Outstanding Bordeaux Blanc From a Sauternes Legend

Today’s Story: Château d’Yquem

Château d’Yquem is a very special estate, one whose Sauternes are coveted the world over and whose wines are some of my favorites to have tasted. I previously wrote about the 2001 Château d’Yquem, and am excited to return with their Y (Ygrec) bottling today.

Château d’Yquem has a very long, mysterious history that traces its roots back to the 15th Century. One of the most interesting snippets of this history, for instance, is that the estate belonged to the King of England during the Middle Ages! In 1593, however, southwest France again came under control of the French crown by Charles VII and has remained as such since. It was also this year that the d’Yquem estate came under control of Jacques de Sauvage, a descendant of a local noble family. Though some winegrowing practices and late harvesting existed at this time, the Sauvage family did not start building the château for several more years and then began the long process of assembling land for the current estate plot by plot.

Jumping forward in time, it wasn’t until 1711 that the Sauvage family fully owned the estate under Léon de Sauvage d’Yquem. Furthermore, under the rule of Louis XIV, Château d’Yquem received noble status. The magnificent estate switched hands yet again, however, in 1785 when Françoise Joséphine de Sauvage d’Yquem married Count Louis Amédée de Lur-Saluces, a godson of Louis XV. Sadly, three years later in 1788, the Count died in a riding accident but his widow took over management of the estate and quickly displayed her acumen by sustaining and improving d’Yquem. One of the most notable practices at d’Yquem was established under Françoise Joséphine de Sauvage d’Yquem, for instance, which is picking over several passes (sometimes picking one grape at a time). Another notable feat under this young widow is the admiration noble figures around the globe felt toward d’Yquem, including Thomas Jefferson who reportedly purchased 250 bottles of the 1784 vintage for himself and additional bottles for George Washington.

Romain-Bertrand de Lur-Saluces, a grandson of Françoise Joséphine, took over the estate and helped guide it through seemingly endless successes in the second half of the 19th Century. For example, d’Yquem’s wines became a necessity for the rich and powerful throughout Europe, Russia, and Asia. In 1855, Château d’Yquem was awarded Premier Cru Supérieur in the Bordeaux Wine Official Classification of 1855, the only Sauternes awarded this level. Times changed, however, as they always do with estates of this age when World War I came and the château transitioned into a military hospital under Eugène de Lur-Saluces (a son of Romain-Bertrand). Eugène’s son Marquis Bertrand de Lur-Saluces took over the estate following the war (he had served in the trenches) and he is responsible for much of d’Yquem’s strength to this day. For instance, Marquis Bertrand fought relentlessly to save the estate during the Great Depression, helped determine many legal aspects of the Sauternes appellation as President of the Union des Crus Classés de la Gironde for forty years, and was a leading proponent of château bottling to guarantee authenticity. His death in 1968 changed the tides once again.

Though Bertrand was childless at the time of his death, he took precautions and named his nephew Alexandre de Lur-Saluces manager of Château d’Yquem. Alexandre struggled at first through difficult vintages, a crisis in the Bordeaux wine trade, and an inheritance tax that almost forced the estate to fail, though his efforts were saved with the exceptional 1975 vintage followed by several more during the 1980s. Alexandre managed the estate exceptionally well until 1996 when a family feud exploded over his brother’s decision to sell part of his 47% ownership stake, thus in turn requiring LVMH Moët Hennessy-Louis Vuitton to step in and purchase 55% of the estate. Though under new ownership, Alexandre remained manager of the estate until his retirement in 2004.

Though I could go on and on about d’Yquem’s terroir, vineyards, and winemaking practices I will leave it here with the history of Château d’Yquem. I encourage you to take a deeper dive on their website here to truly appreciate what goes into a bottle of this sacred juice.

Today’s Wine: 2014 Y (Ygrec) d’Yquem

75% Sauvignon Blanc, 25% Sémillon; 14% ABV

The 2014 Y d’Yquem is transparent pale yellow in color with hues of straw and water white. This absolutely sings out of the bottle, dominated by a nose of white peach, tangerine, apricot, gooseberry, tropical citrus, honeysuckle, freshly cut grass, and beeswax. Meanwhile, on the palate, I get notes of pineapple, grapefruit, peach, lime, cantaloupe, white pepper, white florals, and wet stone. This is medium-bodied with mouthwatering high acidity and a velvety smooth mouthfeel into a long, seductive finish capped off with a touch of caramel (perhaps from the used d’Yquem barrels). Very hard to not gulp this down.

Price: $145. Though very expensive for a white wine, this is a great value in my eyes compared to the top-tier Bordeaux Blancs and other Sauvignon Blancs I’ve tried. This offers incredible depth, opulence, lip-smacking drinkability, and age-ability that is tough to beat.

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