A fortnight ago, two of the Vinetrade team were lucky enough to be invited along to a wine dinner and tasting near Vinopolis in South London. It was hosted by 12×75.com and led by the ever-accommodating Aline Baly, who very generously had brought along not one, but eight wines from Château Coutet. Needless to say they were delicious and whilst we were tempted to include them below, our “seven word wine reviews” just weren’t long enough to do the wines justice.
A Short History of Château Coutet
For those who haven’t heard of Château Coutet before, it is one of several top Sauternes producing Château in Bordeaux. Sauternes is the one of the most famous sweet wines in the world, vinified from white, rot-stricken, dehydrated, raisined grapes. The rot in question, is often referred to as Noble-Rot and is a result of the rather unique terroir in the Sauternes appellation. Around 25 miles south-east of the city of Bordeaux lies the river Ciron, a tributary of the Garonne, whose waters are several degrees cooler. Where the two rivers meet, the convergence causes Autumnal mists to form, creating the ideal conditions for the noble-rot (Botrytis Cinerea) to form on the grapes, which slowly desiccates them, concentrating the sugar and making for a much sweeter, richer must. This micro-climate, whilst not unique in the world, is restricted to just five communes in the Sauternes appellation, including Sauternes, Barsac, Preignac, Bommes and Fargues.
Château Coutet itself is regarded as one of the finest producers of Sauternes and was classified as a Premier Cru Classe in the 1855 Classification; rated as one of the top nine amongst twenty-one other properties in the Sauternes appellation, and it is one of two Premier Cru château in Barsac, the other being Château Climens. Today the château is owned and run by the Baly family, who purchased the property in 1977, but there is a storied history of wine production going back as far as the mid 17th century, with such historical footnotes as Thomas Jefferson noting that Château Coutet produced the best wines from Barsac.
Unlike it’s neighbour, Château Climens, down the road with 29 hectares, Château Coutet has a slightly larger vineyard holding of 38 hectares under vine and produces on average around 4500 cases of its top wine a year. All three of the grape varieties, allowed by the Sauternes appellation rules, are planted; around three quarters Semillon, one quarter Sauvignon Blanc and a smattering of Muscadelle. The vines are located between the Garonne and the Ciron, south of the village of Barsac where the soil is predominately clay over limestone, ideal for these white grapes, and with an average age of around 38 years old per vine. The château building itself dates back to the 13th century and was constructed by the English as a citadel to dominate the surrounding land.
Today the Château produces four wines and we were fortunate enough to try an example of each (bar the second wine). The word Coutet derives from the old Gascon word knife, and it is that cutting quality, the way that there’s depth and richness to the palate that is laced through with acidity, that is quintessentially “Coutet”. The four wines each share this characteristic:
- The eponymous Château Coutet – the estate’s top wine.
- La Chartreuse de Coutet - the estate’s second wine.
- Opalie de Chateau Coutet – a dry white made with Semillon and Sauvignon. Recently rebranded from Vin Sec as Aline Baly describes in her Decanter.com interview.
- La Cuvée Madame – an exceptional vintage cuvée, only produced in top years and made from the estate’s two oldest vineyard plots.
The wines we tried were the delicious Opalie 2010, six recent vintages of Chateau Coutet including the underrated ’02, the warm ’04′, the soft ’08, the distinguished ’97, the luscious ’07 and raisined ’89, finishing with the 100% Semillon, stand-out Cuvée Madame 1995.