The List




The List


Chateau d'Yquem

Like the duck billed platypus, d’Yquem occupies a solitary position in a classification system; as the only Premier Cru Superieur classed wine in the 1855 classification of Sauternes and Barsac, it is peerless in both a strictly logical sense, and when compared, more subjectively, to any of the world’s great sweet wines.

Situated on land that once belonged to the English Crown, d’Yquem is planted with a mix of 80% semillon and 20% sauvignon blanc. Interestingly, although the topsoil is typically gravely with some flat pebbles, which facilitates heat accumulation and is typical of much of Bordeaux’s finer terroir, the subsoil is clay-rich, necessitating the installation of drainage pipes to prevent waterlogging. Harvesting is by hand, which enables the estate to select, at the perfect times, the fully botrytised grapes that provide the most concentrated flavour. Botrytisation itself, as in other parts of the Sauternes appellation, is aided by the proximity to the Atlantic Ocean and its salty breeze. Fermentation is in oak, followed by around three years in the bottle.

Tasting any vintage of d’Yquem is an event, such is the estate’s reputation, but an exceptional vintage, like the 2001, provides a showcase for the wine’s greatest qualities and will reward the palate with a truly extra-sensory experience.

The nose of the 2001 displays peach, honey and barley sugar overtones, with a hint of spiciness. With the first sip it becomes apparent that there is a denseness and concentration to this wine, suggesting that its full potential will not be reached until at least 2015 or beyond. There is, though, an amazing depth of raisiny, floral, complexity here, which, together with the trademark silky texture, fully justifies the cliché of bottled sunshine.

While this may sound like an overpoweringly sweet and concentrated experience, it is not; unlike some of the lesser Sauternes, and offerings from the New World, d’Yquem, in its best years, balances its sweetness and opulence with a finely judged acidity that cuts through the wine, and prevents sickliness becoming the predominant characteristic. In some ways, it is analogous to a perfect tarte aux pommes, where the acidity of the apples perfectly compensates for the sweetness of the pastry. The finish is lingering and sustained, with the flavour remaining imprinted on the tastebuds for what seems like minutes.

Of course, this all comes at a price, and our recommendation, the 2001 vintage, in particular, is currently commanding a stratospheric premium over a wine like the admittedly lesser, but still appealing, and eminently drinkable 1997. If your patience and wealth is up to the task, the former will reward like few other wines, but so will most d’Yquems. Your choice is merely how much money and time you feel is worth investing in its ultimate incarnation. We would not blame you if a lifetime and a small fortune were involved.