French Dessert Wines
France produces a wonderful array of dessert wines, the
most prestigious being those from the top estates in Sauternes and Alsace.
The region of Jurançon is the leader in sweet wines from the Southwest, but
there are other very interesting wines coming from that area. The Rhône and Loire Valley regions also produce some marvelous sweet wines.
SAUTERNES & BARSAC, etc.
In the best vintages, there is a substantial amount of Botrytis
cinerea (the French call this pourriture noble) which makes these majestic,
rich, wonderfully sweet wines of liquid gold.
Not every year produces a fabulous wine. Some vintages have lots of Botrytis, while
other years lack the mold-encouraging fog, producing wines which are sweet and powerful,
but not especially honeyed. Sometimes there is rain, which can cause a
less-than-noble rot and wipe out the crop nearly totally.
The top estates can afford the army of harvesters it takes to comb the vineyards on a
daily basis, bringing back only the fruit affected with botrytis. This is a costly
process and making wine from dehydrated grapes produces but a small yield.
Sauternes and Barsac (the other communes in the general region are Bommes, Preignac and
Fargues) are made predominantly of the grape Sémillon. It is said to make a wine
with a somewhat "waxy" character. Its partner in this venture is Sauvignon
Blanc, which is said to add a certain amount of vitality to the rather rich Sémillon.
A third variety accounts for a tiny part of the production, Muscadelle.
Though contributing a somewhat flowery note to the wine, it is not related to
the various varieties of Muscat grapes.
In researching the various estates, it's interesting to note most have 60-80% Sémillon
their vineyards. A few have Sémillon exclusively. Most have 2-10% of the
Muscadelle, with the balance of the vineyard being planted to Sauvignon Blanc.
- CHATEAU D'YQUEM
2004 375ml $169.99
1985 750ml $439.99
1999 750ml $329.99
- I'm not sure what I can add to the volume of knowledge about this extraordinary wine
that hasn't already been written.
In their quest
for owning luxury products, the giant French firm of Louis Vuitton Moet Hennessy,
a few years ago, acquired ownership of this estate from the Comte Alexandre de Lur Saluces, whose
family has owned the property since the late 1700s.
The book called "Noble Rot," a wonderful fly-on-the-wall tome
chronicles the sale of the estate. It was banned in France at
the request on Monsieur Lur Saluces.
Chateau d'Yquem is one of those rare
wines you can put on the table and even the uninitiated will have their eyeballs pop out
of their sockets when they taste it.
were in the neighborhood in the winter recently and snapped this photo of
the vineyard at d'Yquem.
The wine is rather expensive to produce. If you are
ever fortunate enough to visit (they usually have to check your blood type and bank
account status before allowing you on the property), they'll drill it in to you that their
production amounts to "one glass of wine per grapevine." The reason is that they
make d'Yquem only from heavily botrytized grapes. As these are so dehydrated, the volume
of liquid is rather small, accounting for the concentration and "oily" texture
which sets d'Yquem apart from others. The vineyards are about 80% Semillon and 20%
Sauvignon Blanc. The juice is fermented entirely in brand new oak barrels and then matured
in wood for about 3 years.
We had the pleasure of visiting many years ago. The manager,
Pierre Meslier, owns a neighboring estate, Chateau Raymond-Lafon. We saw the vineyards,
the cellar and finally he opened a bottle of the superlative 1975 vintage. Being "The
Fastest Glass in the West," my glass was much appreciated and empty. So was the glass
of one of my partners-in-crime. Monsieur Meslier noticed these were empty and was just
pulling the cork out of the bottle, when the third partner-in-crime said, "You
know, this is so rich, you could really only have one glass,"
at which point Monsieur Meslier jammed the cork back into the bottle and thanked us for
our visit. Once out in the parking lot, we pummeled this poor woman (figuratively
speaking) and she has not lived down this amazingly silly faux pas. She is reminded of it
every time d'Yquem finds its way onto a table shared by the three of us.
I told my story to a friend who writes for a national food
publication. He had been told to be at d'Yquem for a rendezvous only to get there and
discover the owner was not expecting him.
They ended up setting an
appointment some hours later for dinner in a nearby restaurant.
- The visiting scribe,
knowledgeable of food and wine, ordered his menu, allowing for the presentation of Chateau
d'Yquem at each course.
- The people of Sauternes will tell you their sweet wines are not exclusively serviceable
with desserts. Paired, for example, with foie gras, Sauternes actually tastes dry
due to the richness and fat content of the goose liver.
So, to continue the story, the first course comes and no d'Yquem.
The main plate, a
rich salmon and lentil preparation, arrives, but the d'Yquem doesn't.
- After cheeses
he's thinking, "Aha! They will show me the d'Yquem in its classical place: with
He then orders a dessert to show off the magnificent d'Yquem and
Monsieur Lur Saluces leans forward and says, "You'll have coffee, won't you?"
So you can understand his ire upon learning that a mere peasant, such as myself, was
privileged to taste d'Yquem, but that a more "noble" visitor was not!
The 1999 vintage is really fine here. This shows why d'Yquem stands
taller than its neighbors. The wine is of the quality most vintners
would be pleased to have in even the best vintages. D'Yquem made a
fantastic wine in 1999.
The 2001 fetches stupid prices and we don't have room for this sort of wine
with the "scarcity tax" being so high.
A generous friend shared a bottle of the 1967 (photo above) which we opened
in November of 2006. This was a deep gold color and had a lovely
fragrance reminiscent of crème brûlée, dried apricots and honey.
The flavor was long and rich on the palate with a finish that lingered for
quite a while.
An old vine at d'Yquem, pruned severely to limit the crop.
A European friend met me one afternoon in a little
place in town that had a Champagne bar as part of the wine department in a
gourmet store. We sipped Louis Roederer's Brut Champagne and he told
me how his wife has given him a wonderful wine book for Christmas--a book
telling the story of Château d'Yquem.
The wife, who knew nothing about wine (she doesn't drink wine, usually),
had seen the book in a store and purchased it, figuring she would
accompany this reading material with a bottle of d'Yquem.
Uninitiated as she was, the poor dear had a horrible shock when she went
to this store to buy a bottle...only to discover it carries a
stratospheric price tag.
So, here was this fellow with a wonderful book describing this heavenly
nectar he would never be privileged to taste.
- When the family came to the US, some
friends were hosting a dinner and I brought a bottle.
"Endlich! Eine gute schluck vom Château d'Yquem!"
Now our dear friend has tasted this nectar...and the wife
understands why the wine costs what it does.
CHATEAU LAFAURIE-PEYRAGUEY 1989 Sold Out
CHATEAU LAFAURIE-PEYRAGUEY 1990 Sold out
- The firm of Cordier owns this 40-hectare property in Bommes, the chateau being an old fortress
constructed in the 13th century. The vineyards are 90% Semillon, with the balance
split evenly between Sauvignon Blanc and Muscadelle. Despite it being in the hands
of the same owners since 1917, it's been only since the early 1980s that they've been
making exemplary Sauternes. I have read that their vines are particularly
susceptible to botrytis. We currently have two exceptional vintages in stock, both
being oily, very honeyed and quite rich. Choosing between the two is a difficult
- CHATEAU RIEUSSEC
2001 $89.99 (375ml)
2003 $69.99 (750ml)
2005 "Carmes de Rieussec" $34.99
- The Rothschilds of Lafite purchased this estate in 1985, taking over control from Monsieur Albert Vuillier, who had assumed the reins in
1971. At the time, good Sauternes sold for ridiculously modest prices,
especially given the amount of effort it takes to make this wine. Insiders reported
that the new ownership also purchased large quantities of d'Yquem, holding it off the
market, causing the price of that wine to climb higher due to its sudden
In doing so, the neighboring
estates of fine quality, such as Rieussec, Suduiraut, Climens, etc., also escalated in
price, immediately making the purchase of Rieussec a smart financial move.
property covers some 75 hectares and is about 90% Semillon with two or three percent
Muscadelle and the rest devoted to Sauvignon Blanc.
Carmes de Rieussec is a delight. The name "Carmes" refers to
a monastic order which had been centered in nearby Langon and which actually
owned the Rieussec estate in the 1700s. The wine is
predominantly Sémillon, of course, with about 10% Sauvignon Blanc and 5%
Muscadelle. It's matured for approximately 18 months in oak. The
wine is beautifully balanced, being sweet, but not sticky sweet.
Lemony fruit, nice acidity and a nice price tag make for a most attractive
The 2001 Rieussec was given a high numerical score by The Wine Spectator and,
suddenly, people who never buy Sauternes were somehow obliged to seek out
the wine. As a result, prices for the 2001 are significantly higher
than they had been. It is a very fine bottle of wine,
I tasted the 2003 recently and found it to be in the realm of "very
good" to "excellent" and so we're delighted to have bottles
of that wine. It's a showy wine now, in its youth, and it's likely to
age handsomely over the next decade, or so.
We periodically have a lovely
dry "Sauternes" (though it takes but the appellation of "Bordeaux" of
Rieussec. It is labeled "R" = d'Yquem's is called "Y" and Guiraud
makes a dry wine called "G"=) and it's a non-oaky, crisp, flavorful white which
matches nicely with seafood. I can order the "R" for you,
but it's not presently in the shop.
- CHATEAU SUDUIRAUT
1996 750ml SALE $59.99
Castelnau de Suduiraut 2003 $17.99 (375ml) Back in stock!
is now under the ownership of "AXA" an insurance company which also holds the
key to the cellar doors of Chateaux Lynch-Bages and Pichon Baron, amongst others.
With its 88-hectare vineyard planted primarily to Semillon (I've read conflicting
stats...some saying 10% Sauvignon Blanc and other sources reporting 20%), Suduiraut is
located in Preignac. If you run across a bottle of 1991, 1992 or 1993 vintages of
Suduiraut, you're holding a rarity...Suduiraut did not bottle any of those vintages!
While in college, I remember the 1967 vintage of this costing the amazing sum of
$7/bottle. We used to drink this as our "house Sauternes" (can you believe
it?!?!?!). That classic vintage now fetches staggering prices (upwards of several
hundred bucks a bottle!).
Over the years I can't say vintages from 1970 to the early
1980s caught my fancy. The 1988 vintage marked a noteworthy change for the
better. The 1989 vintage was quite good, but 1990 seemed exceptionally oily and more
Not to be too obnoxious, but after first tasting the 1990 we had stacks of it in 750ml
format for a very low price. That is why it pays to shop in "wine
merchant" establishments as people who are keen tasters can tip you off to the best
buys or undervalued wines. At any rate, the 1990 will live well into
the 2020's and maybe beyond! It is still available for a rather good
- They now make a "second" label called "Castelnau de Suduiraut."
Pierre Montégut, the technical director of Suduiraut, told me "It's
really not a 'second' wine. Castelnau is a section of our vineyard and
most of the wine comes from that parcel. We make a selection of the
main part of Suduiraut and Castelnau. And what don't find to be our
'Suduiraut quality' we sell in bulk."
Apparently some rather fine juice got "declassified" here as
2003 is a
remarkable bottle for such a modest price. It is moderately honeyed and rather
weighty for the vintage. It is a wine such as this which makes one turn away from
the "Sauternes substitutes." This displays a lovely bit of
honeyed fruit and it even has a touch of oak.
has three "Doisy" estates, this one vying with Doisy-Daëne for
top spot in that little horse race.
- The last of the Védrines family owned this estate until the middle of the
1800s and then its been in the hands of the Castéja family ever since.
We first got to know the property thanks to Gerald Asher (he's long been a
writer for Gourmet magazine, but in the late 1970s and early 1980s he ran
the Mosswood Wine Company) who imported the wines of Doisy-Védrines.
The vineyard is one contiguous parcel of approximately 27 hectares. Sémillon
accounts for 80% of the plantings of white grapes with Sauvignon Blanc
comprising 15% and Muscadelle the remaining five percent.
The sweet wine from this property tends to be medium-bodied and nicely
acidic. It shows far less oak than its neighbor, Climens, for example
and the wine is not as 'oily' or rich on the palate, partly because it's
less sweet in most vintages and partly thanks to the firm acidity.
This means that those critics who judge wines for intensity and size tend to
overlook Doisy-Védrines. And that's fine with us.
- Currently in stock: 2005 DOISY-VÉDRINES $49.99 (750ml)
- CHATEAU COUTET
2004 Sold Out
1997 (List $90) Sold Out
- Chateau Coutet is a very old property with a long history. Its vineyard covers
some 38.5 hectares in the region of Barsac. In the classification of Bordeaux
estates in 1855, Coutet and Climens were the only two properties in Barsac to be
designated as premier cru producers. At one time the property was under the
same ownership as Chateau Lafite, though long before the Rothschild's.
- In Thomas Jefferson's days, Coutet sold for about the same money as
In fact, it was, during Napoleon's time, owned by the Lur-Saluces family, the same people
who, until recently, owned Chateau d'Yquem. Today the estate, I believe, is owned by
a family from Alsace who have an interest in trucking and hotels.
The property is adjacent to Doisy-Daene and is in a single parcel.
The reputation of the property is very high, especially in France. Americans seem to
embrace Climens, Suduiraut and Rieussec with greater enthusiasm, so sometimes Coutet can
be a relatively good value.
Their 1996 is a stellar wine, one of the best vintages I can ever recall tasting from this
producer. It is rather oily and creamy, with a rich, honeyed finish. The wine
is certainly less oaky than Climens or Suduiraut, as they use but one-third new barrels.
This wine should have a long life ahead of it. Impressive now in its youth,
however. Not sure if we will see more of the 1996.
I bought some 2004 to taste and this is a delight. It's fresh, mildly
honeyed and has notes of pineapple and citrus. It's delicious now and
will cellar well for a decade, or so.
The price was ridiculously low, too...
Dubourdieu family has owned this Barsac estate since the 1920s. The
estate is located on a plateau called the Haut Barsac and planted with Sémillon
Georges bought the property in 1924 and his son Pierre ran the winery for
many years. Today his son Denis takes care of the place and now his
sons are active in the wine business.
Denis Dubourdieu is an enology professor, so he'd better not sully his
reputation with slacker wines. In fact, he was instrumental (and still is)
in improving the vinification of dry white wines in the region. Of
course, he's very open to experimentation and always seems to have some new
project going, be it cultivating "forbidden" grape varieties or
fermenting juice with new strains of yeast. His father, one year, wrapped
part of the vineyard in plastic sheets to create a bit of a greenhouse
effect. There was little in the way of botrytis that vintage (1978, I
think) and the grapes shriveled nicely and were picked in late December.
This was a nice little Vin de Noel and illustrates the experimental
spirit going on at Doisy-Daëne.
The wines from this property are typically a bit more elegant and refined than
powerfully honeyed and rich. They do make a reserve bottling in years
where there's a lot of botrytis and this wine is called L'Extravagant de Doisy-Daëne. Extravagant, indeed, as the wine costs a small fortune if
you can find it.
We currently have the 1997 Doisy-Daëne in stock. This is a medium-yellow
Sauternes, a bit less 'golden' in color than many at ten years of age. But
that's part of the style of Doisy-Dane...it's not a rock 'em, sock 'em style
of wine. Yet they seem to age magnificently.
- Currently in stock: 1997 Doisy-Daëne Sold Out
CHÂTEAU de FARGUES
you find the label of de Fargues reminiscent of the label of d'Yquem, you're
The wines both bear the names Lur Saluces, a family whose roots in Sauternes
go back more than 500 years. The family once owned not only d'Yquem
and this property, but also de Malle, Coutet and Filhot. But that was
then and this is now.
Alexandre Lur Saluces ran d'Yquem for several decades before the family sold
the place out from under him. But he still owns Château de Fargues and
makes a superb Sauternes rivaling d'Yquem. The property was given
life by Bertrand de Lur Saluces, Al's late uncle, back in the 1930s. He
slowly planted a few hectares and the first wine was made during World War
II. Over the years the quality has improved, though if you taste de
Fargues alongside d'Yquem, you'll see it's similarly styled but typically a
shade or two less powerful. This is, in part, due to the geology of the
vineyards. Still, we've had memorable bottles of de Fargues and the
wine certainly recalls the majestic and concentrated wines of its 'cousin.'
You might call this "poor man's d'Yquem," but you still need some cash
to obtain a bottle of de Fargues.
We have the excellent and remarkably fine 2003 in stock. Here was a hot
vintage which was saved by a spot of rain in early September and careful and
constant monitoring of the vines throughout the harvest. It's a bright
golden color and shows wonderfully honeyed and vanilla sugar notes on the nose
and palate. There are some pineapple tones on the palate and the wine is
remarkably showy now and probably has a couple of decades ahead of it!
The 2005 is also impressive. There's an exotic fruit element here which is
reminiscent of ripe pineapple. The wine is intense and a bit 'fat', so
while there may not be sufficient acidity to propel this into the 2040s, it's
quite showy now and will remain so for another decade +.
- Currently in stock: 2003 DE FARGUES Sauternes $89.99
2005 DE FARGUES Sauternes $159.99 (750ml)
2005 DE FARGUES Sauternes $79.99 (375ml)
- CHATEAU GUIRAUD
- This 100 hectare
estate has about 82 of those hectares in the Sauternes appellation.
Two-thirds of the vines are Sémillon and the rest is Sauvignon Blanc.
Running the show at this estate is Xavier Planty, a fellow who came on board
at the estate when the Canadian family, the Narby's, bought the place in the
early 1980s. We visited shortly after the Narby's took over and met
Hamilton Narby. He was an engaging fellow, but he apparently didn't
get along well with the neighbors. Eventually he even rubbed his folks
the wrong way and he's no longer affiliated with the property, though he
worked to bring a serious upgrade in quality at Guiraud.
Today the estate is owned by a quartet of proprietors. One is
businessman Robert Peugeot and the others are all wine makers, Olivier
Bernard, Stephan Von Neipperg and Xavier Planty. Bernard runs Domaine
de Chevalier, one of the top Pessac-Léognan estates. .Planty has been
affiliated with Guiraud for more than 20 years and Von Neipperg owns
Canon-La Gaffelière amongst other vineyards.
The 2005 vintage is exceptional for Guiraud. It's deep and honeyed,
without being heavy. Notes of candied orange peel and honey dominate
presently. It's a wine that's remarkably pretty now and should repay
- Currently in stock: 2005 Château Guiraud Sauternes 375ml
(list $48) SALE $39.99
- CHATEAU LA TOUR BLANCHE
2005 Sauternes SALE $79.99 (750ml)
- In 1909 the
owner, Daniel Iffla (known as Osiris...don't ask me why), of La
Tour Blanche donated the property to the Institut Pasteur one one condition: a
school of viticulture and enology be set up. It is operated by the Ministre de
l'Agriculture. They have about 70 hectares, half of which is Sauternes. The
property is primarily planted with Sémillon, Muscadelle accounting for but 3% and
Sauvignon amounting to 20%.
Located due south of Chateau d'Yquem, not every vintage
is "declared." The juice is barrel-fermented and, like d'Yquem, only new
wood is used.
The 2005 is magnificent, showing spice and honey notes...it's got fairly
good acidity, so while it's delicious now, we expect it will last and
develop over the next 10-15 years.
- CHATEAU NAIRAC
1997 Barsac Sold Out
- This is a rather
highly-regarded estate in the Barsac region. Owned by Nicole Tari, the
winemaker is Nicolas Heeter-Tari. From some 17 hectares, annual
production amounts to but about 2,000 cases. The vineyard is about 90%
Sémillon, with just 6% Sauvignon and 4% Muscadelle. Some
percentage of new oak is employed for the primary fermentation of the juice
and this accounts for some of the complexity and power of this
We included this in a blind-tasting of 1997 Sauternes in mid-2001 and the
wine was the first-place finisher, ahead of Rieussec, Climens, Coutet,
Suduiraut and others. For good reason! The fragrance and flavors
are intense, showing honey, ginger and vanillin. Nairac '97 may be
consumed in its youth (and how!) with desserts, Foie Gras or Roquefort
cheese. I find it difficult to predict the life span of this wine as
the acidity doesn't seem especially high. Perhaps the sugar and
alcohol will preserve it well into the next decade, but opening a bottle now
is a decadent treat that will make fans of Sauternes those who claim to
"not like dessert wines."
- CHATEAU CLIMENS
- Climens has
been run by the Lurton family since the early 1970s.
Its wine has long been thought to often rival d'Yquem, but it's rather
different and quite special in its own right.
First, the estate is in the Barsac appellation, not Sauternes. Over
the years the Lurtons have replaced the Sauvignon Blanc and Muscadelle with
Yields are quite minuscule and this accounts for the often lofty price tag
on a bottle of Climens. It's said they produce perhaps 25,000 to
30,000 bottles annually...this from something close to 30 hectares of
- The Lurtons prefer to ferment the juice in oak, saying it allows them to
pick individual sites and ferment in small lots. They seem to use a
healthy percentage of new oak and we usually find a distinctive and sweet
oak aspect to most vintages. The wine remains, typically, for nearly
two years in wood.
We currently have their 2004 in stock. If you pay more attention to
what's in your glass than to a vintage chart, you'll find this to be a
stellar wine at a fairly reasonable price. The vintage chart won't
give you much confidence in buying Sauternes from 2004, but the Climens
effort is no ordinary or typical 2004! The wine is very showy now and
it's fairly golden in color. There's a beautiful pineapple note to the
wine along with its sweet, vanillin oak. The flavors linger for quite
a while, too. You'll pay a significant premium for the more
highly-touted vintages, but you won't find wines to be correspondingly
- Currently in stock: 2004 Chateau CLIMENS Sale $84.99
1999 Chateau Climens Sale $89.99 (last bottle)
- CHÂTEAU HAUT-BERGERON
2004 $23.99 (375ml)
is a label owned by the Lamothe family and it's a wine which rarely gets
much publicity from various eno-scribes, yet we've always been impressed by
That said, it's interesting to note that you can typically find
wines from their more famous neighbors, often for a little less money.
Still, the local importer sells out with great regularity because the wine
appeals to those who've taken the plunge and bought a bottle (or two).
- The estate is about 17 hectares. Predominantly old vine (60 years is
the average age, supposedly) Sémillon, with only a tiny percentage of
Sauvignon Blanc and Muscadelle. I read in one journal they use about
50% new oak, which is surprising because the wine doesn't show the
The 2004 vintage is magnificent. Deep in color, the visual aspects tip
off the astute taster that there's a good chance of a fair bit of botrytis
here. The nose doesn't disappoint, displaying lots of honey, apricot
and "sweet" fragrances. The palate is rich, oily and the
finish is quite long. We opened a bottle after a blind-tasting as
the mystery sweet wine...everyone was impressed and wanted to know "How
But the wine was sold out at that point in time...happily, more has become
available and we're back in business. It's a wine most tasters would
peg as coming from a far more famous estate.
The local importer told me "As
you know, the appellation is small enough that just about every estate could
claim to be a "neighbor of d'Yquem". In this instance, the Chateau
does have a rather large vineyard just next to d'Yquem as well as vineyards
near the Chateau in Preignac. In fact, they once showed me an old label
that actually stated "contigu d'Yquem". They also own a
parcel in Barsac next to Climens. In any event they make consistently
- CHÂTEAU LA COLLINE
"Confit de la Colline" $18.99 (375ml)
Dordogne is wonderfully pretty terrain and, if you poke around a bit, you
can find some rather nice wines there.
One such treasure are the wines from Charles Martin of Château de
La Colline. This fellow makes some dynamite red wines and we have them
in the shop. As Bergerac is not so far from Sauternes, there's a bit
of Sémillon planted and some of it is "risked" in hopes of
producing sweet wines.
Martin has done just that and brilliantly, we might add. His
wine is dubbed "Confit de la Colline" and it's a gem! Made
entirely of Sémillon, the wine is sweet, honeyed and has notes of dried
apricots. You can serve this with Foie gras, if you like, or pair it
with an apple or pear dessert (Tarte Tatin comes to mind). It is
delicious now, in its youth.
Our colleague, Bob Gorman, paired this recently with a fantastic fruit bowl for dessert...a
- CHÂTEAU de RAYNE VIGNEAU
2005 Sauternes Sale $59.99 (750ml)
- This estate
first gained fame in 1867 when it was called Vigneau-Pontac and it garnered
the grand prize at the Paris fair. I don't know what became of it
after that, but it's an estate which sometimes offers rather good Sauternes.
We have their 2005 in stock...it's a lovely wine, just now evolving from a
youthfully fruity Sauternes to something a bit more complex.
Honeyed, sweet and nicely balanced thanks to ample acidity, this should
continue to develop over the next decade.
- The white wine
called Pacherenc du Vic-Bihl is about as obscure as you might hope to
find. It's a marvelous wine from Gascony and is produced in both dry
and sweet formats. I suspect "sweet" is the more traditional
as back in 1745 the law did not permit the harvest for this wine to commence
until November 4th! Recent statistics show the production of sweet
wine outstrips that of dry wines in the appellation by a 2 to 1 margin.
Pierre Speyer, one of our favorite Madiran producers, sent a few bottles of
his precious, nectar-like Pacherenc. It's made entirely of Petit
Manseng, though one might blend Arrufiac, Courbu, Sauvignon Blanc and/or Sémillon
if one cared to.
Laffont's wine offers an exceptional fragrance. It's honeyed to a
degree, with notes of white flower fragrances and ripe, tropical
fruit. In Gascony, of course, this sort of wine is consumed with Foie
Gras. Here in California, where state legislators have passed a bill
to outlaw the production of Foie Gras, you might want to pair this with a
rich dessert. Sheep's milk cheese is said to pair well with
Currently available: 2007 Pacherenc du Vic Bihl $18.99
CHÂTEAU LE THIBAUT
Monbazillac appellation covers about 2500 hectares of vines and the wines
made there have long been viewed as "poor man's
We view this estate's wine as "smart shopper's Sauternes," since
the quality is exceptional in 2003 and the price is reasonably ridiculous.
Case in point: A sales rep brought in a sample of a rather famous,
prestigious sweet wine from Italy. The wholesale price on his wine was
$45 for a half bottle and it was a nice wine. I can't imagine paying
that price for such a rather simple wine.
I then poured a taste of Château Le Thibaut for the rep whose first
statement was "Wow!" when he sniffed the wine and then he guessed
this as having about a $25 price tag in half bottle format. In fact, nobody has guessed this
as costing just twenty bucks for a bottle...
Monbazillac wines come from Sémillon, Sauvignon Blanc and Muscadelle and
the soils are clay and limestone. This wine, as I understand it, is
about half Sémillon, 40% Muscadelle and 10% Sauvignon. The nose is
gorgeous...honeyed, floral and fruity. The wine is fairly sweet, but
- Currently in stock: 2003 CHÂTEAU LE THIBAUT
"Monbazillac" Sold Out
relatively unknown properties around the world of wine tend to try to
associate themselves with more famous neighbors.
Virtually every estate in Sauternes is described as being "close to Château
d'Yquem." The marketing notion is that some of d'Yquem's luster
might rub off on the other wineries.
Some wineries will tell you they buy barrels from a famous neighbor, again
trying to associate the quality of their wine with that of the famous
vintner nearby. This is simply a form of voodoo.
Château Haut-Mayne is not too far from d'Yquem, though. And they're
actually pretty near Château Suduiraut. But only someone with a lead
palate would mistake Haut-Mayne's wine for the nectars made by the famous
The good news, though, is that Haut-Mayne's Sauternes is quite fine and it
arrives here for a sensible price. The property encompasses some 7.5
hectares of Sauternes and they make some Bordeaux Supérieur as well.
The estate is owned by the Roumazeilles family. These folks also own Château
Grillon, a Barsac estate whose wines we've had for a number of
vintages. The 'secret' of the Haut-Mayne estate is that its vineyards
are about 70 years old. The property is predominantly Sémillon with
about 10% of the estate devoted to Sauvignon Blanc.
No Muscadelle at Haut-Mayne.
Low yields, of course. And the wines are typically affected with
botrytis cinerea due to the property being close to the river. While
estates such as d'Yquem have the financial resources to selectively
harvest the grapes, sending pickers through numerous times, a small
property such as this one harvest in two, three or four passages.
About 30% of the juice is fermented in wood. It usually takes about
3 weeks to ferment before the yeast die of exhaustion (and alcohol).
The wine is then matured in oak for about a year and a half. Barrels
are employed for about four or five years.
have the delicious, honeyed, apricot-like 2008 vintage. The wine is
nicely balanced and I wouldn't guess it to have spent much time in
wood. It's sweet and fairly unctuous without being heavy or
cloying. Of course, foie gras might be a fine accompaniment.
But you could also serve this with fruit desserts such as an apple tart,
strudel or pie. Apricot and peach desserts would also work
Currently in stock: 2008 CHÂTEAU HAUT-MAYNE
Sauternes $18.99 (375ml)
- CHATEAU FILHOT
wine lover and former American ambassador to France, Thomas Jefferson (yeah,
one of a couple of enophiles who occupied the White House) was a big fan of
the wine of Château Filhot.
The wine, in Jefferson's day, sold for nearly the same money as its famous
neighbor, Château d'Yquem. But the track record of Filhot is not
quite the same as d'Yquem's.
We've periodically found good vintages of Filhot, but it remains a bit of a
mystery as to why they don't regularly turn out a top wine. Perhaps
the cost of multiple, selective picking is not an investment the owners can
afford? Still, some years the wine is a bit of a diamond in the rough
and it shows character.
- Currently in stock: 1997 $49.99 (750ml)
- DOMAINE DES TRES CANTOUS (ROBERT PLAGEOLES)
Plageoles clan tends 37 hectares of vineyards in the rather obscure
appellation of Gaillac. It's a three hour drive east from
Bordeaux...one hour northeast of Toulouse.
And yet for being such an off-the-beaten-path appellation, this estate's
wines are found on numerous wine lists of highly-decorated, Michelin-starred
restaurants in France.
Wine growing there dates back, according to some sources, to 125 BC.
Can you imagine seeing a bottle with the vintage date "100
The point is, though, Gaillac is an old wine
region and despite having so much history, it's an appellation few American
wine drinkers have heard of.
Plageoles is a staunch advocate of historic, local grape varieties, so they
make wines from Len de l'El, Mauzac, Ondenc, Braucol and Fer (or Fer
Servadou...known as Mansois in neighboring regions).
We have their Muscadelle, a single-varietal that displays an apricot-like
fragrance and flavor. This pairs well with fruit desserts, but can
also be a fine match for blue-veined cheeses.
- Currently in stock: 2006 PLAGEOLES
"MUSCADELLE" $17.99 (375ml)
- CLOS LAPEYRE
famous little estate only recently hit on the notion of making wine.
It seems the Larrieu family grew peaches and strawberries as their main
source of income. In the 1970s, someone had the wildly brilliant idea
of plant grapevines and, voila!, today Clos Lapeyre's wines are found
half a world away from the Jurançon appellation.
Jean-Bernard Larrieu makes some splendid wines. We often have his
stone-dry white wine and we're delighted to offer his "La
Magendia" sweet wine.
The La Magendia is made entirely of Petit Manseng, a grape variety particular
to the Southwest and its home is Jurançon. The juice is fermented in
French oak and the wine offers vanilla, honey and pineapple notes with a steely
edge, a hallmark of the Manseng grapes and the region.
Tasting in the Clos Lapeyre cellar.
Currently in stock: LA MAGENDIA de LAPEYRE
$17.99 (half bottles)
late Didier Dagueneau, the "bad boy of Pouilly-Fumé," had embarked
upon a new challenge a few years before his untimely death. He had
enjoyed the wines of the Jurançon region and began to produce a sweet wine
I'd asked Jean Bernard Larrieu (above at Clos Lapeyre) what he thought of
this "foreigner" coming to their region and making wine...JB said
he didn't mind and, in fact, appreciated that such a famous character as the
outspoken Dagueneau would bring much-needed attention to this otherwise
Dagueneau had already experimented in his own home wine region in the Loire,
but was not happy with the results. I suppose Sauvignon might be too
"wild" to produce really grand sweet wine in the Loire...so Dagueneau apparently studied various regions, looking for a place which had
unfulfilled potential. But the fellow was also smart enough to select
someplace where the grapes, picked at maturity, would not ripen at the same
time as those in his backyard of Saint-Andelain.
Dagueneau found a parcel south of the city of Pau near the town of Aubertin.
There he set about cultivating the Petit Manseng grape. We understand
there were problems with his first attempt and Dagueneau, perfectionist that
he was, would not sell the wine.
His next vintage, though, he hit the nail right on the head.
And, in fact, Dagueneau was successful in shining a spotlight on a region
where there are, in fact, good wines. As usual, his is made without
compromise or regard for "what it costs." Didier was always
more concerned, rather, with "what it takes to make the very best
The 2005 is currently in the shop. This is a deep, compelling,
expensive bottle of sweet wine. It rivals top Sauternes, late-picked
wines from Alsace, Germany and Austria.
- Currently in stock: 2005 LES JARDINS DE BABYLONE $119.99 (500ml)
UROULAT (Charles Hours & Family)
Hours is one of the leading lights in the region and a winemaker to watch.
He owns a famous little vineyard called Clos Uroulat, which we've had in the
shop for several years.
Hours took over the domain in 1983 and had 3.5 hectares of vineyards.
Over the past two decades his holdings have increased and he now tends, with
the help of his young daughter Marie, something like 14 hectares.
Happily, there's no Chardonnay here. Instead you'll find the vineyards
devoted predominantly to Petit Manseng for the sweet wine and Gros Manseng
and a tiny bit of Petit Courbu for the dry wine.
We've had their Uroulat wine for a number of
vintages. This is made entirely of late-picked Petit Manseng.
The harvest usually takes place in November and the fruit attains high sugar
through a drying-on-the-vine process called passerillage.
Unlike Sauternes where they have long relied on Botrytis cinerea to shrivel
the grapes, here the fruit hangs on the vine and essentially dehydrates
thanks to a warm wind from the south. You'll hear winemakers in the
Jurançon speak of the "Foehn" winds, a dynamic where the wind
blows up one side of the mountain where it dehydrates and cools and then as
it flows down the other side, it becomes significantly warmer. This
wind pattern is common in the Jurançon and the Petit Manseng grapes are
dried, concentrating the sugar and acid.
Hours crushes the Petit Manseng and allows the juice to settle before
racking it into barrels for the fermentation. He's sensitive to the
character and quality of the juice each vintage, but generally employs about
25% new wood for the wine. It's typically bottled after nearly a year
in oak, enough time to take a touch of wood, but not so much that the oak is
a prominent feature of the wine.
Uroulat is a delicious wine with fruit desserts, but it also shines when
paired with baked apples, apple pie, white cakes, poached pears, etc.
In the Southwest, though, you'll find this wine being partnered with foie
gras at the start of a meal, too.
- Currently in stock: 2009 UROULAT
JURANCON $31.99 (750ml bottle)
- We also have some other Sauternes in half and full bottle format. Stop by to check out the current offerings.
FRENCH DESSERT WINES