2001 Sauternes/Barsac

For partisans of Sauternes, the superlative 2001 vintage is a must purchase. This vintage appears to be the strongest for Bordeaux's sweet wines since the exceptional 1988-1990 trio. Although Sauternes and Barsac enjoyed their most successful en primeur campaign since 1998 (even at a time when early futures sales of the 2001 reds were moribund), many of these wines are still available in the retail market at very reasonable pre-arrival prices. In fact, prices for the 2001s vary widely today, as numerous stores that sold out their original allotments have repurchased wines at considerably higher prices. (Price ranges I've listed for these wines come from eight or ten major retailers around the country.) But bargains still remain.

The 2001s are characterized by their extravagant and impeccably clean noble rot character, which has given the better wines a rare combination of enticing honey and fruit aromatics; unctuous texture; underlying structure and power; outstanding persistence on the aftertaste; and splendid overall balance. Rain in late September and early October, followed by an extended period of warm, sunny weather, triggered widespread botrytis on already thoroughly ripe fruit. Acid levels in the young wines are generally sound, and some 2001s are also extremely high in residual sugar. The wines generally have the concentration of fruit to make their alcohol virtually disappear. Although many of the 2001s will be captivating in the early going owing to their sheer sweetness of fruit and richness, the best examples will need a minimum of ten years, and sometimes considerably longer, to express their considerable potential. The vintage has the stuffing and balance to develop in bottle for decades.

I tasted the following barrel samples at Chateau de Malle in early April, along with a group of 2000s from bottle. While several chateaux made acceptable 2000s under difficult harvest conditions, these wines mostly lack richness and length. (Among the 2000s that were presented at the tasting, Sigalas-Rabaud, Guiraud, Suduiraut and Doisy-Vedrine stood out, but more for their avoidance of the vintage's pitfalls than for any special richness or excitement.) The 2001s, though, are a whole 'nother story.