Château d’Yquem is a “Premier Cru Supérieur” in Sauternes region of Bordeaux producing world famous botrytized sweet wines. It’s the only château in this category that was granted the highest classification in 1855. Château d’Yquem is alone on the top of this prestigious classification by making exceptional wines from a unique terroir.
Our visit to this renowned château started from its garden. So well designed and maintained that it’s hard to believe it’s a real garden – it looked more like the ones in the dreams. We had some time to wander around and appreciate the beauty of the flowers, plants, and butterflies. This was one of those few moments in life that I wish I could stop the time and spend hours instead of minutes.
Soon after, our guide welcomed us and took us behind the château where we could see the vineyards. Shaded under a tree, she started to tell the story of the château. The philosophy of winemaking in this prestigious château is impressive. Here, only the grapes with the best condition and exact state of noble rot are allowed to be used. If none of the grapes have that condition that year, it simply means there won’t be any Château d’Yquem wine that year. For example, no Château d’Yquem wine was made in the 2012 vintage. They can take the risk of not having wine but never take the risk of decreasing their quality.
There’s a very thin line between noble rot, and infection of the grapes by Botrytis cinerea – a fungus. Noble rot is the state of this infection where the fungus only causes shrivelling of the mature grapes. This happens during moist conditions, and in Sauternes it’s thanks to the morning dew. However, if the grapes don’t dry thoroughly after this state, the infection can pass to the damaging state. In Sauternes, the wind and sunny afternoons help to dry the grapes. This way, grapes with noble rot are formed, which are concentrated in acid, sugar and flavours thanks to loss of water by the fungus.
Another important point in their production is how the grapes are picked. Unlike a common harvest for winemaking with bunches, here the grapes are collected berry by berry after passing through a strict quality control process. This requires a trained team of harvesters. Their harvest team consists of approximately two hundred pickers in total, who are trained specifically year by year to learn and apply the best practices of the picking. All in all, the yield of the production is only eight hectoliters per hectare. To understand how limited this amount is, you can imagine every single plant in the vineyard approximately gives a glass of wine.
The difficulty of the production is not limited to the harvest. It also requires special attention during fermentation and aging. Compared to a common winemaking fermentation, the fermentation of Sauternes wine takes a longer time due to high sugar concentration and chemical composition affected by noble rot. For aging, 100 % new French oak is used. This means all the barrels are renewed each year. Finally, it takes two years from the harvest until it can be sold as a bottle. We can say in the end that this wine is not made only with grapes but also with the experience, patience and hard work of man.
While we were listening to the history and the production process, we walked through to the production area to see where the grapes are pressed and fermented. Following, we passed to an underground barrel room where the wines are aged. We finished our visit and came to the best part, the tasting room. Our guide had already prepared us a tasting of Château d’Yquem 2011.
This wine is a blend of Semillon (%80) and Sauvignon blanc (20%). It has a shiny gold yellow color and a high viscosity as expected from its more than 140 grams per liter of residual sugar and 13.8% alcohol. Intense bouquet of acacia, orange blossoms, tropical fruits, poached pear, dried apricots, cinnamon, vanilla… On the palate it has such a perfect balance of acidity and sweetness that it’s hard to believe its residual sugar and alcohol levels. After taste stays for a long time. 2011 was a great year for Sauternes, and especially for Château d’Yquem, and this bottle proves it.
It was fast, everything happened in a couple of hours. But the wine flavours on my palate, breathtaking visuals in my eyes and appreciation feeling in my heart will stay for longer.
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