May 22 2012
Barsac is amongst the five parishes which constitute the Sauternes appellation, the other areas are: Bommes, Fargues, Preignac and Sauternes itself. Barsac is also an appellation in its own right and, interestingly, wine made there can either be labelled as Barsac or Sauternes.
The vineyards are situated a little to the north of the River Ciron some 35km south of Bordeaux. They have a slightly different geological make up to the rest of Sauternes. Clay top soils over a limestone bedrock, the remains of a very old ocean, predominate with some more recent alluvial soils nearer Barsac itself and the River Garonne.The best area is to the west of the commune on a giant plateau. Here the limestone is near to the surface and the vine roots penetrate it a little giving the wines their characteristic colourful, fruity style. The land is comparatively low lying with really gentle primarily south and east facing slopes.The majority of the vineyards are planted with Semillon vines with a fair share of Sauvignon Blanc and small quantities of Muscadelle and Sauvignon Gris.
The Wines of Barsac
Barsac wines are principally sweet, though some dry white wines are produced too. To produce the best known sweet wines the grapes remain on the vines till a special type of mold called botrytis starts on the bunches. Picking is done by hand and a few passes are made through the vines to both get rid of poor grapes and choose ones which have got to the desired shrivelled stage, which is also known as roti. When sugar levels are high some plain or golden grapes may be picked as well as those affected by botrytis to achieve the desired balance between sweetness, acidity and the dense fruit flavours created as a result of the natural desiccation of the grapes.
After pressing, the grape musts are generally fermented in oak barrels although some prefer stainless-steel or concrete tanks where temperatures can be easier controlled. Usually wines then receive between 6 and 18 months ageing in oak barrels with some wines spending additional time in stainless steel tanks before bottling.The results are some of the best white wines in the world , dry or sweet.
They may be drunk young yet the best wines from the best vintages also have the ability to age for years and years, gradually altering in style whilst keeping the superb freshness that Barsac is famous for. Contrary to perceived viewpoints they could be drunk as an aperitif, throughout a meal or as an after dinner drink, and according to the Michelin starred chef Helene Darrozego, go with all types of food “from soup to nuts”.
Classification of Barsac Wines
There are 2 1st Growths in Barsac which are also known as Premier Crus; Chateau Climens and Chateau Coutet. 2nd Growths, also known as Deuxiemes Crus, are Chateau Broustet, Chateau Caillou, Chateau Doisy Daene, Chateau Doisy Dubroca, Chateau Doisy Vedrines, Chateau de Myrat, Chateau Nairac and Chateau Suau. There are a further 47 unclassified Chateaux a few of which grow wines of a standard which rival the classified chateaux.
Top 10 Vintages over last 25 years
Below are a list of the top 10 Barsac vintages rated by a top Bordeaux wine expert.
1. 2001 10/10 Superlative vintage with September rain resulting in great botrytis
2. 2005 9/10 An exceptional vintage, with a pure yet concentrated style
3. 2009 9/10 Remarkably rich wines but still with enough acidity to provide balance
4. 1989 9/10 A brilliant vintage of power and concentration
5. 2011 8/10 Fresh, vibrant wines with both good botrytis and acidity
6. 2010 8/10 Fresh styled but complex wines with great tone
7. 2007 8/10 Magic tone and personality from fresh acidity on top of good richness
8. 1997 8/10 After a wet Summer the weather changed – big, roasted and forceful wines
9. 1990 8/10 An early Summer and vintage with some sensational wines
10. 1988 8/10 An outstanding vintage with finely tuned classic wines.
While we have limited our list to the top 10 Barsac wines, there were many other high quality vintages in this period that are well worth trying.
Stephen Webb runs the Sauternes blog Bordeaux Gold alongside Bordeaux expert Bill Blatch who is widely recognised at the global expert on these wines. Get a free guide to the 2011 vintage and additional information about Sauternes and Barsac wine when you visit the Blog.