Superior Sauternes is all about balance

August 14, 2017

Chateau Guiraud Sauternes 2009 is ripe for the picking. I realize I flog Guiraud whenever it has a great vintage. The reason? The wines are not a rip-off. Sadly, few winos I know savor the beauty of the best-made Sauternes. Folks often exclaim, "They're sooo sweet!" While it may be true that many Sauternes have elevated residual sugar levels, the best of them also have higher acidity levels. When this balancing act is at its best, the bouquet and flavor package is explosive. The 2009 Guiraud is exquisite. It is coming off a spike driven by the gushing of superlatives from the likes of RP (96) and Jeannie Cho Lee (97) when sampled. They are available in half bottles. The price surged $11 and has settled back. The way to go is buy the half (375ml) bottles. They are being sold in the $30 range for careful shoppers. The 750s are going for $65 or more. This is an anomaly that will swiftly correct. Advantages to half bottles: they age more quickly, and you don't need someone to share. You can hog the entire bottle without falling from your seat. These are ready in 2018 but will easily cellar until 2043/fulls and 2036/halves, if you can keep your mitts off them. With 13.5 percent alcohol (that's 27 proof), please don't drive if you hogged or had two 5-oz. glasses. Light golden-colored, complex bouquet of honey, apricot, mango, ginger, floral tones and botrytis-driven wax. The palate is intense with good concentration. There is a bit of sugar on the mid palate but the wine is not "flabby." The apricot, mango, spice repeats. The long finish is clean with a touch of oak shining through to confirm age-ability. Jancis Robinson, a notoriously stingy rater, says 18/20. Here's to you, Ms. Robinson! Those who buy near my price projection add 1 point. A case of 24/375ml may save you some cash. I will bet you now, they won't make it through two years after your first sip. Those wishing to learn the meaning of sybarite or who are hedonistic epicureans should complement with a medium-rare filet mignon with Roquefort lightly melted atop. (Many claim this was first described by Pliny the Elder; however, that is in dispute.) Stilton, Brighton Bleu and Gorgonzola, one of the oldest known blues, first mentioned in 897, work well also. Those who don't enjoy the veiny can try a well-aged cheddar. Moderate folk will enjoy nearly any cheese dish. Yes, even mac and cheese will make you feel special with a glass. Ascetics and other killjoys need not apply. One last note: few are aware that a large component of Sauternes is Sauvignon Blanc, which supplies most of the acidity and floral notes. 

Like lamb? The 2014 Frank Family Napa Zin is a great choice for you. Let me start by writing the '14s could use a little shelf time. The blending of petite sirah, while it adds the chance to age longer, may be a bit edgy for the impatient. These show proper levels of berries and acidity to improve for a few years. A decent value if you cellar. Around this price, I would be more inclined toward the Ridge Carmichael Alexander Valley or the Ravenswood Tedeschi single vineyard. There is still 2012 Frank Napa around in the $30 range. A good buy, as they are ready to go. Frank gets 89 McD.  

Montes did a great job selling Purple Angel Carmenere at $50, 91 McD. Shoppers may wish to try the Montes Alpha Carmenere 2013, $23, 89 McD. You get age and a very likeable wine at about half price. Carmenere grapes are noted for very dark skin color. This factor, in addition to supplying color, will add tannin. In fact, until Carmenere found a home in S.A., most of the juice was used to blend in Europe, thereby enhancing these characteristics. Colchagua Valley, Chile seems to be the perfect terroir for this varietal. Montes, among others, is doing a fine job of exploiting that situation. When Barbara and I first opened one to sample, we looked at each other with that "uh-oh, a tannin bomb" look. We were pleasantly surprised to observe that the dark, inky-purple wine, although a bit tannic, was balanced with rich bouquet and flavors of cherries, dark plum and smoky wood nuance spice of cardamom. This is a power wine that finishes with chocolate and pepper notes. Serve with Hungarian goulash next fall. Yummy.

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