery of the Barsac (or Sauternes) wines in any vintage and this is a vintage where I find a lot of ginger – so we’re on ginger overload here. Actually, it’s not that, but the searingly bright, vertical, lifted citrus acidity that gets me first – an upwardly pointed fireman’s hose of lemon sorbet and lemon meringue pie (just imagine the mess!). More seriously, we have 50 shades of ginger here – ginger ale, ginger beer, fresh ginger, pickled ginger and just a hint (but only that) of conserved ginger. As that suggests, this is immensely fresh and it’s also staggeringly pure. A brilliantly dynamic wine that is almost painful in its ‘citrosity’ (I know, that’s not a word) but that still has, I guess, over 130 g/l of residual sugar. How is that possible? 95-97.


Doisy Védrines (Sauternes; 85% Sémillon; 12% Sauvignon Blanc; 3% Muscadelle; a final yield of 9 hl/ha; 14% alcohol; tasted at the UGCB press tasting at the Cité du Vin). Intensely floral in its aromatic profile. Mimosa. Honeysuckle. Saffron. Acacia honey. Pineapple and confit pineapple, a little passionfruit and guava too. Fresh and lithe on the palate, with just enough bite from the zesty citrus elements to rein this in. Nice and tense and a little different. A vintage in which the terroir character of each wine is very present. 92-94.


L’Extravagant de Doisy Daëne (Barsac; 100% Sauvignon Blanc – and not, as many people assume, 100% Sémillon; tasted from a sample sent to me to taste in Bordeaux by Jean Jacques Dubourdieu). Pure citrus aromatically, not 50 shades but 150 shades, but also the purity and rapier-like precision that comes from all of that citrus diversity. A little patisserie, white pear, white nectarine too, white almond, ginger ale. Incredible texturally. Viscous, but so fine and soft and refined that it’s difficult for my brain, at least, to process all of that. So it reacts at first as if this were a blanc sec, taking in the freshness and dynamism of the citrus elements first. And then, it begins to start to take in what it is encountering and we change dimension and enter an entirely new olfactory and sensorial realm. Incredible. Like a Sistine chapel of citrus. Truly extraordinary, and almost delicate – a word I had never expected to use in a tasting note for l’Extravagant. Nectar. 98-100.


De Fargues (Sauternes; 80% Sémillon; 20% Sauvignon Blanc; a final yield of 10 hl/ha; 13.8% alcohol; tasted at the UGCB press tasting at the Cité du Vin). Gorgeous. Ginger, confit ginger, crème caramel, butterscotch, peanut brittle, white melon and confit melon, tarte au citron, frangipane, white grapefruit flesh, pith and zest. Lovely fresh citrus acidity courses through this, as if welling up vertically. Gracious. Tender. Lithe. Sapid and juicy. Very long and highly refined. Sushi ginger on the finish. I love it. 95-97.


Guiraud (Sauternes; 65% Sémillon; 35% Sauvignon Blanc; a final yield of 10 hl/ha; 13.8% alcohol; tasted at the UGCB press tasting at the Cité du Vin; certified organic). Buttery, rich, butterscotch, candyfloss, confit ginger, wild floral honey. Melon and peach, a touch of fresh pineapple too. The fresh grapefruit juice and the structuring acidity it brings does a wonderful job of stopping this spreading outwards in the mouth, keeping it tense and charged. A twist of lime too. Fresh and crisper on the palate than the aromatics lead you to anticipate. Lush and yet sapid. Nice tension. Super. 92-94+.


Haut-Bergeron (Sauternes). However impartial one tries to be, I have to admit that I’ve always had a bit of a sweet spot (pun noted if not necessarily intended) for Haut-Bergeron. It’s not going away after tasting this. Just lovely! Green apple, green apple skin, toffee apple, caramele au beurre salé, confit ginger and ginger ale. But then, in the mouth, one hones in on (or at least I do) the grapefruit, though it kind of creeps up on you and by the finish we’re in a kind of grapefruit heaven with lovely zesty freshness gathering in the cheeks to cut all that sugar. Brilliant stuff. The ginger notes I love too (making this reminiscent a little of Doisy-Dubroca, though it’s more citrus and a little less saline – more Sauternes, appropriately enough). Highly recommended and likely to prove fantastic value for all genuine lovers of top Sauternes. 92-94.


Lafaurie-Peyraguey (Sauternes; 100% Sémillon; a final yield of 5.1 hl/ha; 160 g/L of residual sugar; tasted at La Dominique). Glorious. Lanolin – of course. Pineapple – fresh, confit and preserved. Tarte au citron and lemon meringue pie. Seville oranges and blood orange. Angelica. A hint of white flowers. Beautiful composure. Very fresh. Spectacular. An upturned water hydrant spraying fresh fruit juice everywhere. So dynamic. The freshness is extraordinary and brings great life to the more exotic fruit notes – above all the pineapple. There’s a little mango perhaps too. Energetic and utterly thrilling. 95-97+.


Liot (Sauternes – though in fact situated in Barsac; 80% Semillon; 15% Sauvignon Blanc; 5% Muscadelle). Simple in a way, but lovely, if much lighter than most of the rest. Radiant gold in the glass and limpid. A little closed aromatically with just a little confit lemon and grapefruit. But that almost accentuates the happy surprise that comes from putting this in your mouth. Rich but with wonderful botrytis character and loads of fresh acidity. Incredibly saline too. Peanut brittle, lemon meringue pie, frangipane and almond, field flower honey and a little fresh ginger, fleur de sel. In short, there’s lots of fun and enjoyment to be had here. 90-92+.


Nairac (Barsac; 100% Sémillon; a final yield of just 2.5 hl/ha; 145 g/l of residual sugar; pH 3.7; 13.5% alcohol). Wonderful. Pineapple, pineapple chunks, angelica, candied fruits, confit citron with fleur de sel, roasted salted peanut and peanut oil, field flower honey. Limpid and lithe yet incredibly dense, rich and viscous, with a wonderful racy and dynamic acidity that is incredibly sapid and which cleanses the palate immediately and completely. Finishes on citrus. Excellent. 92-94.


Raymond Lafon (Sauternes; tasted at La Dauphine). Apple pie, baked apple with a little cinnamon, nutmeg, butterscotch, peanut brittle with a little fleur de sel. Pear belle Helene. Rich, with a little burnt sugar bringing a nice touch of bitterness to this, allowing Seville Orange marmalade notes to enter the frame. Not as fresh as the very best, but an attractive and engaging Sauternes with a distinctive aromatic and textural profile. 90-92.


De Rayne Vigneau (Sauternes; 72% Sémillon; 26% Sauvignon Blanc; 2% Muscadelle; tasted at the UGCB press tasting at the Cité du Vin). Wonderful. So floral. Honeysuckle. Peanut brittle. Candyfloss and burnt sugar. Peach and apricot. Nectarine flesh too. Frangipane and a little Seville marmalade. Wild floral honey. Intense and intensely viscous on the palate, but so fresh and vivid with confit grapefruit and ginger coursing up from below. Radiant. Sapid and so clean and pure on the finish, leaving just a trace of citrus zest. 93-95.


Romer du Hayot (Sauternes). Intensely sweet and perhaps not quite enough freshness to cut it. Marzipan, frangipane, puff pastry fresh from the oven, confit ginger and burnt caramel sugar with some of its bitterness (which works well with the citrus notes, though we could do more with the latter). Less evident botrytis than some. Very nutty. Gloopy, but with a nice shape in the mouth. 87-89.


Sigalas Rabaud (Sauternes; 85% Sémillon; 15% Sauvignon 15 %; 140 g/L of residual sugar; 13.5% alcohol; tasted at the UGCB press tasting at the Cité du Vin). That signature white florality. Mimosa. White melon and pear. Wild strawberry. So delicate and so lovely. So sapid and so racy too. Vivid and vibrant. Glorious texturally too, with plenty of richness but never ever too much and so much fresh, bright crisp citrus complexity along with the floral dimension that weaves its way so subtly through every element. Glorious. I love it. 95-97.


Suduiraut (Sauternes; 100% Sémillon; a final yield of 12 hl/ha; 150 g/l of residual sugar; 3.8 pH; 14% alcohol). Brilliantly bright and engaging, even for Suduiraut. It can be rich and viscous, but here the acidity is so evident from the start that it’s tense as hell! 51 shades of citrus, brandy snap, fresh ginger, a little pineapple, confit pineapple, a hint of peanut brittle, white almond too. So deceptively rich, you don’t expect it from the fresh aromatics. Nicely chiselled and like the white vertical in form constraining the firework show in the mid-palate and bringing even greater intensity to it. Brilliantly electric. What a spectacle. Fabulous. Right up there as one of the greatest vines of the vintage. Super fresh on the finish, zesty and sucking in the cheeks. 96-98+.


La Tour Blanche (Sauternes; 90% Sémillon; 10% Muscadelle; a final yield of just 3 hl/ha due to an attack of grape worm in September; 150 g/L of residual sugar; 13.5% alcohol; tasted at the UGCB press tasting at the Cité du Vin). Waxy. Lanolin. Burnt sugar. Crème brulee. Confit clementine rind. White pear, pineapple, a hint of white nectarine too and a little white grapefruit which helps keep the sucrosity in check. Confit ginger. Rich and full, plump and yet charged with racy acidity. This is very ying and yang, for every sweet touch there is a compensating zesty grapefruit note to balance it. Very fine and very tense. I love that signature lanolin note (also often to be found with Lafaurie Peyraguey). 94-96+.

See here for Colin’s full tasting notes for Pessac-Léognan & Graves, Bordeaux blanc sec & vins de France, and Barsac & Sauternes 2023, as well as his appellation analysis for Margaux, St JulienPauillacSt Estèphe, Saint Émilion, Pomerol and Pessac-Léognan (rouge) and the white wines of Pessac-Léognan, Graves, Barsac and Sauternes.


It looks like you're in Asia, would you like to be redirected to the Drinks Business Asia edition?

Yes, take me to the Asia edition No