Château Rieussec 2020
• Domaine: Château Rieussec
• Appellation: Sauternes
• Classification: First Growth, Premier Grand Cru Classé en 1855
• Origin: Left Bank, Bordeaux France
Château Rieussec is considered one of the jewels of the Sauternes and Barsac appellation. This golden nectar requires a team of vignerons who are knowledgeable, flexible, and able to easily pivot. Making Sauternes is not easy, as a lot of it relies on the capricious elements of nature. Producing this beautiful wine from botrytized grapes is an accomplishment in itself but producing one of the top expressions of Sauternes in the world like the offerings of Château Rieussec is something to be celebrated.
Château Rieussec has a long history that dates to the 18th Century when it belonged to an order of Carmelite Monks. During the French Revolution, the property was confiscated by the government. After it was sold as an object of National Heritage, the property changed hands many times until it was eventually purchased by the Gasqueton family, proud owners of the legendary property Château Calon Segur in Saint-Estèphe. Eventually the property was purchased in 1984 from Alain Vuillier by the Rothschilds and Albert Frere. Albert Frere was no stranger to the wine world, as he already owned a portion of the legendary property, Château Cheval Blanc in Saint-Émilion. The facilities were modernized after the Rothschilds were placed at the helm of the estate, and they almost doubled the vineyard holdings. The property now is a sprawling 85 hectares – something that is highly unusual in Sauternes.
The property has a mixture of Semillon, Sauvignon Blanc and Muscadelle grapes that grow in the terroir of clay, gravel, sand and limestone soils. The property has one of the highest elevations in Sauternes – just after Château d’Yquem. Highest points at the vineyard reach up to 78 meters. The vines are 25 years old on average, and the entire harvest process at this property is not without its challenges. With Sauternes, the grapes must be infected with the noble rot which raisinates them so they could produce that sweet, honeyed and delightful beverage. This process happens randomly, so the team at Château Rieussec must be very vigilant when overseeing their vineyard. Like all producers in Sauternes, the harvest is done in passes, and one can imagine how difficult it would be to do several passes on a sprawling vineyard such as that of Château Rieussec.
Ever since the 1997 vintage, vinification has been conducted in slightly used French oak barrels from Château Lafite Rothschild. Some small percentage of the wine is aged in new French oak, depending on how the vintage is shaping up. The Rothschilds have made a plethora of improvements both in the vineyard and at the facilities, and the results speak for themselves. Clearly, Château Rieussec is one of the most elegant, luscious, ageable and complex Sauternes out there. Though the wine is sweet, it’s always fun to think outside the box in terms of pairings for your Sauternes to make the experience a more memorable one. The Château Rieussac Sauternes absolutely sings when paired with dishes like roast poultry, foie gras, cheeses, shellfish oysters or even spicy foods.
"The 2020 Rieussec emerges from a very challenging year marked by an early harvest and just one small window in September with the requisite amount of botrytis in the field. Lemon confit, marzipan, tangerine oil and white flowers are all beautifully woven together in a mid-weight, gracious Rieussec that is all class. Residual sugar is 120 grams per liter, but is not especially evident. Production will be around 10,000 bottles, in other words, a fraction of what is typical here." Antonio Galloni, Vinous (June 2021) Rating: 92-94