Crème de la Crème: Sauternes – Barsac & Tokaji Wines

Ch d’Yquem 1988

Pierre Montégut, Technical Director of Chateau Suduiraut, and István Szepsy from Tokaj co-presented a fantastic tasting at VinCE, an annual trade and consumer wine weekend in Budapest, earlier this year.

The tasting showcased the similarities and differences between the two regions producing most sublime noble sweet wines. Sauternes and Barsac are nestled in the larger Bordeaux wine region and with their combined 2,240 hectares, they account for only 2% of all Bordeaux wines. In comparison, the region of Tokaj covers almost 6,000 hectares, but it does not enjoy the benefits of being part of a larger appellation producing some of the finest wines in the world.

Pierre and István introduced the two regions and the wines as we went along the tasting. As for their insight into the regions, I would argue the most interesting points they made were about balance and fruit quality.

Pierre explained the intricate interplay of terroir, climate, grape varieties and geography, which is needed for the production of Sauternes – Barsac wines. In a way, these are quite similar to those in Tokaj except for the fact that the rivers are called Garonne and Ciron as opposed to Bodrog and Tisza. Obvious difference is also between the grape varieties used with Sauvignon Blanc and Semillon defining the character of Sauternes – Barsac, whilst Furmint, Hárslevelű, Zéta and Kövérszőlő are used for Tokaji wines. The third defining difference is the volcanic origin of the Tokaj Hills, whilst Sauternes is a mix of limestone and gravel giving fatness to the wines, whilst the limestone and red clay mix of Barsac gives a distinct lightness.

Pierre explained that if we look at Sauternes and Tokaji wines alongside, the differences may be big, as Sauternes can produce wines of 14.5% alcohol and with residual sugar up to 120-150 g/l, but it is the balance that makes these wines so similar. Most aszú wines will be over 150g/l residual sugar, and at the same time, they will also have a higher level of acids. The result is the exquisite balance for both Sauternes and Tokaji.

István’s point about the quality of fruit nicely complemented Pierre’s insight. He pointed out that the single most important difference between Sauternes and Tokaj stands in the quality of the fruit used for winemaking. Sauternes works with fresh, fleshy and juicy fruit, even if very ripe; whilst Tokaj uses shriveled berries for the production of the aszús. This results in the substantial difference between the two wines in terms of sugar and acid levels as well as the resultant mouth-feel.

Tasting Notes
The wines are in the order as presented at the tasting with Sauternes – Barsac wines first followed by Tokaji. Watch out for the scores, as the order is not a linear progression from good to excellent, but is a mixed bag with superb wines scattered around very good ones.

Ch. Lafaurie-Peyraguey 2007
A 41-ha 1er Cru property in Sauternes. The sites are on slopes and a plateau, with clay soil. 2007 was a very good vintage in Sauternes despite the bad start and rainy and cool summer, thus ripening started late. The autumn was sunny and warm, which led to good concentration. Harvest was from mid-October.

Gold. Highly intense nose with very ripe fruits of orange peel, dried apricot, marmalade and creamy tones. Sweet, luscious, fresh and broad fruits with some almond tones and tangerine peels. Quite a bit of quince and acacia. Medium intensity, but lovely concentration. Long finish, mushroomy. 16.8

Ch. Coutet 2004
A 38-ha property in Barsac on limestone soil resultant in higher acids, a characteristic of Barsac wines in general. They are also lighter in colour. A 1er Cru property, the other such in Barsac is Ch. Climens.
80% Semillon, 18% Sauvignon Blanc, 2% Muscadelle.

Amber with golden rim. Medium intense nose, vegetal and spicy tones: turnip, mushrooms, nutmeg, cardamom, acacia and gentle creamy tones with dried apricot and orange peel. Sweet, fresh and spicy on the palate: cardamom and coriander with nutmeg, tangerine peel and quince. A bit of toasty tones and long finish, good concentrated botrytis, medium amount, long finish. 17.3

Ch. Suduiraut 2005
A 92-ha estate in Preignac, on pebbly soils, lending high acids and good minerality. The 2005 vintage is more a Sauternes style than the 2001, which is a Barsac-like.

Gold with very lemon rim. Subdued aromatics in the nose, fresh and fleshy fruits of peach, apricot and orange with some confected orange peel. Sweet, fresh though lower acids, silky and light body, elegant. Apricot and marmalade with a minty and coriander leaf finish, intense and medium concentrated botrytis, elegant and delicate, with a butter-scotch finish. Long. 17.1

Ch. Suduiraut 2001
Amber with deep gold rim. Quite restrained nose with extremely sharp and concentrated botrytis along with dried fruits of apricot, orange peel and marmalade, a bit flinty. Sweet, fresh and superb concentration of botrytis. Purity, generosity and elegance, some vegetal tones of turnip, mushrooms. Very well balanced and very long finish. 18.8

Ch. Yquem 1988
A 102-ha property, the only 1er Cru Superieur, 80% Semillon, 20% Sauvignon Blanc.

Pronounced amber with some light gold rim. Medium intense, elegant complexity of vegetal tones: cabbage, mushrooms and turnips mixed with dried fruits of apricot, quince and tangerine peel, some minty tones. Sweet, very fresh and highly intensive medium amount of botrytis, lovely ripe dried fruits, elegant mid-palate and quite a luscious finish with some roasted almond and toffee tones. 18.4

Disznókő 5 Puttonyos 2007
Light golden with lemon rim. Medium intense, slightly mushroomy nose, apricot and peach. Sweet, fresh and medium concentration. Fresh and fruity, low botrytis, medium concentration quite sea-weedy. Medium finish. 16.1

Szepsy 6 Puttonyos 2006
Amber, light golden rim. Highly intense and perfumed nose with lilies, apricot, passionfruit and honeysuckle, very elegant. Sweet, high acids, very good balance and rounded on the palate, ripe fruits of apricot, peach and honeydew. Balance and concentration are just supreme. 18.3

Béres 6 Puttonyos 2005
Pronounced golden, lemon rim. Playful, floral nose with rose and apricot petals, peach and some tangerine peel. Sweet, fresh, very pure botrytis with ripe and fleshy fruits. It is all about cleanliness and botrytis, some minty tones. Long, concentrated finish. 17.7

Dobogó 6 Puttonyos 2005
Pronounced gold with lemon rim. Ripe peach, apricot and honeydew nose with honeysuckle. Sweet, fresh, but luscious fruity profile, botrytis lower, but with good concentration, fresh marmalade and long finish. 17.9

Szepsy 6 Puttonyos 1999
Amber, copper hue with gold rim. Intense and very ripe fruits with plenty of dried fruits: apricot, pear and thick wildflower honey. Almond and toffee tones. Sweet, luscious, concentrated ripe dried fruits, mushroom and turnip. Minty, brilliantly sharp, but not overwhelming botrytis. 18

Disznókő 6 Puttonyos 1993
Light garnet, with amber and golden rim. Intense, vegetal and herbaceous nose with turnip, cabbage, thyme, dried apricot, lemon and honeysuckle. Sweet, very fresh, cedar, almond, toffee, dried apricot, with vegetal tones. Subtle botrytis, rounded mouth-feel, savoury and long finish. Fresh and elegant. 18.2

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