In the realm of the sweet wines of Bordeaux, understanding and appreciating the differences between Sauternes and Barsac is paramount. The most distinguishing feature is that Barsac is a ‘hot’ region compared to Sauternes. The soil composition of Sauternes is clay, limestone, sand and gravel which is prominent in the grey tones you can see when wandering through the area. In comparison, Barsac lacks the gravel and sand, and Coutet resides on land with reddish clay. The region’s climate is primarily driven by the coming together of cold and warm water currents of the Sironde river. The blanket of mist over the area is ideal for extended periods of botrytis proliferation, and the hardworking noble rot is allow daily respite as the afternoon sun heats up the vineyard and the mould falls into a ‘botrytis siesta’. This spot of sunshine is really needed by the Barsac region to push residual sugar to levels much higher than is achieved in Sauternes because this creates the balance with the higher acidity in the Barsac fruit.
The plantings of Château Coutet are 75% Semillon, 23% Sauvignon Blanc and 2% Muscadet. A typical vintage produces about 42,000 bottles but stringent quality control is practiced here, and the average equation after the careful selection process yields one glass per vine. Their magnificent reserve is the Cuvee Madame which is a 100% Semillon wine that is only produced in excellent vintages – the most recent being the 2001 which has just been released. There is a second wine – La Chartreuse de Coutet (AOC Sauternes) follows a similar winemaking approach to the 1er Cru but from younger 15 year old vines. Château Coutet’s history of producing sweet wines is also lined with a dry white wine which is produced for the family, but there will be an official release of one that is not merely named after the first letter of Coutet. The 2010 Opalie de Château Coutet is a small production of 4000 bottles and is a 50/50 blend of Semillon and Sauvignon Blanc. The winemaking employs used of indigenous yeasts, 100% barrel fermentation in new French oak for 18 months. We should expect to see the 2010 vintage available in September 2012.
The most reputable vintages of Coutet are 1989, 2001 2007 and 2009. Historically, the 1989 vintage is the classical benchmark for the region with the wines producing a warm and fuzzy style of wine as I like to describe them. The 2001 vintage is best described as the champion of champions, a year when multiple factors with pretty much perfect and excellent winemaking skills produced brilliant showcase wines. I love the wines born to the 2007 vintage because of the lighted floral notes embodied by fresh nectar acidity and steely restraint in the structure. I have yet to comprehensively review the 2009 vintage, but Bordeaux in general, few words need be used to describe the joy of winemakers regarding that year. Described as the ‘new’ 1989, the availability of the 2009 is timely since we will be needing replacements for the last stocks of the 1989 which is nearing the end of its thread. It would be an ideal lesson for Barsac beginners to taste the 1989 right after the youthful 2009 because that is as close as one could get to time travel and experience the development of a wine from its infancy to full maturity across two glasses.
Aline Baly was in Melbourne promoting Château Coutet and I was fortunate enough to have the opportunity to navigate around her American accent at a tasting hosted by Prince Wine Store (South Melbourne). Incidentally, the family preference is to enjoy Château Coutet with lobster and turkey. The following notes are presented in the order of tasting.
Château Coutet 1er Cru 2006, Barsac
Liquid gold colour. I describe this as having a classic Barsac nose – light floral aromatics, kumquat spritz, apricot and baked pineapple. Lush, med+ – high level of racy acidity, lovely apricot and ripe Kensington mango flavours, with a twist of lemon zest on the finish. While the finish is clean, there is a sense of a slightly jammy nature on the back end. 149.5grs, 3.5pH. In 2006, the botrytis infection was not as prevalent, and as a consequence production volume was down. No doubt a wine that is enjoyable but it does lack depth and concentration. Will evolve faster than the 2005 and 2007 neighbouring vintages. 42000 bottles produced. Drink now – 2020. 92-93/100.
Château Coutet 1er Cru 2005, Barsac
The immediate impression of the 2005 Château Coutet is the complexity that it is showing despite its youth. It exudes white floral notes, apricot, dried mango while there is a slight fade of peppercorn and a smoky edge to it. Lush, med+ acidity, flavours of peach compote, mango, reduced pineapple juice. There is a hint of savouriness on the finish. 135.2grs, 3.2pH. The 2005 vintage remains tops of the charts in terms of botrytis infection, heading the rest of the pack (2007 and 2011, the latter taking 4 weeks to finish harvest). 68000 bottles produced. Drink now – 2030+. 93-94/100.
Château Coutet 1er Cru 2007, Barsac
The youngest Coutet in today’s line-up is certainly up-front in declaring its presence on the table. There was a lot of rain in the summer of 2007 but then there was a long heaty period during which the humidty % shot up and created conditions perfect for botrytis. It presents with the most forward aromatic lift with notes of dried apricot, absolutely enticing jasmine buds, slight hint of musk, talc and camphor bark. This rich, lush wine is concentrated with layers of tinned pineapple, mandarin citrus and lemon tart. There is plenty of fresh acidity, yet the acidity was slightly higher than the 2006 and 2006. 140grs, 3.7pH. A brilliant wine for the ages. 55000 bottles produced. Drink now – 2025. 95/100.
Chateau Coutet 1er Cru 1989, Barsac
The 1989 vintage had the most sunny days after 1961, and we all know (or should know) how epic that latter year has turned out. A long ripening season necessitated 7 passes through the vineyards before harvest was completed. Deep gold, edging on amber in colour. A lovely developed nose, slightly phenolic, notes of burnt salted caramel, pineapple, oxidised nectarine juice, slightly ‘tea-y’. Still lush while it is nice to see that time hasn’t worn away at the acidity. Flavours of apricot, kumquat compote with a residual flavour of peach tea. Long finish. 135grs, 3.9pH. 72000 bottles produced, and I wonder how many are left in 2012. Drink now – 2017. 91-92/100.