Jancis Ronbinson – Coutet’s Cuvée Madame since 1995

4 September 2015

Cuvée Madame is the super-special bottling made only in the most successful vintages at Château Coutet in Barsac and, as I explain in Selling Sauternes by Twitter, I was lucky enough to taste each of the four (only) vintages made since 1995 and currently on the market. Aline Baly came over to London in July to show off the latest release, the 2003, with its smart new label.

Cuvée Madame Cuvée Madame, of which only about 1,200 to 1,400 bottles are made, is based on a berry-by-berry (not even bunch-by-bunch) selection of the finest grapes on two contiguous parcels of Sémillon, the estate’s oldest vines that are now about 55 years old. It’s fermented for at least one month and confirmed as good enough to make a Cuvée Madame only after one year of ageing. It is then aged two more years in barrel, so a total of three years in new wood. It’s therefore aged in wood twice as long as the regular Château Coutet, and is 100% Sémillon as opposed to the usual blend for Coutet of 75% Sémillon, 23% Sauvignon Blanc and 2% Muscadelle. Cuvée Madame is usually bottled-aged for at least 10 years before release.

Coutet’s soils are particularly high in clay content, making it one of the coolest terroirs in the Sauternes-Barsac appellation that makes such great wines with such difficulty and yet experiences such unwarranted difficulty in selling them. Shame!

Opalie, a terroir-based dry white, was Aline’s first big project, the 2010 having been released in 2012. We have two notes on it, both garnering a score of 17 out of 20 – quite an achievement!

Château Coutet, Cuvée Madame 1995 Barsac

Currently the oldest Cuvée Madame on the market. Picked as early as 4 October. (They are usually still picking a month later than that.) Mild winter, early start in spring, flowering 20 May, even ripening. Hot dry summer. Slightly cooler during picking and a little rain which kick-started botrytis. RS 145 g/l. 100% Sémillon. 100% barrel fermented, 100% new oak, all of it in new French oak for three years. Bottled June 1998. Bright golden tawny – orangey gold. Edge that’s very slightly burnt with barley sugar and then medium weight and pure essence of Sémillon with a strong apricot purée aspect. Great acid and extraordinary persistence. Builds on the finish and just goes on and on. Really lively. Drink 2008-2050. 19 points

Château Coutet, Cuvée Madame 1997 Barsac

Picked on 14 October.Dry, warm winter and a three-week-advanced growing season. Frost in April but dry July and hot, yet August encouraged botrytis and a dry September helped. They did two cleaning passages through the vineyard. The two parcels are next to each other – the best parcels with oldest vines. RS 156 g/l. 100% Sémillon. 100% barrel fermented, 100% new oak, all of it in new French oak for three years. Bottled June 2000. Very similar colour to the 1995. Perhaps very, very slightly less orange. Fresher nose than the 1995 with an edge of smokiness. Really quite obvious botrytis on the nose. Great weight and masses of luscious satin texture and lots of acidity, even a hint of Sémillon greenness. Really long with fantastic acidity. Just coming into drinkability. Drink 2014-2060. 19 points

Château Coutet, Cuvée Madame 2001 Barsac

Picked 10 October. Mild winter and early spring. Only 60 bottles of Coutet 2001 left at the château! Needs to be decanted for hours on end. RS 208 g/l. 100% Sémillon. 100% barrel fermented, 100% new oak, all of it in new French oak for three years. Bottled June 2004. Released April 2012.

The colour again is remarkably similar to the tawny gold of the 1995 and 1997. Initially this needs lots of encouragement out of the glass. But then it’s big, leaving a massive impression on the nose in terms of concentration. Sumptuous texture. Hint of saltiness. On and on! Really amazing stuff. The most luxurious sore-throat elixir. The purest pineapple juice you could imagine with a hint of brûlée. So rich but with fantastic acidity. Drink 2020-2070. 20 points

Château Coutet, Cuvée Madame 2003 Barsac

New label. Mild winter, early budding on 24 March and a very hot and sunny summer. Picked 30 September. Rain in September kick-started a very rapid botrytis attack. The noble rot infection needs to be homogeneous. RS 230 g/l. 100% Sémillon. 100% barrel fermented, 100% new oak, all of it in new French oak for three years. Bottled June 2006. Released September 2015. Colour remarkably similar to the three previous vintages 2003, 1997 and 1995. Quite a different nose from the other three. Spicy, candied citrus peel. Big, round and really quite opulent. Very sweet and easy to love. White peach juice, but without quite the nerve of acidity of the previous three vintages. Drink 2015-2030. 18,5 points

Jancis Robinson