Le G de Château Guiraud 2010
I am looking at Sauternes this week although, as you have perhaps already spotted, I'm not looking at a wine that is allowed to wear the Sauternes label; this weekend's wine, from Château Guiraud, is no Sauternes. It is one of the many dry wines that are now coming out of the region, wines that are of increasing significance to the region as they provide an important route to market for the fruit that is grown and fermented in a time when overtly sweet wines seem to be distinctively unfashionable.
Indeed, the importance of the wines seems to be reflected in a recent move by the Sauternes producers to reclassify their dry wines as Graves. It is a move that I find troublesome, but I won't repeat myself here - see my blog post on The Death of Sauternes, recently published, for more information one why I think this move could result in a significant decline in the production of Sauternes, and why I believe short-term gains could be replaced by long-term loss.
Now let's turn to Château Guiraud, whose dry wine is named - following a locally popular scheme - Le G de Château Guiraud. As is the case with many of these wines, it is not just deselected fruit, made when the conditions are not favourable to making a sweet white wine. Instead, the fruit - usually predominantly Sauvignon Blanc, when Sauternes is predominantly Semillon of course - comes from vines which were always earmarked for the dry wine. Not only do the varieties differ, but the approach to pruning and the yields are also very different. These are important considerations of which to be aware when arguing whether or not Sauternes producers should be allowed to switch to making Graves, because it means that with any one vineyard you can make one (Sauternes) or the other (Graves), not switch between them in the way that, for example, a German vineyard might yield a sweet Beerenauslese, Trockenbeerenauslese or Eiswein one year if the conditions are right, but can be used to make Kabinett or Spätlese in a year where the conditions are not right for noble rot or ice wine.
At Château Guiraud, a rather handsome portion of the vineyard - 15 hectares in all - are devoted to the production of Le G de Château Guiraud, planted with 70% Sauvignon Blanc and 30% Semillon, planted on sandy gravel and clay-gravel over limestone and marls and clays. The vines have an average age of about 15 years. As with the rest of the vineyard, these vines are managed using organic methods, with Guiraud - now owned and run by Robert Peugeot (the motor manufacturer), Stephan von Neipperg (of Château Canon-La-Gaffelière, La Mondotte and others), Olivier Bernard (of Domaine de Chevalier) and Xavier Planty - is one of very few big-name Bordeaux châteaux to have full organic certification.
The fruit is picked in one or perhaps two tries, selecting ripe but not botrytised bunches, or part-bunches if required. The fruit is pressed and the first pressing sees a cold settling followed by a cool fermentation kicking off at 12ºC and finishing at 19ºC. Although this is most likely started in steel, it continues in oak barrels (previously used for the Sauternes), in the same manner as Graves or Pessac-Léognan (no wonder, perhaps, that they want the Graves prestige, when the soils and the winemaking are the same). The élevage here lasts between six and nine months, with bâtonnage to add weight, and the malolactic is blocked to maintain the fresher, acid-rich style.
Having first encountered this wine at a Guiraud tasting a year or two ago I wasn't entirely enamoured with it; it seemed quite soft-focus and floral in style. Happily it has since firmed up somewhat. Today the 2010 Le G de Château Guiraud shows a fresh straw-yellow hue in the glass, and aromatically it still shows quite a pungent Sauvignon Blanc character, with some appealing quartzy, gravelly yellow fruit which seems very appealing, together with a subtle twist of passion fruit which surely comes from the stated intention to pick only the ripest of fruit. Having said that, there is also a little touch of asparagus alongside here, which does hold a little less appeal to my palate. In the mouth the wines shows a full and confident character, with a punchy Sauvignon Blanc stance, countered by some creamy fruit complexity which adds some interest through the middle. There is perhaps a little honeyed note coming in, perhaps from the Semillon, which also sits nicely up against the classic Sauvignon style. This certainly seems rather more appealing than I thought when tasted in spring 2012. 15/20 (6/1/14)