It needs little introduction. Chateau d’Yquem, often described as the greatest sweet wine in the world, is one of those mystical names loaded with anticipation. Known for its sumptuous hedonism – not to mention, complexity – it has found a natural home being served at the end of the luckiest of dinners. However, as Cellar Master of over 24 years Sandrine Garbay explains during a comparative tasting of the 2019 and 1999 vintages, this extraordinary wine offers far greater versatility than it is often given the chance to reveal.
There is much to envy of Chateau d’Yquem; an estate on the most desirable hill in the Sauternes appellation, 1er Cru Superieur classification and a record for the most expensive bottle of white wine — to name a few. Their 400 year+ history and firm eye on tradition works harmoniously with an uncompromising focus on quality and innovation.
The 2019 vintage in Sauternes wasn’t the easiest to navigate. Starting the year both warmer than usual, 3 degrees above average, and more humid meant disease pressure was greater than ever. Especially when considering the Chateau’s application of organic practises. Thankfully with June came a dry, albeit still hot, summer where Sandrine Garbay highlighted, the grapes showed great aromatic potential.
Complications arose again around harvest. With a storm due on the 14th October, picking was hurried into just 7 days (usually, 6 weeks) with the best grapes prioritised, those picked after the storm not making it into the Yquem blend. Production was down a third for the year.
Yet tasting the 2019 Yquem, coming to market in the Spring, this is all rather hard to believe. “It feels distinctly lifted to me”, Garbay commented. Alongside the characteristic opulence there’s freshness and vibrancy, something she accredits to the unique proportion of Sauvignon to Semillon for the vintage: “we have 45% Sauvignon Blanc to 55% Semillon, very different to our normal 20/80% blend!”.
It’s this brilliance in youth that the Chateau wishes to educate more people of. “You don’t need to be an expert in wine to find pleasure in a young Yquem”. And too, such brightness and approachability has place far beyond the end of a meal. As conversation turned to perfect pairings, Garbay shared her personal favourites; “It’s seafood for me. Scallops, crab, lobster. And spices, roast chicken.” A varied list for something often paired with pudding, but one that makes complete sense upon tasting. Plus Sauternes as an aperitif? She has us converted entirely.
Moving on to the 1999 vintage, which also endured above-average temperatures, talk of freshness remained but richness and concentration deepened too. This feels more familiar to the Chateau d’Yquem many think of. While we were all pleasantly surprised by the approachability of the 2019, there’s an irreplaceable joy in the pure, unadulterated luxury time has offered.
In both, there is huge energy. And each suggests such a breadth of possibility for enjoyment, whether finishing or starting the best of occasions, it feels unquestionable that our personal cellars shall soon be stocked up with all the Yquem we can lay our hands on.
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