2013 Sauternes – A Ray of Sunshine

2013 Sauternes could provide, just like my very first Sauternes vintage as a negociant in 1983 did, a ray of sunshine in a stormy, grey and gloomy world.  The basics of Bordeaux haven’t changed that much in 30 years – just as September makes or breaks the quality for the red and dry white wines it is in October that is critical for the concentration and character of Sauternes.

And there are similarities beyond the weather.  In 1983 Sauternes had experienced a decade and a half of disinterest from both trade and consumers.  All of a sudden, however, it became the fashion to drink a glass of 1st Growth Sauternes in Parisian restaurants and this trend spread rapidly around the world.  I see a similar situation today with Sauternes better priced than any other Bordeaux wines after a similar lull in interest and the ‘Twittersphere’ is alive with people suddenly discovering the wonders of top class Sauternes.

This time, however, I don’t think it will be just Paris, New York and London that lead the way. Speaking about Ch Raymond Lafon, one of our favourite wines, a Cheshire restaurateur tweeted yesterday:

”This stuff is fantastic. Love offering good Sauternes by the glass- people are gob-smacked at the difference.”

So back to 2013 – how good are the wines looking this time round?  Everyone got a good first pick in as from the very end of September, with full botrytis quickly induced by the showers of 12th-18th Sept followed by the unusual 30° sunshine of 22nd-27th. Some, including Ch d’Yquem, went right into a good second pick at the start of October before the long-expected rain came last Thursday night. Botrytis had affected most of the vineyard and had quickly concentrated.

Everyone was up-to-date by Thursday evening then stopped totally over the wet weekend, and many until this afternoon. A combination of dying wind circulation and suddenly very cold 10° nights has slowed the progress from “pourri plein” to “rôti” stage so this week has seen less activity than expected. But the botrytis is all there. It just needs to concentrate up.

I went down this week to see how everything was going and found some very happy Sauternais. This video at Ch Lamothe-Guignard nicely sums up what I found:

Chester diners will be happy for a few more years to come as Jean-Pierre Meslier at Ch Raymond Lafon was particularly effusive about his first picking, representing about 1/3 of the potential crop:

“The harvest here looks fantastic at this time with fully botrytised bunches of grapes and hot muggy weather. If the weather remains unchanged for two weeks it will certainly be a great vintage in Sauternes.”

I tasted the juice from under the press which seemed pure, lively and wonderful.   Here is a nice video of Jean-Pierre in the vineyards showing me the difference between the Semillon and Sauvignon harvests:

I also had lunch with the Ch Guiraud pickers, always very cheerful when they can work under fair skies, and Xavier Planty was pleased as punch and in a jolly enough mood to sing to me on my birthday (see video below), with already twice as much – and totally better – must in barrel than the total of last year, with nice 21° potential and 01-type acidities.

But let’s not talk like that yet: we still have 2/3 to go. It will be a very good vintage, could be great: So watch this space.  Bill Blatch

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