Chateau Coutet Grand Cru Classe 1855

In The World Of Sauternes,

The common perception is that Château d'Yquem stands alone at the top of the pyramid when it comes to quality. While this may be true in general, there is a wine, only made in the best vintages, which challenges that perception:  Château Coutet's Cuvée Madame.

As the story goes, the cuvée was named after Madame Rolland-Guy, who owned the estate until 1977. The vineyard workers would dedicate a day's work to her, without pay, while picking the most concentrated Sémillon grapes from the two oldest parcels of the Premier Cru vineyard. 

Production for the Cuvée Madame has typically been around 1200 bottles. It is not made in every vintage. In fact the 2009 Cuvée Madame represents only the 15th vintage of this wine first made in 1943. The wine is bottled and aged at the chateau for around a decade and then released. The next installment of Cuvée Madame will be the 2014 vintage, slated to be released in 2026!

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The Only Merchant In America With This Wine!

So, as the story goes … In the spring of 2006, while I was finishing up my first month in the wine business, John was visiting Bordeaux for the annual en primeurtastings. On getaway day, he was down in Barsac visiting Chateau Climens, where he was informed about the length of the Sauternes harvest. The 2005 harvest period was unusually long as some grapes weren’t picked until November!Having so many different batches of grapes gave thevignerons a wide palate of flavors to blend with, adding to the already complex nuances of these grapes affected by the noble rot. By the time he made the trip back up to Bordeaux proper, it was getting late in the day, and the prospects of tasting many other Sauternes from this amazing vintage were dwindling. He did have an appointment with a negociant, and when he arrived, he was met and taken to a room (really, an entire room) full of unopened wine bottles most of which were 2005s. As is custom, he was offered the opportunity to taste whatever struck his fancy, and amongst others, he swirled a 2003 Sauternes from a lesser-known Chateau d’Arche-Lafaurie. It was their fairly new Cuvee Madame, which we are coming to learn is a huge step up from previous offerings from this chateau. Impressed with the 2003, he had a go at the 2005 as well, and loved it. His tasting notebook dog-eared at the page, he returned home, and when the wine came up for sale as futures, he bought some.

 What is interesting about this is that according to a few wine-specific search engines, we are the only merchants in the country carrying this wine!We sold some as futures, and I made a point of questioning those of you who bought this wine as to why you chose this particular chateau, as I didn’t have any knowledge of these wines. I found that many of you either had experience with, or heard about the success of the 2003 version. Anyway, when the wine finally arrived, our staff had to try a half-bottle.

As we were all tasting this wine, you could hear descriptors like, creme brulee, coconut cream, dates, and candied pear. Followed by, “How much is it??!! You’ve got to be kidding, this is great!” All of us who tasted that day were very impressed. I could go on and on about the vintage itself. Wait a sec, I already have! Suffice to say, despite what I have read about Sauternes vintages of the oughts, to me, 2005 is clearly the most complex, pleasurable vintage for these amazing wines.


After working hard in the kitchen with prep and execution, having had some laughs and lively conversation with friends both while cooking and during dinner, not to mention having tasted some fine wine paired with said dinner, warrants the question, How do you follow an act like that? We’re making it easy for you. A simple half bottle of 2005 Chateau d’Arche-Lafaurie Cuvee Madame will do the trick. Sure, if your table is bigger than mine (most are), then perhaps a full bottle. Bring ’round the cheeses, bring the desserts, or simply sip your dessert. It’s all good.


PS If you think you might want to cellar some of this wine for posterity, I say good idea, you’re on to something. A Sante! – Peter Zavialoff


Tasting Notes

Ah … there’s nothing like having a glass of fine Sauternes in your hands. Savor the aromatics. I picked up aromas reminiscent of Butter Rum LifeSaver, with hints of caramel, pear, and sawdust. It enters the palate much like a long ride on a big wave. The flavors and vibrancy come together hand in hand and seemingly ride on forever. The wine seems to intensify as it builds tension which never pushes you over the edge. It finishes with a zippy lift that leaves you thinking about how to conserve what’s left in your glass without compromising your gustatory experience.


Feel free to email me with any questions or comments about 2005 Sauternes, staff tastings, Butter Rum LifeSavers, or the wine business in general:

2005 Sauternes: Sweet Sensations

Wednesday, May 28, 2008 2:35 PM

Notes From a Recent Tasting

I love Sauternes. Really. Loooooooove them! What I love the most about them are their complexity. I mean where else can you be but at a Sauternes tasting when you see these words among your notes: mandarina, pineapple, exotic, honeysuckle, crème caramel, luscious, prickly pear, honey, floral, banana, nutmeg, menthol, olive oil, candied peach, gooseberry, apricot, brioche, marshmallow, coconut, just to name a few. There is not a day that goes by where I’m not tempted to take a bottle home. Not a day. But it’s getting to be slim pickings out there. Well, we’re all in luck because the 2005’s are beginning to arrive. It’ll be a trickle at first, and we expect the rest to arrive throughout the year.   

Sure, we all know the Cabs and Merlots of Bordeaux flexed their respective muscles in 2005, got all the press (for good reason), which unfortunately led to ultra high prices. So while everyone is gushing over the reds, keep in mind that the weather was also perfect for Sauternes. Conditions were ideal for the noble rot. The period of harvest was unusually long, allowing vignerons many more lots to blend with than they would normally have. Take into consideration what it takes to make Sauternes (painstaking hand picking, in many cases picking grape by grape to find the fruit affected by botrytis … and that’s before the sorting table!), and this vintage is a downright screamin’ bargain!

I had heard all this already, just as I had heard all about the 2003 stickies. No doubt 2003 was an excellent vintage, but these wines need time to develop their complexities. So when David suggested I check out a recent tasting of 2005 Sauternes, I of course said yes, but was on the fence with my expectations. Would they be showing complexity due to the lengthy harvest period? Or would they be shy and sweet as many 2003’s turned out to be when they first arrived in bottle? I was blown away. Kaboom! Blown away. I wasn’t alone. These wines are exceptional. Tasting notes below the links to the 750’s.

Tasting Notes:


Doisy Vedrines: I’ve become more familiar with this producer over the past couple of years for two reasons: more affordable and delicious wines. This ’05 was when the tasting really hit stride for me. The initial impression of botrytis on the nose was unmistakable and profound, bracing the flighty nuance of white candied fruit. On the palate, the depth of the botrytis was felt, rich as Roman, with hints of blossoms, vibrancy, and that feeling you get when tasting a fine olive oil. From here my notes say: “Bam. A cracker.(something really good) Finish still going.” One of the ones for me and my budget.


Doisy Daene: Tasted directly after its Barsac cousin, there was a noticeable difference in aroma. The Daene had a much cleaner and precise direction to it. The botrytis was present, yet balanced with a hint of citrus which led me to believe there was more Sauvignon Blanc in the blend. If not more, it certainly seemed more prevalent. In the mouth, it was expansive with a hint of smokiness behind that luscious fruit which seemed to ping off of every sensor available. I couldn’t help thinking, “Wow, are they kidding? This is like the Bill Graham Memorial concert where Jackson Browne went on at 12:10. If he’s playing now, who’s coming on at 3:30?” Ah, but I already had the wines in front of me, so I knew.


Clos Haut Peyraguey: Once again I’m struck with a deep botrytis on the nose combined with aromas that remind me of what I had for breakfast: brioche, butter, and tea. The Clos Haut is round and soft in the mouth exhibiting delicate tropical notes of papaya, banana, and coconut. The acidity picks up mid palate and sends the whole package away much like a lover at the train station in the days of yore.


La Tour Blanche: One of the few producers to still use Muscadelle (5%) in the blend, the LaTour Blanche has an abundance of complexity on the nose. Yes, its bouquet is marked by expressive botrytis, I picked up a hint of petrol as well. On the palate it has a wide, wide mouth-feel that gives those dark corners of your mouth a pleasant pinch. It carries a spicy-sweet flavor profile reminiscent of honey toast, is concentrated, and has the stuff to last. One for the cellar. 


Coutet: Tasting the Coutet had to be the most fun. Here we all were in a small room, all quiet, swirling the same wine. Notes are being jotted down, sips taken, the spitting(romantic huh?), more notes, then all of a sudden, the euphoria we felt as a group couldn’t be contained, and smiles of glee and praise were heaped. My own note concluded with “Cover off the ball”. Hints of flintiness on the nose combined with the noble rot, and some citrus notes, but I had no idea what was in store for me. The wine showed amazing weight, sat perfectly on the palate, gained in intensity, showed off candied fruit and spice-cake among other things, and finished like the grand finale of a fireworks show. The hit of the tasting. Need I say more? 


Guiraud: Talk about a tough act to follow! The Guiraud has received a heap of praise, and rightfully so. There is an expressive floral/blossomy component on the nose that compliments the botrytis and lively fruit. In the mouth, one gets the sensation of creme caramel, interwoven with spice, a lively mid palate that has that feel of fine olive oil. The finish combines brioche-like flavors with fruit and spice and lasts and lasts.


Suduiraut: The Suduiraut was the wine that stood out the most for me. This was due to its delicacy and refinement. I detected the botrytis and candied orchard fruit on the nose in a addition to green tea, they just presented themselves in a restrained fashion. On the palate it was soft and luscious with that honey-toast butter/spiciness. There were hints of petrol throughout. On the finish, it faded slowly and appeared to dry out at the very end. All in all I really loved what they did here as the wine was truly unique in an amazingly good way.


Climens: I’ve been looking forward to writing this one throughout this exercise. You see I’ve never used “cookie” in a tasting note before. But there it is. Okay, it’s Chateau Climens, Lord of Barsac. 100% Semillon; it’s reputation precedes it. On the nose it’s back to the richness of the vintage: noble rot, allspice, walnut, petrol, and cookie. I must have meant oatmeal cookie as that was the only cookie I knew as a kid. Oh, there’s more. In the mouth I wrote, “Intense, expanding, menthol, full throttle“. This wine was not shy. In a word, it was a mouthfull. I was glad they saved it for last as we would have missed out on the nuance of the Coutet and Suduiraut had we experienced this one earlier. The finish was equally intense and faded slowly, leaving the traces of a lovely tasting of great wines seared in my memory.

Parting Notes

I unfortunately had two subsequent tastings that day, so by the end, my vision was a bit cloudy. But reviewing my notes really brought me back to the feel of the tasting and the energy that existed in that room. There were some interesting topics that arose that day. One I’ll share. When asked about savory pairing ideas for Sauternes, the usual were brought up (foie gras, cheese, etc.). Well one of the foremost experts on Sauternes here in the states said with a high degree of conviction that it pairs very well with Mexican cuisine. No kidding. I haven’t tried it, but I will. I’ll report back after I do. I encourage any questions, comments, or experiences with Sauternes pairing, especially with Mexican food: – Peter Zavialoff

PS: I will not be in the shop tomorrow as I will be watching the Chelsea Blues vie for the one piece of silverware that has eluded them. May the best side prevail!

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