Ah, the road. I love road trips. Haven’t been on one in a while, but I’m on my way tomorrow (Thursday). If all is Rosy, I will be in The Big Easy when this email hits your inbox. But that’s not going to stop me from chiming in with my thoughts each fortnight.
One of the more interesting things about being in the wine business is the constant observation of human nature and how we react to big scores, low scores, big hype, and even one single line in a film! I have a very wide range of emotion when it comes to these observations. Say what you want about ratings, but they don’t seem to be going away any time soon. It is my feeling that in spite of having the best intentions for the consumer, the folks who use the 100 point scale have actually hurt us wine drinkers by giving producers a numerical reason to hold out for more cash. Alas, amidst all the hype, sometimes something goes unnoticed.
If you have a sweet tooth (most of us do, including me – even though I rarely have dessert), you may want to look into the wines of Sauternes. A little research into the topic yields fascinating results. Really, if you think about it, it has to be painfully expensive to make this wine. I mean when the time comes, you’re sending a lot of people out into the vineyard to hand pick grapes for several days, not to mention employing other people to inspect these grapes one by one when they come in. And that’s all before you even start to make wine out of them. Then there’s the cost of new barrels … why bother? You know why? Because the wines of Sauternes are among the best wines in the world that’s why. They are incredibly complex, pair well with an abundance of cuisine, both sweet and savory, and due to their sugar content, they can last a long, long time if properly cellared.
So, maybe 2005 Sauternes got lost in the hype of the 2005 Red Bordeaux and White Bordeaux and Red Burgundy and White Burgundy and the Southern Rhone Valley and the Northern Rhone Valley. I could go on, but I think I’ve made my point. When John returned from Bordeaux in the spring of 2006, in spite of having just tasted the superb red and dry whites of 2005, he was beaming about Sauternes! One point he made over and over was that the period for harvesting botrytised grapes was much longer than normal. In fact it was up to five times longer than some vintages. This made for incredible complexity. I have tasted several 2005 Sauternes, and I said it then, and I will say it now – I was, and continue to be, blown away. Kaboom! I have heard a lot of hype about the 2001, 2003, and 2007 vintages. I have tasted them. There is no comparison for me. 2005 was the Sauternes vintage. They’re still young, but they are already breathtaking. Sauternes are all about botrytis, and in 2005, the botrytis is profound.
Chances are, if you’ve come in our shop and asked me for a recommendation for a 2005 Sauternes, my knee-jerk reaction would have been Cou-tet. As big a fan as I am of the vintage as a whole, I choose the Chateau Coutet as the finest of these sticky sensations. I will never forget that Sauternes tasting I went to last year where all the wines showed incredibly well. But the fun part was tasting the Coutet with a room full of wine people. It was quiet and professional, but when it came time for all of us to taste the Coutet together, wow! The din ratcheted up several levels, smiles were tossed around the room, and I didn’t notice too many people spitting.
I went to check out this wine on Robert Parker’s website, and next to the wine was this, “92+”. As I always do, I like to read about the tasting experience in words. That usually tells me lots more about a wine than some numeric snapshot in time. When I clicked on the wine, it opened a window that said, “no tasting note given”. Whatever. See my tasting notes below.
Sure Sauternes can be special occasion wine. Lord knows what kind of group you need to drink one out of magnum. Of all Bordeaux bottlings, I would have to say that you see more half bottles of Sauternes than anything. There’s a reason for that. A little half bottle of a great Sauternes is the perfect capper for any occasion. Break one of those out, and you’ll get comments like, “Wow. You thought of everything!” I’ve been known to do just that.
Woo-hoo! I’m psyched about hitting the road. Let’s just say the last time I went to New Orleans (15 years ago), I was a cocky youngster and was humbled … deeply. I am returning seeking redemption. I will revel in doing my small part in helping this soulful old city continue its road to recovery. I’ll make a deal with you all. This email is scheduled to hit on Saturday evening at 9:00PM PDT. It will be 11:00PM where I am. Perfect time for finishing a nice dinner. Precisely at that hour, I will order a half-bottle of Sauternes from whichever restaurant I will be dining that evening. Hopefully, they’ll have the 2005 Coutet!
Here we all were in a small room, all quiet, swirling the same wine. Notes are being jotted down, sips taken, the spitting (romantic huh?), more notes, then all of a sudden, the euphoria we felt as a group couldn’t be contained, and smiles of glee and praise were heaped. My own note concluded with “Cover off the ball”. Hints of flintiness on the nose combined with the profound botrytis and some citrus notes, but I had no idea what was in store for me. The wine showed amazing weight, sat perfectly on the palate, gained in intensity, showed off candied fruit and spice-cake among other things, and finished like the grand finale of a fireworks show. The hit of the tasting. Need I say more? –Peter Zavialoff