Château d’Yquem vertical tasting
It took me a nano-second to respond when asked: “Would you like to attend a vertical tasting of Château d’Yquem presented by the marketing director, Jean-Phillipe le Moine?”
Regarded by many as a source of some of the world’s greatest sweet wines, Château d’Yquem is literally in a class of its own. In the 1855 Classification of Sauternes and Barsac wines, Yquem is the only wine to occupy the very highest status of Premier Cru Supérieur.Regarded by many as a source of some of the world’s greatest sweet wines, Château d’Yquem is literally in a class of its own.
Each vine produces enough grapes to make just one glass of Yquem. The maximum yield is 9 hl/ha (1.2 tonnes/ha) compared with the normal 25 hl/ha in Sauternes. Furthermore, only 40-60% of the crop is used to make Château d’Yquem or the dry “Y”. The rest produces a moderately sweet wine that is given to guests at the Chateau, where it is most commonly served over ice. Occasionally the wine does not meet the winemaker’s exacting standards and no Yquem is produced. That has happened 10 times since 1900 (1910, ’15, ’30, ’51, ’52, ’64, 72, ’74, ’92 and 2012)
I asked Jean-Phillipe what was the greatest vintage of Yquem he had tasted. Without hesitating he replied “1945.” The 1945 harvest was during the war and made by women, which some believe was the secret of that successful vintage.
I’ve tasted around 40 different vintages of Yquem. The stand-out vintage for me was 1967, although when a wine is sealed with cork there is no such thing as great vintages, only great bottles.
We started the tasting with the 2017 Château d’Yquem “Y” Bordeaux (NZD $450). All of the wines in the tasting are available from Maison Vauron in Auckland, although prices are best estimates. 2017 was a pretty good vintage that produced juicy, forward Sauternes. Until 1995 “Y” was picked at the same time as Yquem, but since that date has been picked before Yquem in order to make fresher and more vibrant wine. Like Yquem, “Y” is a blend of 75% semillon and 25% sauvignon blanc.
The 2017 “Y” showed restrained opulence. Long and linear, it has lovely acidity with a strong semillon influence. Mineral, a suggestion of honey, green apple and subtle floral flavours. In a word, delicious. “Y” is fermented in stainless steel tanks and matured on one-year-old Yquem barrels. Château d’Yquem sells its barrels to other producers, who are not allowed to advertise the fact that they are from Yquem. Some are used to age Glenmorangie whisky, which is described as Sauternes finish.
The 2016 Château d’Yquem Sauternes is from a “fresh and friendly vintage without the complexity of a great year.” An aromatic wine, concentrated and opulent, it is surprisingly accessible now. I liked the wine’s freshness and energy, preferring it to some of the older wines from more highly acclaimed vintages. Delicate Sauternes with white flowers, citrus, mandarin, honey and peach. (NZD $966)
Château d’Yquem’s 2011 Sauternes is from a top vintage that produced “racy, detailed, pure and driven” wines. I liked it best (and that was before we had been given prices) for its concentration, richness and lusciousness. Bush honey, orange peel, honeycomb and tropical fruit flavours. The wine has a perfect balance of sweetness and acidity. Very long. Will age splendidly, although absolutely delicious now. (NZD $1114)
The 2005 Château d’Yquem Sauternes was from a short vintage, with the grapes all picked in nine days instead of the normal span of up to two months. The year produced “opulent, structured wines with underlying finesse.” Whether a function of vintage or bottle age, probably both, the wine seemed quite developed with a reasonably deep colour. It’s starting to lose its fresh fruit flavours and is showing riper fruit characters with a suggestion of oriental spices. Subtle phenolics on the finish would encourage me to drink this wine sooner rather than later. (NZD $1047)
Château d’Yquem Sauternes 2003 is from a very good vintage that produced “exotic, ripe and spicy Sauternes.” Deep in colour, with impressive intensity and strong honey together with slightly burnt toffee aromas and an impressive array of spice and ripe tree and tropical fruit flavours. I can’t imagine that the wine will be a long distance runner but it’s very good now. (NZD $966)
Finally, the 1997 Château d’Yquem showed a very developed colour but has good acidity and impressive concentration with honey, salt, caramel, mineral vanilla, tree fruit, golden queen peach flavours. From a vintage that made balanced, racy and structured wines. (NZD $966)