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Three years before Pierre Lurton took the reins at the iconic Sauternes property, now part of the LVMH portfolio, a modern benchmark was established by this truly great d’Yquem. Reckoned to be on a par with the legendary 1921, its seductive and blossomy aromas, lush and profoundly complex palate and seemingly endless finish are good for half a century. Magnificent.
Product Code: BW2642
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Yquem has been in a class of its own since the 18th century and was put on a pedestal in the 1855 classification as the only premier cru supérieur in Sauternes. It is undisputedly the finest dessert wine in France; some will say the world.The property dates back to the 15th century, and was even owned by the King of England during the Middle Ages, but perhaps the most significant owners in its long history have been the Lur Saluces family, who acquired the estate in the 18th century.It passed through various generations, most recently Alexandre de Lur Saluces, who ran Yquem for 35 years from 1968, although by this point the family were no longer majority shareholders. Since 1999, the property has been owned by the luxury goods group LVMH (Louise Vuitton Moët Hennessy), and they spare no effort to see that it maintains its reputation. In 2004 they appointed Pierre Lurton, of the famous Lurton family of winemakers, as director of the château. He has been at the helm ever since, using his family’s knowhow to ensure Yquem exhibits vitality as well as great depth and precision which was always a characteristic of the great long-living vintages of the past.The situation on a marvellous well-drained hill is partly the reason for its fame, but infinite care in the 113 hectares of different vineyard plots make the most of this: in accordance with practices established at Yquem in the 19th century, every vintage the pickers go over each plot up to six times, ensuring they only pick each grape at the optimum moment. Each vine produces only one glass of wine. The blend is an 80/20 split between semillon and sauvignon respectively, and once fermentation is complete, the wine ages for 30 months in 100% new oak.This château’s iconic reputation has been fully merited in nearly every vintage of the last century, and each vintage can easily age for between 5 and 50 years, in many cases far longer. In certain years, and only when conditions are right, Yquem also produces a superb dry white called ‘Y’. A 50/50 blend of semillon and sauvignon, it is aged on its lees for at least a year in barrels, of which a third are new. Y is a wine of magnificent balance and is a remarkable illustration of the potential of Yquem’s grapes even before they have been affected by noble rot.
Certainly the most famous sweet wine of France and probably the World, the luscious, complex wines of Sauternes owe their existence to a mould. The fungus in question is called botrytis cinerea, known to the French by the more attractive name of pourriture noble and to many others as noble rot. 25 miles south of the city of Bordeaux the confluence of the Garonne and its tributary the Ciron, in conjunction with the hilly geography of the area and sunny autumn weather, creates a misty early morning microclimate that is perfect for botrytis to begin and flourish. As the day warms up and the mist clears the botrytis is stabilised and remains in its benign form. Should damp, humid or rainy weather strike the vineyards all will be lost as botrytis transforms itself into the more pernicious grey rot, in which case no sauternes can be made. These unfortunate circumstances happen about twice a decade and add the already challenging economic environment for all but the wealthiest producers. Great pine forests to the west offer some protection from bad weather but making sauternes is a labour of love, perhaps even a labour of passion.Semillon is the principal grape, useful because its thin skin is pierced easily by the botrytis to allow it to feed on the moisture inside, concentrating the grape sugars and glycerol, and heightening the acidity. The second grape is sauvignon blanc which makes up about 25% of plantings, while the fragrant muscadelle brings up the rear. Vines are carefully pruned and tended in order to encourage development of the fungus. Once the botrytis appears it affects bunches unevenly, both in terms of the individual grapes within the bunch and across the vineyard. It is necessary for pickers to make several passes, up to ten on the best properties, to pick even single grapes as they are affected, and each vine yields only enough juice for a single glass of wine. Sometimes the harvest can take two months to complete. Is it any wonder that the best Sauternes is relatively expensive?Fermentation takes place in oak barrels and can be slow because the yeasts occasionally find the sticky, sugary juice almost overwhelming, with an ever present danger of the fermentation stopping before the desired outcome is achieved. The finished wine spends some time in barrel, during which time some evaporation is allowed, before bottling.The best terroirs are considered to be on the higher ground furthest from the Garonne and above the Ciron, where the legendary Château d’Yquem sits. Soils in the appellation are a mixture of gravel, clay and limestone, and limestone, over the communes of Sauternes, Barsac, Bommes, Fargues and Preignac. Where the soils do not offer excellent drainage systems for it have been put in place.Sauternes, and by extension Barsac, were the only wines outside of the Médoc and Château Haut-Brion to be included in the famous 1855 Classification, with Château d’Yquem preminent.PREMIER CRU SUPÉRIEURChâteau d’YQUEM - SauternesPREMIERS CRUSChâteau LA TOUR BLANCHE - Sauternes. Château LAFAURIE-PEYRAGUEY - Sauternes. Clos HAUT-PEYRAGUEY – Sauternes. Château de RAYNE VIGNEAU - Sauternes. Château SUDUIRAUT – Sauternes. Château COUTET - Barsac. Château CLIMENS – Barsac. Château GUIRAUD - Sauternes. Château RIEUSSEC - Sauternes. Château RABAUD-PROMIS - Sauternes. Château SIGALAS RABAUD - SauternesSECONDS CRUSChâteau de MYRAT - Barsac. Château DOISY DAËNE - Barsac. Château DOISY-DUBROCA - Barsac. Château DOISY-VÉDRINES - Barsac. Château d’ARCHE - Sauternes. Château FILHOT - Sauternes. Château BROUSTET - Barsac. Château NAIRAC - Barsac. Château CAILLOU – Barsac. Château SUAU - Barsac. Château de MALLE – Sauternes. Château ROMER du HAYOT - Sauternes. Château ROMER – Sauternes. Château LAMOTHE - Sauternes. Château LAMOTHE-GUIGNARD - SauternesLess exalted sweet wines are made across Bordeaux. Much of it is produced, unlike wines affected by botrytis, by stopping fermentation through the use of sulphur dioxide, chilling the fermenting must and sterile filtration. These wines are often labelled moelleux and they can be very mediocre. Such wines can be labelled as Bordeaux Supérieur, Graves Supérieur, Côtes de Bordeaux-Saint-Macaire, Côtes de Bordeaux-Sainte-Foy and Premier Côtes de Bordeaux. Some appellations where botrytis wines are made and which can rival good sauternes are Sainte-Croix-du-Mont, Cadillac, Cérons and Loupiac. For this latter group, depressed prices in comparison with the wines of Sauternes and Barsac, have led some producers to abandon the expensive botrytis method and to make sweet wines more cheaply by following the methods of the less exalted practitioners mentioned above. Those prepared to invest the time, effort and money into making use of their terroir and the conditions it offers can make characterful, botrytis affected wines.
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