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Sauternes of the 2003 Vintage

by Tom Cannavan, 06/04

The 2003 vintage for the sweet wines of Bordeaux from the Sauternes and Barsac appellations is being unanimously hailed as a great one. It seems the weather during 2003 was perfect for encouraging healthy, ripe grapes and the conditions for good levels of Botrytis, the "noble rot" that makes these sweet wines so distinctive. You will find that many of these wines are already sold out for some merchants, as their en primeur offerings have been snapped up for the top wines. You will still be able to find many of them for sale, and unlike red Bordeaux, it should be relatively easy to find most of these on the shelves in a couple of years time when they are released.

These are brief notes from a tasting during the London Wine Fair in May 2004. My general impression is that this is possibly the best young Sauternes vintage I have tasted - better even than 2000 and 1997. The wines are both concentrated and beautifully sweet, yet acidity is better than I suspected it might be, and the wines are really nicely balanced as a rule. It is a great vintage for lovers of this style I suspect, though of course this is a snapshot of wines that are currently in barrel in Bordeaux, and not yet finished.

The tasting was not blind. For a comprehensive list of UK merchants offering 2003 Sauternes click here. For US stockists, click here. At time of tasting these wines were being offered "en primeur", so prices listed are approximate per bottle equivalent prices, duty and tax paid.

Sauternes and Barsac 2003

Château d'Arche (Sauternes) 2003
Quite light, herbal and lemon scents. Palate is very good; plenty of fruit and very nice acidity, with decent length. Very good/very good indeed. £17.00
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Château Bastor Lamontagne (Sauternes) 2003
Lovely apricot nose and loaded with honeyed aromas. Bright, but full and sweet on the palate, with lovely balance. Very long too. Very good indeed/excellent. £13.75
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Château Broustet (Barsac) 2003
Much more herbal, grassy cut than previous wine. Lovely balance on the palate, with shimmering acidity and a developing core of rich, lime fruit. Very good indeed. £17.00
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Château Climens (Barsac) 2003
Quite toasty on the nose, with lots of honey and quince. Very refined palate, with good Botrytis and lovely clean, balancing acidity. Very good length. Excellent. £43.50
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Château Clos Haut Peyraguey (Sauternes) 2003
Nice toast, and brightly polished fruit quality with orange and a certain nuttiness. Long and smoky on the palate. Very good indeed/excellent. £23.50
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Château la Clotte-Cazalis (Barsac) 2003
Quite crisp and light, with herbs and some peachy fruit. Moderate palate, with some richer, honeyed Botrytis but a little lacking in acidic cut. Very good.

Château Coutet (Barsac) 2003
Lovely Botrytis; almost spearminty concentration. Very refined nose and palate with lots of nectarine, apricot and honey and fine acidity. Excellent/outstanding. £24.00
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Château Doisy Daëne (Barsac) 2003
Fine, elegant, herb and tea-leaf nose with plenty of refined fruit. Lovely toast and honey on the palate, with great balance and length. Excellent, almost excellent/outstanding. £19.25
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Château Doisy Vedrines (Barsac) 2003
Gorgeous nose; flooded with juicy apricot, nectarine, layered honey and nut kernel. beautiful palate too, with excellent balance and already great length. Outstanding. £17.25
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Château Filhot (Sauternes) 2003
Quite subdued by comparison, with herbal notes and lemony fruit. Restrained, elegant but ultimately a bit too light. Very good. £15.25
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Château Guiraud (Sauternes) 2003
Lots of tea-leaf, herbs and delicate floral aromatics, with notes of pear and light honey. Beautifully full on the palate, with richness and elegance into a balanced finish. Long and excellent, almost excellent/outstanding. £26.00
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Château Lafaurie-Peyraguey (Sauternes) 2003
Refined, elegant, honey and lightly toasty nose. Lovely sesame-seed and orangy tang to the fruit on the palate. Good length and balance. Excellent. £24.00
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Château Lamothe Guignard (Sauternes) 2003
Quite subdues again, but a toastiness and notes of honey and brioche emerge. very rich on the palate, with lots of botrytis and glycerol and a good streak of acidity. Excellent. £14.25
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Château Liot (Sauternes) 2003
Light, grassy, very Sauvignon Blanc aromatics. Nice burnt orange fruit on the palate with lemony acidity. A very nice wine, though out-classed by many so far. Very good indeed. £12.15
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Château de Malle (Sauternes) 2003
Masses of honey, toast and figgy aromas. Good acidity immediately on palate, then Botrytis and brioche-like toastiness develops. Good length, and very good indeed, maybe excellent at a moderate price. £22.00
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Château de Myrat (Barsac) 2003
Honeyed, fine, nutty and rich. Big, sweet, full-bodied palate with limpid fruit and excellent length. Very good indeed. £17.25
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Château Nairac (Barsac) 2003
Barley sugar, honey and quince fruit in the nose. Lovely palate; very tangy with layers of rolling, sweet Botrytis fruit. Complex and excellent. £28.50
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Château Rayne-Vigneau (Sauternes) 2003
Quite a marzipanny note, with plenty of sweet fruit and creaminess. Rather raw oak on plate at present, but good richness and plenty of Botrytis. Balanced and very good. Possibly better with time. £20.00
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Château Rieussec (Sauternes) 2003
Rather neutral at first. Lovely almondy, classy aromas emerge with honey and nectarine. Plush, sweet palate that ends up very limpid and polished with good balance. Excellent, possibly outstanding. £26.00
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Château Suduiraut (Sauternes) 2003
Big, burnished, orange, toast and buttery quince fruit on the nose. Immediately striking. Racy and elegant on the palate, with fine, fine fruit and excellent length. Outstanding. £27.00
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Château La Tour Blanche (Sauternes) 2003
Elegance here; leaf tea, orange and honey. Palate is rich and has lovely Botrytis, with smooth texture and toasty elements. Rich for La Tour Blanche, but retains elegance. Excellent/outstanding. £24.00
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