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Sauternes 2012 Tarnished By Yquem's No-Show

A view of famed Sauternes estate Château d'Yquem
© Bob Campbell | A view of famed Sauternes estate Château d'Yquem
With two of the best châteaux in Sauternes opting out of the 2012 vintage, other estates are seeking to reassure potential buyers.

Bordeaux’s sweet-wine producers are concerned that the decision by the region’s most famous château not to produce a wine in 2012 – because of “insufficient quality” – will hurt other winemakers.

In December, Château d’Yquem’s director revealed that for the first time in 20 years the estate would not release its highly prized Sauternes. Inclement weather and harvest rains had reduced quality.

“The wine lacks fullness and there has never been a good level of concentration,” explained director Pierre Lurton.

Philippe Dejean, owner of Château Rabaud-Promis and president of the Unions des Grands Vins Liquoreux (also known as sweet Bordeaux), is now worried about perceptions of the 2012 vintage in Sauternes. He fears they have been damaged by Château d’Yquem's decision, along with that of neighboring Château Rieussec, which also decided not to make a wine.

During a tasting organized by the Union de Grands Vins Liquoreux on Thursday, Dejean said: “English journalists have questioned how such prestigious properties don’t have the capacity to produce any wine in 2012,” when lesser properties have made wines.

Xavier Planty, the co-owner of Château Guiraud, a premier grand cru classé Sauternes estate, added that as a result of Yquem's December announcement, "there aren’t any U.S. importers who plan to buy the 2012 vintage."

But the producers are trying to remain positive and convince buyers there are good 2012 wines. “Our philosophy is to make the best wine possible in any given year. Although the 2012 harvest was the smallest in Château Guiraud’s history – around one-quarter of the average size – Planty said it would "still allow the drinker to taste some very beautiful things."

He added that the vintage followed "a trio of historic years – 2009, 2010 and 2011," and noted that "on a great site, it’s always possible to produce something.”

Dejean described 2012 as "a winemaker’s vintage,” and said he had been “surprised by the quality and the absence of faults” in the wines. 

“The wines are correct, clean, balanced, with developed aromatics and are pleasurable, easy-to-drink wines,” Dejean said.

However, Barsac producers believe they have made the better wines in 2012. Philippe Baly, co-owner of Château Coutet said conditions there were kinder than in Sauternes, “thanks to colder soils and three days of intense winds which allowed rapid drying of the bunches, giving uniform botrytis.”


Related story:

No Yquem in 2012

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