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With an annual production of 10,000 bottles a year, Y (pronounced "ee-grek" in French) is a rare wine. It is made from the same outstanding terroir and the same vines as Château d'Yquem. Although work in the vineyard is every bit as meticulous, the grapes are picked and the wine made in a different way.
Y was formerly made at the end of the harvest, with the last bunches left on the vines. These grapes, affected to varying degrees by Botrytis cinerea, but never with more than 15% potential alcohol, resulted in a very unusual wine. This explains why it has always been produced in small quantities and on an irregular basis since 1959. Y changed starting in 1996, but without compromising its unique character, to be more in tune with the times by displaying the qualities of freshness and crispness – essential for a modern great white wine. It was decided in 2004 to make Y every year. It is thus by deliberate choice that we now harvest certain plots of Sauvignon Blanc at the beginning of the vintage, making sure to pick perfectly ripe bunches. These are completed by Sémillon grapes picked just at that fleeting stage when the grapes have reached maximum ripeness, botrytis has just appeared, and the skins have turned a pinkish colour. This is the precise moment when this grape variety's tannins are soft enough for the aromatic potential of the best plots of clay soil to come through.
The wine receives close attention all during fermentation: light, precise pressing as well as temperature-controlled must racking and alcoholic fermentation in a new aesthetically pleasing, state-of-the-art vat room set aside just for this wine. The end of fermentation and ageing on the lees take place in barrels. Only one third of these are new, and the lees are regularly stirred (bâtonnage) for ten months.
BORDEAUX 2019 VINTAGE
When I was visiting Bordeaux early March, Corona was a threat on the horizon and France has been more concerned by a strike of the air traffic control. However, I was travelling to Bordeaux and had the chance to get some first insights to the 2019 vintage. I was very much looking forward to the “en primeur tastings” which were scheduled for March 26, 2020 but the tastings were cancelled mid-March. Immediately I contacted the different associations and wineries in Bordeaux and asked for samples.
The result was a small number of wines which arrived in Essen before the shutdown of France made shipments rather difficult. These first samples of the vintage 2019 were tasted under pristine conditions to assure a fair and equal assessment of all qualities. In fact, the samples proved right the opinion of some of Bordeaux’ leading figures. Bruno-Eugène Borie from Château Ducru-Beaucaillou sees 2019 in a line with the excellent vintages of 2016, 2010, 2009 und 2005.
Henri Lurton talks about his best vintage, along with 2016, he has ever vinified at Château Brane-Cantenac. Philippe Dhalluin from Château Mouton-Rothschild asses the vintage as rich and abundant in quality and also in quantity. After some smaller crops they came back to an average production.
Emmanuel Cruse from Château d’Issan sees that 2019 has a lot in common with 2016 yet preserving more freshness. It is a very good vintage but appearing at a very difficult time on the market. In fact, the start of this vintage was very positive. Enough precipitations during winter were retained by soils like chalk and clay. Vineyards on these water retaining soils had a huge advantage in the future growing period. With exception of a wet June, the vintage has taken advantage of a rather dry climatic condition, which prevented diseases in the vineyards to a huge extend. No chance for powdery or downy mildew. Even the heat waves were not really harming the vines as rain set in, always at the last moment but still early enough to prevent massive water stress and a slow-down of the maturity. The late physiological maturity brought a lot of alcohol, but the wines show more freshness as in the previous years.
Fabien Teitgen, Winemaker of Smith-Haut-Lafitte relates this freshness to the good acidity “due to cool night temperatures during the ripening period”. This fact is also good news for white wines. „They are the big surprise “, says Olivier Bernard of Domaine de Chevalier.
At Château Coutet in Barsac, Philippe and Aline Baly were harvesting in three passes with a total of 19 harvesting days. They judge the conditions as rather ideal: “These climatic conditions have generated a harvest whose quality is indisputably present.” Same samples made their way to Essen and I have tasted them. Some more samples are announced and will hopefully arrive during the current week. There will be a weekly update of my tasting notes, whenever samples will arrive.
Unfortunately, 2019 arrives in a difficult time, the Corona virus puts the world in fear and makes trade more and more difficult. Trade berries and new customs duties create a difficult frame for this vintage. However, we should not forget one thing: there are wonderful 2019s waiting for us, wines with ageing potential and charm which will survive every crisis.