There are few wineries whose name is as synonymous with the wine they produce than Chateau d’Yquem. Regarded as one of the world’s greatest sweet wines, Chateau d’Yquem has recently launched a new programme to change the outdated perspective that their Sauternes is simply a dessert wine and to demonstrate its unique versatility. Keep reading to discover Chateau d’Yquem’s exciting initiative and learn more about this iconic estate.
Yquem Through The Ages
Based around 40km from the city of Bordeaux, there have been vineyards on Chateau d’Yquem’s site since at least 1711 (although the estate itself was founded much earlier in 1593). Towards the end of the 18th century, a marriage between the de Sauvage d’Yquem family and the Lur-Saluces brought about a new age for the estate. In the 1855 Classification, Chateau d’Yquem was the only First Growth which was classified as a 1er Cru Superieur Classe in Sauternes-Barsac.
The Lur-Saluces family continued to own and run Chateau d’Yquem for the next two centuries, before LVHM bought the majority stake in 1996. As such long-term custodians of Chateau d’Yquem, the name Lur-Saluces has become intrinsically linked with Sauternes, in particular, Alexandre de Lur Saluces (1934-2023). Over his 36 years as Director of Chateau d’Yquem, Alexandre is rightly credited with upholding and promoting Sauternes as an appellation.
Having once been owned by the French monarchy, Chateau d’Yquem hopped, skipped and jumped both the English Channel and the Atlantic Ocean and gained adoration from the highest in society. For example, following a visit to the Chateau, Thomas Jefferson ordered 250 bottles of the 1784 vintage. It was equally loved by the British monarchy, with bottles of Chateau d’Yquem 1938 having been served at Queen Elizabeth II’s coronation banquet.
From Mold to Gold
Chateau d’Yquem, or any Sauternes for that matter, would not exist without the magic of Botrytis cinerea, otherwise known as noble rot. This fungus attacks grapes on the vine and causes their skins to become permeable and as such, the grapes lose their juice to evaporation which raises their sugar levels. Come harvest, the expert pickers work the vineyards in several phases and select only those grapes whose concentration of sugar have reached the optimum level for Yquem. This extreme selectiveness accounts for the very low yields at the estate, with one vine producing one single glass of Yquem.
Although three grapes are permitted for the production of Sauternes, Chateau d’Yquem’s vineyards are an 80%-20% split between Sauvignon Blanc and Semillon, eschewing Muscadelle. Since 2019, the estate has been working organically in the vineyards, with Bernard Arnault (Managing Director of LVMH) announcing plans for Yquem to be fully biodynamic in the vineyards and cellar in the future.
With vintages dating as far back as almost 200 years, there is plenty of variety and complexity in bottles of Yquem that have (thus far) avoided the dining table. Chateau d’Yquem ranges in colour from ‘the brightness of dawn’ and ‘shimmering straw yellow’ of its newest releases, to ‘golden-brown with amber and caramel highlights’ developing into ‘mahogany’ with further ageing.
Due to the higher sugar content in Chateau d’Yquem’s wines, there is an impressive ageing potential to be realised for many of their vintages. Mathieu Jullien, the marketing and sales director for LVMH Vins d’Exceptions (which includes Chateau d’Yquem, Chateau Cheval Blanc, Domaine des Lambrays and Colgin Cellars), has highlighted Yquem’s enormous lifespan:
“There are so many reasons not to open a bottle of Yquem because it can age for 100 years … We know how long and gracefully Yquem can age.”
When stored correctly, bottles of Chateau d’Yquem can be aged and still deliver on the palate for close to – if not more – than a century. Opening a young bottle of Chateau d’Yquem 25 years after the vintage will reveal a wine with honeyed, tropical fruit notes and fresh acidity. If you can manage to keep your hands off the same bottle for another 10 or more years, the flavour profile transforms into notes of dried fruit, caramel, spice, beurre noisette and even coffee beans.
As palates and tastes have changed over the centuries, different wine styles have fallen in and out of favour. For example, the popularity of Port in England was heightened after the signing of the Methuen Treaty between England and Portugal in 1703, yet nowadays it is rarely seen outside of dinner parties and cheese pairings. Although many today view Sauternes as a pairing for dessert or an after dinner drink, this has not always been the case as historically, Sauternes wines have been served as an aperitif. Chateau d’Yquem has approached our modern, gastronomic-focused era with an innovative new idea: The Lighthouse Programme. This initiative serves to showcase the versatility of Chateau d’Yquem, whether it be at the beginning, middle or end of a meal. Of this new programme, Mathieu Jullien confirms consumers “should not miss this stage” when Chateau d’Yquem is “the freshest and most vibrant it can be.” With 45 of the world’s top restaurants acting as beacons – or Lighthouses – which highlight Chateau d’Yquem’s possibilities, the future for this luminescent drink is bright.
Our upcoming Estate Nights dinner hosted with Chateau d’Yquem aims to demonstrate this versatility further. At London’s most elevated Chinese restaurant at The Dorchester Hotel, China Tang, the six decades of Yquem we will taste will show how vintages can be enjoyed when they are young and fresh as an aperitif, and equally when mature and opulent at the end of the meal.
Contact us below to secure your place at this one-of-a-kind dinner with Chateau d’Yquem before places run out.