Les Arroucats Cuvée Virginie: Bordeaux's Other Sweet Wine

Sainte-Croix-du-Mont

is a small appellation along the Garonne River opposite from Barsac. In Sainte-Croix-du-Mont they grow Sémillon, Sauvignon Blanc and a tiny bit of Muscadelle, making dessert wine not entirely unlike Sauternes, but then again quite different. Sainte-Croix-du-Monts are lighter, less botrytised and unctous sweet wines. To compare them solely to Sauternes is a mistake and can lead one to overlook a very good opportunity to enjoy another style of sweet wine. The Chateau Les Arroucats Cuveé Virginie is a favorite one here at The Wine House. And as anyone who walks through our doors discovers - we love sweet wines! Context is everything when it comes to appreciating non-dry whites and keeping an open mouth and palate will derive oodles of tasting pleasure. Over the last two weeks, I've opened several bottles of the Arroucats to serve with, and instead of, dessert. Because it is lighter in body and less heady, it's perfect to open up on a whim and not fuss whether or not your guests are giving it the proper attention. I can attest that is goes well with Sicilian Cannolis, panettone and quality cheeses. Last night I poured a glass with a couple of shards of peanut brittle. A great combination. The nutty, buttery candy was uplifted by the sweet cream and citrus notes of the Arroucats.

oyster-soil-sainte-croix-du-monts
Chateau Les Arroucats was established by Christian Labat after WWII. The estate was taken over by his daughter, Annie Lapouge, who was credited for modernizing the winery. Today the winery is managed by Mme. Lapouge's daughter, Virginie. They hand-harvest the grapes over several passages then ferment them in concrete and stainless steel vats. The wine ages for one to two years in vats before bottling. The wine is not aged in any wood, hence the fresh, fruity flavors. The grapes at the estate average over forty years and grow on clay-calcareous soils that sit above on a plateau of an ancient seabed as evidenced by the thick layer of oyster shells (see picture above). It is no secret that demand for these lighter-styled dessert wines has waned, so it's no small miracle that such a terrific one like Les Arroucats is still being produced AND at such an affordable price! At $14.99 it is a steal and it gets better...it discounts 15% by the case! Happy New Year! 
a-girl-and-her-dog
I have stumbled over the finish line into 2019, only to realize that on the Twelfth Day of Christmas my darling daughter turns 15! Impossible you say? Impossible I say! Early in December, a customer came to pick up a large order for his annual work Christmas Party. After some chit chat, he asked me how old my daughter was. I told him she was soon to be 15. He looked at me and said, "Does she hate you yet?". I laughed, answering "only some of the time". She is a good person with a big kind heart and curious mind. What a blessing. Her birthday dinner will be a traditional Russian Christmas Eve lenten meal. Luckily she inherited her mother's love for all types of foods and cuisine. We'll have cake, but there will also be Kutya and Zvar, so the simple, honeyed flavors of the Les Arroucats Cuvée Virginie should pair beautifully. Wishing all of you a healthy, happy and prosperous New Year! - Anya Balistreri

White Bordeaux Missing From Your Cellar?

Monday, October 13, 2008 7:25 PM

They sure didn’t goof when they named this place. There are lots and lots of different wines here at The Wine House. So many in fact, that it is nearly impossible to stay on top of them all. Sometimes we can forget we have certain bottles available until, all of a sudden, someone or something makes us look under a rock (or stack) and discover some hidden gem that has been longing to come out into the light.

Around a month or so ago, I received an email from our friend Alex, who was a regular customer here before moving away recently. He’s in the process of stocking his cellar and checks in from time to time with us. He noticed that his cellar was bereft of White Bordeaux, and asked my assistance in finding him some. I told him I’d look into it and let him know. I did also say something along the lines of, “The prices are out of whack because there’s tons of demand and very little supply.” While looking through what we had available on pre-arrival, I was absolutely astonished when I saw that the price of the 2005 Haut Bergey Blanc was $33.98, when all the others are either rapidly approaching $100 or are well over it!

I’m not kidding when I say the prices are out of whack. If you don’t believe me, just check your favorite wine search engine for such names like Haut Brion Blanc, Laville Haut Brion, Pape Clement Blanc, and Pavillon Blanc de Chateau Margaux. Hundreds of dollars for a bottle of white wine doesn’t exactly get one’s heart racing enough to stock the cellar full of them.

Ah, but tasting a fine White Bordeaux can be a moving experience. Usually a blend of Sauvignon Blanc and Semillon, the wines have wonderful complexities that range from citrus fruit and blossoms to the minerality from the gravelly soil. And in a vintage like 2005, they are showing off their fleshy fruit, yet they are propped up by zippy acidity that tells us they will be age-worthy. The Haut Bergey is drinking beautifully now, yet it can age for 7-12 years.

We still have a few cases of this wine lying around, and I fear, when these are gone, quality White Bordeaux from Pessac-Leognan for under $40 will go the way of Supreme Unleaded for $1.45 a gallon! – Peter Zavialoff

From The Wine Advocate Issue #176, April 2008: Produced from 85% Sauvignon and the balance Semillon, the 2005 Haut-Bergey offers subtle aromas of wood smoke and gun flint accompanied by notes of honeysuckle, waxy lemon oil, fig, and melon. This complex, fleshy, fruit-forward, medium-bodied Pessac-Leognan can be enjoyed now and over the next decade. – 91 points

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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@wineSF.com – 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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