Chateau d’Yquem is arguably the world’s best dessert wine, certainly one of the world’s most famous. Chateau d’Yquem is bottled as a Sauternes 1er Cru Superieur the only sweet Bordeaux wine in this top category. The wine is made in the French appellation of Sauternes in Bordeaux. Sauternes is located within the Graves sub-region of Bordeaux on the left bank of the Garonne River.
Chateau d’Yquem has a long history and there are records of vines grown at the Chateau since 1711. The most recent owners, the Lur-Saluces family first entered into estate in 1785 when when Françoise-Joséphine de Sauvage d’Yquem married Count Louis-Amédée de Lur-Saluces. The estate remained in the Lur-Saluces family, albeit with various familial wranglings and declining sales in the 1970s et al., until 1996 when French luxury goods giant LVMH Moët Hennessy Louis Vuitton bought 55% of Château d’Yquem from the family of the Comte Alexandre de Lur-Saluces. The Comte remained in charge until 2004 when he retired and since then Pierre Lurton, the current managing director of Château Cheval Blanc has managed the estate.
Chateau d’Yquem has 126 hectares of vineyards in the Sauternes appellation with plantings of 80% Sémillon and 20% Sauvignon Blanc. The hand harvest is very carefully planned. Every vintage the harvest takes around 6 passes through the vineyard to ensure that only grapes infect with noble rot (Botrytis cinerea) are selected. Yields are low at abouth 9 hectolitres per hectare compared to the norm of 12 to 20 in Sauternes. The grapes are pressed three or four times and are then barrel fermented in new French oak barrels. Wine made from grapes picked on the same day is aged separately for six to eight months. A preliminary blend is made from selected batches in the spring following the harvest. After taste tests and laboratory analyses, wines not up to the Chateau’s strict standards are set aside. The barrels that have been retained are then moved to the ageing cellar where they will stay for twenty months. Every barrel is topped up twice a week and every barrel is racked fifteen times to remove heavy lees.
2001 was a superb vintage. From Chateau d’Yquem: 2001 was “a picture perfect growing season, with a dry month of September (sunny and moderately warm) that was ideal for retaining acidity and freshness. A few showers came at just the right time and an anticyclone completed a fortuitous set of circumstances that induced widespread botrytisation. The grapes showed rare concentration and great purity. This is clearly a benchmark vintage.”
Production is around 65,000 bottled per vintage. If a vintage is not considered good enough to bear Yquem’s name, the whole vintage is sold off anonymously.