She was introduced to us as ‘vivacious,’ and that she was even under the duress of jetlag, having just flown to Seattle from France. Aline Baly spoke with just a whisper of her Boston accent, the city in which she had spent twenty years. Her presentation was conversational and jovial. She drew us all in with her funny stories and humble manner. More than approachable, she was absolutely delightful. Yet, when she spoke of the wine, it wasn’t just her native tongue pronunciations of the grapes and the regions in her ‘absolutment parfait!’ French (because she is after all,) that introduced a refinement to her talk. There was an elegance, a sweet, delicate, lushness in her descriptions of the wines from her family Chateau in Sauternes that was both crisp and poetic.
Sauternes in general is a tough sell in the US. For one thing, they are fairly expensive because of the production of the wines themselves. The grapes must be botrytised, a natural process that cannot be hurried or even counted on completely. The grapes, because of the botrytis (aka noble rot, a mold that grows on the grapes, dehydrating them and producing a very concentrated flavor in the wine) have to be hand picked. Where one vine will produce several bottles of a still wine, one vine will produce one bottle of a botrytised Sauternes. The cost of the wine is not unjustified. But the second reason that Sauternes are not as commonly enjoyed in the US as they are in France, is that we don’t know quite when to serve them. In Barsac, where Chateau Coutet is located, Sauternes are served as an apparitif. The acidity of the base grapes, Sauvignon Blanc and Semillon, allow for that. They are, also served with roasted herbed chicken, wonderful with lobster, and delightful with all kinds of cheese from a strong blue cheese to a salty hard cheese to a creamy soft cheese. Aline Baly doesn’t like the term ‘dessert’ for her wine. She feels that pigeon holes the product. In her village in France, Sauternes are referred to as ‘gold’ wines, another color in the wine rainbow, white, gold, rosé, and red.
As we tasted through the Chateau Coutet Sauternes from vintages ranging from 1976 to 2011, we experienced aromas of citrus, ginger, honey, dried fruit, orange marmalade, gingerbread and raisins. Each year had a little different story to tell.
We were also, treated to Opalie, a non-botrytised wine from Barsac. The 2011 is made from 50% Semillon and 50% Sauvignon Blanc. It had aromas of lemon, ginger and bay leaf with a lushness to it that was held up beautifully by the vibrant acidity of the wine.
Drinking the wines of Chateau Coutet is not unlike listening to the bi-lingual speech patterns of Aline Baly. They move from crisp, upfront and vivacious to lush, elegant and poetic, and they do so seamlessly. They are at the same time fresh and approachable, yet, complex and interesting. What Ms. Baly would like Americans to know is that Sauternes are not just elegant and lovely, they are, also, quite versatile.