Owner: Domaines Barons de Rothschild
Classification: Premier Cru
Vineyard area: 93 hectares
Average annual production: 6,000 cases of Chateau Rieussec
Standard blend: 90-95% Semillon, 5-10% Muscadelle and Sauvignon Blanc
Other wines: Carmes de Rieussec, Clos Labere, Chateau de Cosse, R de Rieussec
Rieussec was one of many properties to be sequestered by the state during the French Revolution, having previously been owned by the monks of Carmes de Langon. It was touted as “an object of national heritage” at a public sale in 1790 and was purchased by a Monsieur Mareilhac, the owner of Chateau La Louviere in Pessac-Leognan. In 1846, the estate was sold to Monsieur Mayne, who saw it classified as a Premier Cru Sauternes and Barsac in 1855. Quality was such that British wine enthusiast Charles Cocks remarked, “Beyond any of the others, Rieussec produces wines that are very similar to Yquem wines.”
Beginning in 1870, however, a quick succession of sales, compounded by war, phylloxera (a microscopic insect that lives on and eats roots of grapes) and oidium (a fungal spore), resulted in neglect and a sharp decline in quality. Although Albert Vuillier sought to rescue the ailing estate upon acquiring it in 1971, the sheer scale of the project and a lack of finances limited his success and he sold it the following decade.
The Rothschilds stepped in in 1984 and have since poured substantial investment into renovation, construction and sorting measures. Their efforts, along with those of Technical Director Charles Chevalier, appear to have been well rewarded and the estate is now widely recognised as a leading producer of Sauternes.
Alhough quality and scores have reached new frontiers in recent years, Sauternes generally struggles to rise in price. Since December 2003 the Sauternes 50 Index – a sub-index of the Liv-ex Bordeaux 500 – has risen just 6.3%; in that time, the First Growths have risen 175% and their Second Wines 389%.
Rieussec is no exception, rising only 15.6% since December 2003. It is often linked with Lafite Rothschild at En Primeur release and unceremoniously offloaded on to the secondary market, which pushes prices lower. But in the last year the wine has put in a surprising performance: while prices for other Sauternes and Bordeaux in general have been falling (below), Rieussec has risen. In the last year it has climbed 5.9% and so far in 2014 it is the fourth best performing wine in the Liv-ex Bordeaux 500, gaining 2.5%.
Despite the price rises, Rieussec remains relatively affordable in comparison to Bordeaux reds. The 2009 is unquestionably one of the vintage’s greatest bargains. Countless cases were acquired as merchants raced to secure allocations of Lafite, and were subsequently unbundled on the secondary market, leading prices to drop from £550 at release to just £335 per 12x75.
The 2009 has high scores across the board: 97 from Neal Martin, who called it a “stellar wine”, and 18.5 from Jancis Robinson, who describes it as “very big and round and yet refreshing.” The 2010, with similar scores from Martin (96) and Robinson (18.5) is even more affordable at £260, while the 2007 – an exceptional vintage for Sauternes – has a score of 19 from Robinson and a market price of £295.
As you can see from the table below – and given that it costs significantly more to produce a bottle of Sauternes than it does to produce a red – this really is the value-for-money end of Bordeaux.