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The pleasure derived from tasting Yquem is difficult to describe.
It offers a myriad of well-balanced, complex flavours that generate even more harmonies over time. The impression that remains is reminiscent of a quote from Frédéric Dard "the silence that follows a piece by Mozart, in which the listener remains suffused with the music". This reflects the fact that Château d'Yquem stays on the palate for a remarkable long time, providing a unique, prolonged pleasure. There is a lovely expression in French to describe Yquem's tremendously long aftertaste: il fait la queue du paon, which means that it spreads out like a peacock's tail.
It is always difficult to describe wine-tasting experiences with any precision. The senses of sight, smell, taste and touch are all stimulated virtually at the same time. While gifted tasters can identify some of the aromas and flavours in a glass of Yquem in an effort to define its complexity, they never really succeed in communicating its essence or explaining its mystery. Mere analysis, whether chemical or organoleptic, is not sufficient to account for Yquem's greatness. Yquem tells a unique story... It starts with the bouquet. Although not always very outgoing in young vintages, it is marked by fruit (apricot, mandarin, and occasionally tropical fruit) and oak (vanilla and toasty aromas). Older vintages, on the other hand, have an extraordinarily complex fragrance as soon as the bottle is opened, with hints of dried fruit (dried apricot, prune, stewed fruit, and marmalade), spice (cinnamon, saffron, and liquorice), and even flowers (lime blossom, etc.). The first impression of Château d'Yquem on the palate is always very silky, and often sumptuous. It then fills out, "coating the palate". This fine wine has a strong, but never overbearing character, with great elegance and poise. It always maintains a balance between sugar and acidity (sweetness and freshness). A touch of bitterness can also contribute to the overall harmony. Château d'Yquem's aftertaste is legendary, and it tells another story, which lasts and lasts…
Certain connoisseurs consider it outrageous to drink a young Yquem and believe that opening such a monumental wine before its thirtieth birthday is tantamount to a sacrilege. Others, on the contrary, think that Yquem can be enjoyed at all stages in its life.
Chateau d`Yquem is often described as the greatest sweet wine in the world. After centuries of family ownership, Yquem was was bought by Louis Vuitton-Moët-Hennessy in 1999. Its former owner and director Alexandre de Lur-Saluce remains in charge. Yquem is located on the highest hill in Sauternes and enjoys the best growing conditions in the whole appellation. The 110-hectare vineyard is planted with 80% Sémillon and 20% Sauvignon Blanc. Only fully botrytized fruit is picked by the 150 highly skilled pickers and yields are so low that each vine produces only one glass of wine. Yquem is fermented in oak barrels (100% new) and is left in barriques to mature for up to 36 months. Intensely opulent when young, Yquem develops an extraordinary complexity and exotic richness when fully mature, with the best vintages lasting for over 50 years. Château d'Yquem is classified as a 1er Cru Classé supérieur.
When the Bordeaux region wines were classified in 1855, only Château d’Yquem received a classification of its own, Premier Grand Cru Classé, higher than anybody else. Even if the estate could use that classification on its labels, it does not. Today, the estate produces the best wine in its area, in the opinion of some experts the best in Bordeaux. Its location on the highest spot in Sauternes has created a unique micro-climate that varies a lot from year to year. This requires an extremely careful and precise winemaking process, and during poor years, the estate does not produce anything at all.
- “The climatic conditions during the growth period, and the harvest period in particular, when we wait for noble rot to affect the grapes, give our wines their unique personality. This natural process is entirely dependent on weather. We can only decide when and how to harvest” said Alexandre de Lur-Saluces.
In difficult years, harvesting may take up to 8 to 10 weeks. The grapes are still harvested by hand only when they are completely covered by noble rot, not before. Often, as many as ten picks are needed during one harvest. If the grapes are not perfectly ripe, they are left unpicked. Even after winemaking and barrel maturation the wine may be rejected if it does not develop as expected. This happened, for example, in 1978 and 1979, when more than half of the wine was rejected, and occasionally the entire vintage is eliminated: 9 vintages of Yquem are totally absent from the 20th century: 1910, 1915, 1930, 1951, 1952, 1964, 1972, 1974, and 1992.
- “Most people think that taking care of a world-famous estate like Château d’Yquem does not require any effort. Just like other companies, changing world markets affect us too, not to speak of the weather. The year 1974 was one of the most difficult in my time. That depressing year we were not able to produce a single bottle of Yquem and managed to sell only four cases, of our other vintages” Alexandre de Lur-Saluces reminisced.