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Chateau d'Yquem: The Importance
In Jancis Robinson’s words, Château d’Yquem is the “greatest wine of Sauternes, and according to the famous 1855 Classification, of the entire Bordeaux region.” Unquestionably the most famous sweet wine on the planet and arguably the finest, Yquem holds a special place in the hearts of wine lovers all around the world and was placed in a category of its own in the 1855 Classification, as the only Premier Cru Supérieur in Sauternes.
Consistently highly rated by world renowned critics such as Robert Parker, Neal Martin and Jancis Robinson, Yquem is one of the few wines in the world that unites opinion, with critics clamouring to praise its depth, precision and intensity. This wine also has an incredible capacity for ageing, with bottles from the 1800’s still drinking beautifully 100 years later. Some standout vintages of Yquem have been 2001, 2005, 2007, 2009, 2014 and 2015, with Neal Martin describing the 2015 vintage as “an astonishing wine…that is likely to rank with the pantheon of greats from this estate.” But it is hard to overlook this incredible wine in any vintage.
The style of wine produced at Yquem is rich and generous. Martin describes the 2009 Yquem as having aromas of “lemon curd, nectarine, jasmine and honeysuckle”, and these typically develop into caramel, nuttiness and even chocolate as it ages. Though the wine is sweet, the level of acidity keeps the wine fresh and lively and the wines from Château d’Yquem continue to evolve past the point where many other sweet wines are reaching the end of their life cycle.
Chateau d'Yquem: The Insight
Botrytis cinerea, or noble rot, plays a hugely important role at Yquem. This fungus attacks the grapes, and causes them to become dehydrated, which concentrates all of the flavours in the fruit. During harvest, pickers will always pass through the vineyard multiple times to pick the fruit at its best, differing levels of botrytis contribute to the final complexity of the wine. Due to the intensive sorting required to make the quality of wine expected at Yquem, yields are extremely low and one vine will only produce one glass of wine.
The vineyards of Château d’Yquem, planted with 80% Sémillon and 20% Sauvignon Blanc, are at the highest elevation in all of Sauternes, which gives it an ideal microclimate. Winds move through the vineyard helping to remove excess moisture, which could turn noble rot into destructive rot.
Demand for Château d’Yquem is strong, and En Primeur campaigns are useful for those seeking specific formats of Yquem. At time of writing, the record for the most expensive bottle of white wine sold at auction is held by a bottle of 1811 Yquem which, in 2011, sold at auction for $117,000.
The dry white wine also produced at Château d’Yquem since 1959, the Y d'Yquem (also known as Ygrec) is also well regarded by critics and consumers. The style of this wine shifted in 2004, when a decision was made to use only grapes picked at the fleeting moment just before they begin to botrytise. The blend in this wine is usually 80% Sauvignon Bland and 20% Sémillon and only about 10,000 bottles are produced each year. This is aged in a mixture of new oak and old Yquem barrels. Neal Martin described the 2007 vintage of this wine as having “a light, fragrant nose with apple-blossom, pink grapefruit, citrus lemon and just a touch of cold granite.”
Chateau d'Yquem: The Background
With its history going back hundreds of years, Château d’Yquem was at one point owned by the King of England during the Middle Ages. Winemaking at this estate seems to have started when it was bought by the Sauvage family in 1711, and was acquired by the Lur Saluces family when the last Sauvage married Comte Louis-Amadée de Lur Saluces. It is clear that by 1787 this wine was well-known, as, in that year, Thomas Jefferson wrote to the estate asking to buy some wine, and wrote that “I know that yours is one of the best growths of Sauterne.” The estate continued to be owned and run by the Lur Saluces family until 1996 when the famous luxury goods company Louis Vuitton-Moët-Hennessy (a.k.a LVMH, owners of Dom Pérignon, Krug, Ruinart, Cheval Blanc, Ardbeg, Glenmorangie, Cloudy Bay, Ao Yun, etc) acquired half of the shares of Château d’Yquem and then later purchased the other half in 2004. Pierre Lurton, who was managing Cheval Blanc, was put in place to run the estate, and has remained there ever since.
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