Great wines are not born just anywhere, by accident. A unique set of climatic and geological conditions combine to form a rare equilibrium. This is undoubtedly the case at Yquem, which epitomises all that is best about the singular winegrowing environment in Sauternes. Château d'Yquem's topsoil is warm and dry, accumulating heat thanks to smooth flat pebbles and coarse gravel. The clay subsoil contains good water reserves and there are numerous springs on the estate. Drainage pipes were installed some time ago to prevent waterlogging (100 km of drains since the 19th century). Yquem's large size made it possible to plant 113 hectares of vines on a very representative sampling of the rich tapestry of the Sauternes region's soil types. This extraordinary variety of soils is a key factor in the quality and complexity of Château d’Yquem.
Château d'Yquem has 113 hectares of vines, of which only one hundred produce grapes in a given vintage. Two to three hectares of vines that are too old are uprooted annually, and the soil left fallow for a year. Furthermore, it takes at least five years before new vines produce grapes that are up to Yquem's very strict standards. Twelve hectares of vines are thus non-productive every year. Yquem is planted with two grape varieties: Sémillon (75%), which produces a rich wine with body and structure, and Sauvignon Blanc (25%), an early-ripening but less reliable producer, which contributes aromas and finesse. The vines are tended with the greatest of care. Workers perpetuate a long tradition of painstaking work under the watchful eye of the vineyard manager.
Château d'Yquem's microclimate is in the heart of a 20 km strip of land along both sides of the Garonne Valley where all of Bordeaux's sweet and semi-sweet white wine appellations (Sainte Croix du Mont, Loupiac, Cérons, Cadillac, and Barsac) are located.
The fact that all of Sauternes' great growths (eleven first growths and twelve seconds) are located around Château d'Yquem – the only Premier Cru Supérieur – tends to bear out Yquem's ideal location. The magic phenomenon of botrytisation is nevertheless fragile and subject to numerous meteorological factors. If the weather is too dry, noble rot is stymied. And if it rains too much, the grapes stop becoming concentrated. Furthermore, other types of fungus are waiting in the wings to take advantage of botrytis' weaknesses to take its place and ruin the grapes irredeemably... Accepting such risks inevitably leads to very low yields at Yquem and sometimes even calls for abandoning the entire crop.
2019 'Y' Dry White Wine - $325
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. 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. The final blend is made after tasting. It usually consists predominantly of Sauvignon Blanc and a few lots of Sémillon.
The weather for the 2019 vintage was characterised by a cool, wet spring, followed by very hot conditions lasting from June until mid-August. The heatwave enabled the vines to catch up with somewhat delayed growth and led to very quick ripening. Thanks to these conditions, we began the 2019 harvest of Y relatively early. We picked the grapes used to make our great dry white wine between the 26th of August and the 5th of September when a perfect balance between richness and freshness was achieved, guaranteeing a quality vintage. Alcohol content: 14.15%Vol.- Residual sugars: 5 g/L - Total acidity: 6 g/L H2T – pH: 3.20 Sauvignon 75% - Sémillon 25%
2018 Château d'Yquem - $425 in 375mL ; $850 in 750mL
The 2018 growing season unfolded under near-tropical conditions with much higher rainfall than usual and temperatures 2.7°C above average! This resulted in vigorous vine growth and the intense threat of diseases. Above all, 2018 was "a year of the winegrowers", whose hard work and home-grown expertise maintained the vines in impeccable condition. On the 15th of July, a violent hailstorm struck the south-facing plateau stretching in front of the château, causing localised yet considerable damage to the grapes. It took until the 15th of August for the weather to radically change, signalling a return to fine and very dry conditions which lasted throughout September.
Under sunny skies and with rainfall 80% below average from mid-August until late September, the grapes reached even, optimum ripeness, with up to 16% potential alcohol in the golden-ripe berries. In contrast, Botrytis cinerea remained very discreet and the pickers had to wait patiently for five long weeks. Finally, between the 5th and 13th of October, welcome rainfall led to the spread of noble rot. After such a long wait, picking resumed, grape by grape, from the 17th of October onwards. The fully botrytised grapes reached peak concentration between the 22nd and the 27th of October, constituting the lion's share of the 2018 vintage. The rain then returned from the 30th of October to the 4th of November, and the harvesting window suddenly closed. Thanks to the patience and availability of our faithful pickers over those 17 days, we managed to overcome the vagaries of this capricious vintage.
Despite the unpredictable weather, the vintage was a tremendous success! In 2018, winegrowers played an essential role, meticulously caring for the vines right until the harvest, before noble rot waved its magic wand in late October, rewarding all their efforts. Alcohol content: 13.50%Vol– Residual sugar: 145 g/L – Total acidity: 5.5 g/L H2T– pH: 3.95 Sémillon : 85% - Sauvignon Blanc : 15%
"Average temperatures 2.7°C over average, combined with 20% of the normal rainfall from mid August to the end of July made makes this a naturally rich, lowyielding vintage (40% less than average, not helped by a hail storm in July), with a gloriously gourmet 145g/ha residual sugar, and a pH level of 3.95. As ever with Yquem, patience was the key, taking in the grapes slowly but surely over 17 days harvest that extended well into October. The results in the glass are intense and glossy, full of satin-textured apricot and white peach flavours. There are exotic fruits of pineapple and mango but winemaker Sandrine Garbay has kept a focus on fresher flavours of lime zest and citrus that balance out the natural richness and concentration. Pretty closed right now, but there is power and balance here, an excellent Yquem. Drinking Window 2022 - 2050." - 97 Points, Jane Anson, Decanter
Also available in the following big formats:
Magnum (1.5L) - $1700
Double Magnum (3L) - $3400
Imperial (6L) - $6900
This is a pre-arrival offer on the latest Yquem release, with wines due to arrive in April 2021. To place your order please contact Phil Stanton at firstname.lastname@example.org or 07 3252 1117. Payment will be required up front and in full to confirm your order. Prices valid until 9th of October.