The 2003 CHATEAU COUTET, a First Growth Bordeaux estate, was the Sauternes that hooked me on Sauternes—to me, the most special and uniquely aromatic and addictively alluring sweet white wine on the planet. That this is a type of dessert wine you sip, not quaff, harkens back to a forgotten time of gentility and nobility. With Sauternes, excess is delivered in small doses—in stark contrast to the appetite of today, where the crowd demands that excess must come in excessive amounts. It’s interesting to compare my first impressions of Coutet’s Sauternes-Barsac to the vintage of six years later. I don’t remember the 2003 being as intense as the 2009. This bottling, from one of the greatest vintages in Bordeaux wine, is teeming with aromatics of pineapple, yellow peach and baked Bosc pear. On the palate is a heady swirl of honeysuckle nectar, gingersnap cookie and star fruit. Its texture is of a gorgeously syrupy quality which meets a counterpoint in a bite of diesel in the long finish that lingers in the throat.
Personally, my favorite modern vintage for Sauternes is 2011, for its harmony and balance. (The 2011 Chateau d’Yquem, which nearly brought me to tears, is the pinnacle of the vintage—100 points). If the 2003 Coutet was a statuesque and glowing representation of top Sauternes, the 2009 is its arrogant, proud but undeniably handsome younger brother. 2003 vs. 2009 is a study of competitive contrast, like that of the two brothers Aidan Quinn and Brad Pitt in Legends of the Fall. Like Julia Ormond’s character in that film, how do you choose? You love them both. I’ve had Sauternes young (wait at least 4-6 years after bottle vintage to open any bottle of Sauternes) and I’ve had them 20 years old. I prefer them on the younger side, actually, but the 2009 Coutet is definitely one that will boundlessly reward those willing to wait until 2029. (I, obviously, don’t have that kind of patience.)
Chateau Coutet is a Bordeaux wine I will drink throughout my lifetime, as it takes on variations of its personality with changing vintages. It’s a fine line between fickleness and complexity, but the greatest of Sauternes never makes a misstep when it walks the line. –J.M.