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1998 Sauternes blind tasting: a rat in the cellar
Despite what I've said about the shortcomings of blind tastings, in certain contexts I do feel it has a purpose. And this tasting is a good example of where it can work: we were comparing a group of 10 wines of a similar style from just one vintage. In this circumstance, not seeing the labels is a nice way of discovering which wines really did perform better, with no lofty reputations getting in the way.

I'll lay my cards on the table: I'm a big Sauternes fan. But overall, I was a little disappointed by this line-up. There were some very good wines, but few real stunners. Vintage generalizations are fairly inept at the best of times, but if I'm pressed I'd say that 1998 isn't a great one for these wines. Having said this, the prices are fairly attractive (given at the end of each note, where available). What surprised me most was the relatively poor showing by Guiraud, and, in particular, Barsac superstar Climens. This was a woeful effort, and shares the title of worst wine of the night with the relatively unknown Piada. My favourite was rather surprisingly de Malle.

However, the prize for the most interesting performance of the evening has to go to a rather sociable rat, an inhabitant of La Vigneronne's cellar recesses, who came out and spent five minutes casually wandering around our feet. Most unusual.

The wines (tasted blind: notes as written)

Château de Malle
Yellow/gold colour. Seductive, fresh nose with a lovely balance of honey, apricots and spice. Nicely balanced palate with honeyed sweetness, rich texture, waxy notes and good acidity. Drinking beautifully now this isn't a big botrytis style, but is a deliciously balanced sweet wine. Excellent

Château Piada
Slightly dumb nose leads to a light, rather watery palate showing caramel and barley sugar flavours with a touch of spice. Light textured and disappointing. Poor

Château Guiraud
The slightly muted nose shows hints of smoke and spice. Lovely thick textured palate with rich spice, honey and caramel notes. Not hugely botrytised but full flavoured and spicy. Very good

Château de Rayne Vigneau
Lovely rich spicy nose with smoky caramel notes. Rich palate with honey, caramel and apricotty botrytis notes, and a nice smoky/burnt character. Rich textured and finished with lively acidity. Very good/excellent

Château Les Justices
Exotic nose with apricotty/burnt cabbage notes: interesting but unusual. The palate shows more burnt cabbage/rubbery notes, and is complex, spicy and fat textured. I quite like this, but others might find the cabbagey notes off-putting. Very good/excellent

Château Lafaurie-Peyraguey
Lovely sweet apricotty nose with spicy, fruity complexity. There's a rather unusual lanolin-like edge to the palate, which is honeyed and syrupy. Attractive, but a bit simple overall? Very good+

Château Doisy-Daene
The nose has a smoky/spicy edge. The sweet, slightly syrupy palate shows honey notes with a touch of caramel and butterscotch. Quite nice balance, but not a big wine and not a lot of botrytis. Very good+

Château La Tour Blanche
Nice apricotty, spicy nose leads to a full, rounded, thick-textured palate. It's quite sugary sweet without quite enough acidity to provide balance. Nice spicy finish. Very good

Château Climens
Quite an unusual nose dominated by smoky/herby notes. The light palate lacks richness of texture and complexity, but does show some toasty notes. Not much botrytis. A pleasant enough drink but disappointing overall. Good

Château Suduiraut
Lovely crème brulée nose with attractive smoky notes. Nice full, rich palate with a rich texture, spicy complexity and nice acidity. There are also brown sugar and apricot notes. Impressive stuff. Very good/excellent

La Vigneronne are offering the following 1998 Sauternes, all DPD per case of 12:
Climens £300
Doisy Daene £200
Suduiraut £250 (possibly worth a punt?)
Guiraud £250
Rieussec £275

Contact details: La Vigneronne, 105 Old Brompton Road, London SW7 3LE; www.lavigneronne.co.uk

see also: A tutored tasting of Sauternes and Barsac; Tasting notes of French wines

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