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
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
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.