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2009 Carmes de Rieussec Sauternes
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- Cellar Drink Now - 8 years (2011-2019)
- ABV 13.5%
- Closure: Cork
Sauternais in Bordeaux is the most iconic of a handful of regions in the world where wine production is centered around botrytis cinerea, the fungus responsible for the heavily concentrated nectars that are turned into the golden wines of Bordeaux. These 'vins liquoreux' or 'stickies' represent one of the most remarkable collisions of history, geography, climate, art and science in the world of wine. Their origins in France are unclear, bouncing between hard facts and legends. The first specific reference to botrytis and wine in the area per se dates back to 1716, when Lamoignon de Courson, the Governor of Guyenne (wider Bordeaux region), wrote that one should harvest only grapes that are almost pourries or rotten.
Barsac and Sauternes had probably been singled out before then, thanks to their peculiar geology and geography. Gravels deposited over calcareous, marly and sandy clay substrates were ripped from the Pyrenees and the Central Massif and carried by the Garonne river and several of its affluents. The river had shifted over many different beds, east and west, during the quaternary era. Successive deposits created a complex structure of terraces with different orientations, layers of gravels, and minerals of various natures.
Noble rot eventuates in most vintages in Sauternes, subject to some exceptional and fortuitous circumstances. This is how it happens: The warm Garonne flowing at the foot of these terraces is met in several places by smaller streams that get cooler as they flow through the Landes forrest. Where these flows meet the resulting effect is early morning fogs, a kind of "Turkish bath" for the grapes, and the perfect media for the onset and the development of the botrytis fungus. Paradoxically, healthy grapes are essential for 'Noble Rot'. But this descriptor is also a little misleading. Rot does not refer to the decomposition of dead grape cells, but rather to an external mummification of the grape. Botrytis is a parasite that attacks the grape's skins, but doesn't destroy their flesh. Instead, the grapes attain a uniform porosity that when combined with late morning breezes and sunny afternoons promotes the loss of up to 50% of the grape's moisture. During these freak conditions not only are flavours concentrated but new flavours actually begin to form - in particular the decadent honeyed, citrus, apricot, peach and caramel notes, and sometimes even iodine.
Being a natural phenomena, uniform botrytis is not easily achieved. This is why vignerons must frequently employ specially trained teams at harvest who pick grapes over tries successives (several passes). In some estates, grapes are literally harvested one berry at a time. Yields are understandably minuscule (the traditional reference is that a single vine should produce a bottle of wine. At Rieussec, for example, a single vine will be lucky to yield one glass). The desired transformations in the grapes are accompanied by increased glycerol and glucans (the latter being unfermentable sugars - incredibly difficult to deal with in the winery). It's the glycerol that provides the luscious, satiny mouthfeel of classic Sauternes. It too can be the cause of 'problem children' ferments if not managed with a high degree of vinicultural intuition. The challenges do not stop there. Juice that's loaded with sugar and enzymes has a high spoilage potential, not to mention the sticky difficulties that 'stickies' add to almost all winery processes. This is no wine for beginners, but when successful, the magical characteristics that make Sauternais so unique are retained making for some of the world's most unforgettable wine experiences.
Chateau Rieussec, Lafite Rothschild’s Sauternes enterprise has a second label, 'Carmes de Rieussec' named after the monks of the Carmes de Langon, the original owners of the estate. The monks were disbanded during the Revolution after which the property was transferred to private hands. Carmes de Rieussec is subjected to the same rigour in the vineyard and winery as the Premier Cru, with barrels deemed to lack the intensity of the grand vin sorted after 18 months and given to the citrus accented Carmes cuvee. It is worth noting that this is a voluntary move, and not strictly an act of declassification - as such the Carmes de Rieussec could be labelled as a Premier Cru.
Tasting Note:Brilliant golden colour with pale gold hue. The nose shows excellent intensity with lifted scents of ripe peach, apricot and honey followed by some tropical fruit and spice notes. Thick, luscious and very concentrated the palate boasts superb richness with mouthfilling flavours of honey, ripe peach and tropical fruits followed by some honeycomb and spice. Clean finish. Outstanding length with very long luscious and rich aftertaste of honey, ripe peach and tropical fruits along with a touch of spice.
Drink over the next 5-8 years (2011-2019).
Sauternes & Cadillac: How to get the most out of them.
Count Lur Saluces of the world famous Sauternes producer, Château d'Yquem, once said drinking his family's wine with a dessert is a disaster. "It should be consumed with Rocquefort cheese, foie gras or even roast chicken", he said, "but never with a dessert". The reason is that desserts can often have a sugar content greater than 20% while sweet wines are seldom greater than 10%. Very sweet foods can overbalance the perception of a wine's sweetness, making the wine taste thin and somewhat acidic or sour. Despite this single proviso, the versatility of Sauternes wines should not be underestimated and an entire three course meal can easily be created around Sauternes wines alone, with the results being some of the most stunning wine and food matching sensations one is likely to experience.
There are traditional combinations like freshly cracked walnuts and soft fruits, however one might not consider much more adventurous alternatives unless you visited Sauternes itself and spent some time with the locals. There, roast duck or rough barbeque lamb chops marinated in Sauternes make for a spectacular match, as do ewe's milk cheese, a quiche or pan fried trout. However, perhaps the most surprising match, and a favourite of Comte Lur Saluces, is crayfish and Sauternes. The combination is nothing short of sublime. Should any of the above ingredients be unavailable or simply beyond budget, Australian chef and food writer, Gail Thomas, has a simple, inexpensive alternative. "I've found when we've served d'Yquem, usually put with foie gras, blue cheese, lobster and fresh pear, which are supposedly 'the matches' , the pear wins out every time!" Whatever you choose, always remember, when serving these wines, they should be only slightly chilled. Just taking the edge off is enough.
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