“Terroir is everything to this wine.” Outside in the brilliant sunlight, we walked up a row of early-ripening Sémillon.
It was only a 25-mile drive from our hotel in the center of Bordeaux to Château Coutet in Barsac, but the distance seemed to span centuries. We had woken up that morning, lifting our heads from bright green “pillows,” in what some might call a “futuristic” hotel. Now we were pulling into the cobblestone driveway of a 13th century estate. There were no so-called ergonomically designed chairs, or fluorescent lights, just stone and wood. We felt at ease.
The oldest structure at Coutet is an imposing square tower from the time of the English occupation of the Aquitaine. Its sturdy walls have seen their fair share of history, including the beheading of the estate’s owner, Gabriel-Barthélemy-Romain de Filhot, in 1794, during the French Revolution.
Fortunately, our visit required no bloodshed. We were met by owner Philippe Baly — his head squarely attached to his body — who took us to the cellar in the bowels of the estate. At almost 330 feet in length, it is the longest in all of Sauternes and Barsac. Four rows of oaken barrels stretch out in dim lighting almost as far as the eye can see. In the bottle room, Baly approached a dusty row of 2007s, plucking one off the top to uncork in the vineyard. “I like to taste amongst the vines,” he told us. “Terroir is everything to this wine.”
Outside in the brilliant sunlight, we walked up a row of early-ripening Sémillon. The vineyard here encompasses 94 acres in total, planted to 75% Sémillon, 23% Sauvignon Blanc, and 2% Muscadelle. The soil consists of gravel and red clay on a bed of limestone, which endows the wines with a racy freshness to balance the rich, candied-white-fruit notes from botrytis, Barsac’s legendary “noble rot.”
As Baly poured 4 oz. of the 2007 into our glass a beam of sunlight illuminated the dazzling yellow-gold elixir. Robert Parker was right when he said, “There is impressive precision here. Almost crystalline.” The nose offered complex aromas of apricot, baked apple, orange blossom, and beeswax. On the palate, vanilla, spice, and honeyed fruit are cut with Coutet’s characteristic lively acidity, making for an almost sorbet-like finish. Superbly balanced and drinking beautifully after almost a decade of cellar sleep, the 2007 has the stuffing to age gracefully for another 20 years … if you have the patience to let it rest.
That patience is what Robert Parker’s Wine Advocate was encouraging when singling out Coutet among the 2007 Sauternes that, if properly cellared, would “serve as pertinent reminders about the greatness of Sauternes.” The 2007 vintage in Sauternes had critics competing with superlatives. Britain’s Decanter Magazine called it an “Outstanding vintage that combines richness and purity with balance and breed. Exceptional freshness too.”
By the end of our visit, we understood why Mouton-Rothschild had partnered with Coutet to provide technical assistance and become the exclusive distributor of their wines. Cheval Blanc has d’Yquem, Lafite-Rothschild has Rieussec — it’s only fitting that Mouton would align itself with a similarly great producer of Sauternes.
That night, as we flicked off the fluorescent lights and laid our heads back down on those awful green pillows, we slept a little easier knowing that we had locked in 240 bottles of the fantastic 2007. 95 points from Wine Spectator. 94 more from The Wine Advocate. Just $44.99/bottle today, DIRECT from the dusty cellars in Barsac.
Shimmering iridescent gold color, with brassy highlights reflecting around the meniscus of the liquid. Sensual nose of overripe peaches and apricots, redolent suggestions of botrytis. Lush, velour like palate delivering white fruit in spades and a long, meandering finish that wanders through butterscotch dreams of childhood past. Positively mind-blowing to have quality of this level at this cost. Drink now through 2040, depending on whether you enjoy the current rush or primary fruit or you enjoy more tertiary aromas.
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