Chateau Yquem is without doubt the grandest and best known of all the great Sauternes estates. In fact, it is widely regarded as one of if not the most exclusive dessert wines produced anywhere in the world. When classified in 1855, Yquem was granted the exclusive and unique title of Premier Cru Supérieur.
The list of past owners reads like a who’s who: King Louis VII and King Henry II were just two of the illustrious previous owners. In more recent times (1785), the estate became the property of the Lur-Saluces family. After a 219 year family association with the Chateau, Alexandre Lur-Saluces stood down in 2004. Now the property is under the ownership of luxury goods brand LVMH and the stewardship of Pierre Lurton and wine maker Sandrine Garbay.
In all, they have 100 hectares of vines, planted with 80% Semillon and 20% Sauvignon Blanc. Pickers are required to undertake numerous tries, depending on the vintage and the spread of botrytis. Fermentation takes place in oak and there is liberal aging in barrel. In some vintages, some parcels are harvested early to produce a dry white wine called ‘Y’ (Ygrec).
The Grand Vin is one of life’s treasures. It is a wine of unerring purity, complexity, finesse and power. It is the wine that all other Sauternes estates aspire to be. For sweet wine lovers, it is quite simply Sauternes nirvana.
Three grape varieties are planted: Sémillon, Sauvignon Blanc, and Muscadelle. Sémillon is the principal grape, because it is especially susceptible to noble rot, Sauvignon is used for its naturally high acidity, whilst tiny proportions of the capricious Muscadelle are used for aromatic qualities. Sweet wine has been made here at least since the late 18th century. Its position is unique, close to two rivers, the broad Garonne and its small tributary, the Ciron. In autumn, the cool Ciron waters flow into the warmer tidal Garonne, evening mists develop that envelop the vineyards until late morning the following day, after the sun has burnt the mist away all that is left is moisture on trhe grapes that encourages noble rot or Botrytis cinerea. This fungus attacks grapes, causing them to shrivel, concentrating flavour sugars and acids. The wines were classified in 1855, the most prominent of which is Château Yquem, whose yields even in a vintage where noble rot is prominent, reach no more than 10 hl/ha.