Barsac is one of the five communes, or villages, that make up the Sauternes appellation – the other are: Bommes, Fargues, Preignac and Sauternes itself. Barsac is also an appellation in its own right and, uniquely, wine made in Barsac can either be labelled as Barsac or Sauternes.
The vineyards are just to the north of the River Ciron some 35km south of Bordeaux. They have a slightly different geological make up to the rest of Sauternes. Clay top soils over a limestone bedrock, the remains of an ancient ocean, predominate with some more recent alluvial soils nearer Barsac itself and the River Garonne.
The best area is to the west of the commune on a large plateau. Here the limestone is close to the surface and the vine roots penetrate it slightly giving the wines their characteristic vibrant, fruity style. The land is relatively low lying with very gentle predominately south and east facing slopes.
The majority of the vineyards are planted with Semillon vines with a reasonable percentage of Sauvignon Blanc and small amounts of Muscadelle and Sauvignon Gris.
Barsac wines are mainly sweet, although some dry white wines are made too. To make the more famous sweet wines the grapes are left on the vines until Botrytis affects the bunches. Picking is by hand and several passes or ‘tries’ are made through the vines to both eliminate poor grapes and select ones that have reached the desired shrivelled or ‘roti’ stage. When sugar levels are high some plain or ‘golden’ grapes may be picked alongside those affected by Botrytis to achieve the desired balance between sweetness, acidity and the intense fruit flavours acquired as a result of the natural desiccation of the grapes by the Botrytis.
After pressing musts are mainly fermented in oak barrels although some prefer stainless steel or concrete tanks where temperatures can be more easily controlled. Typically wines then receive between 6 and 18 months aging in oak barrels with some wines spending extra time in stainless steel tanks before bottling.
The results are some of the best white wines in the world, dry or sweet! They can be drunk young but the best wines from the best vintages also have the potential to age for many decades, gradually altering in style whilst retaining that incredible Barsac freshness! Contrary to perceived opinions they can be drunk as an aperitif, throughout a meal or as a digestif – “From Soup to Nuts!” according to the Michelin starred chef, Hélène Darroze.
Premier Crus (or First Growths) – Chateau Climens and Chateau Coutet
Deuxièmes Crus (or Second Growths) – Chateau Broustet, Chateau Caillou, Chateau Doisy-Daëne, Chateau Doisy-Dubroca, Chateau Doisy-Védrines, Chateau de Myrat, Chateau Nairac, Chateau Suau
Special Cuvées – Cuvée Madame de Chateau Coutet, L’Extravagant de Doisy-Daëne
Unclassified – Cru Barréjats, Chateau Baulac, Chateau Blanquine, Chateau La Bouade, Chateau Bouyot, Chateau Cantegril, Chateau de Carles, Chateau Chanteloiseau, Chateau Closiot, Chateau La Clotte-Cazalis, Chateau Coustet, Chateau Dudon, Chateau Fadouen, Chateau Farluret, Chateau Grand Carretey, Chateau Gravas, Chateau Grillon, Chateau Guiteronde du Hayot, Chateau Jany, Chateau Lardit, Chateau Latrezotte, Chateau Liot, Chateau Luzies, Chateau Massereau, Clos Mayne Lamouroux, Chateau du Mayne, Chateau Menota, Chateau Mont-Joye, Chateau Pascaud-Villefranche, Chateau la Peloue, Chateau Pernaud, Chateau Petit-Mayne, Chateau Piada, Chateau Piot-David, Clos des Princes, Chateau Prost, Chateau Raspide, Chateau de Rolland, Chateau Roumieu, Chateau Roumieu-Goyaud, Chateau Roumieu-Lacoste, Chateau Saint-Marc, Chateau Saint-Michel, Chateau Simon, Chateau Tucau, Chateau Villefranche
Second Wines – Cypres de Climens, Chartreuse de Coutet, L’Esquisse de Nairac, Chateau Petit Védrines
Best Recent Vintages:
2011 – 8 Fresh, vibrant wines with both good botrytis and acidity
2010 – 8 Fresh styled but complex wines with great tone
2009 – 9 Exceptionally rich wines but still with enough acidity to provide balance
2008 – 6 Tiny harvest but pure and fine wines
2007 – 8 Magic tone and character from fresh acidity on top of good richness
2006 – 5 Softer wines , sweeter and fatter than other vintages and less powerful
2005 – 9 An exceptional vintage, with a pure yet concentrated style
2004 – 5 A wet start meant this vintage was overlooked but there was great botrytis
2003 – 6 One of the hottest vintages on record – intensely fat and sweet wines
2002 – 6 A spun-out affair – the wines have a ‘cool’ nature, almost northern
2001 – 10 Superlative vintage with September rain resulting in great Botrytis
2000 – 5 Great Summer but October rain meant lighter, more fragrant wines
1999 – 7 A much overlooked, almost forgotten vintage with highly ‘evolved’ wines
1998 – 5 A wonderful ‘beginning and end’ vintage – shame about the rainy middle
1997 – 8 After a wet Summer the weather changed – big, roasted and powerful wines
1996 – 6 A good ‘later pick’ vintage drinking perfectly now
1990 – 8 An early Summer and vintage with some sensational wines
1989 – 9 An excellent vintage of power and concentration
1988 – 8 An outstanding vintage with finely tuned classic wines
1986 – 6 Many rich and complex wines
1983 – 8 A very late vintage produced some truly classic wines
For a selection of Barsac wines click here – Wine from Barsac