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Chateau d’Yquem Masterclass

Undoubtedly the most famous dessert wine ever made, and considered by some as the best dessert wine available. On Wednesday last week I had the opportunity to attend the masterclass at Stokehouse City. The event was offered through Sommeliers Australia and supported by the importers Negociants, withJean-Philippe Lemoine and Sandrine Garbay from Chateau d’Yquem hosting the event. They showcased the soon to be released 2013 'Y' Bordeaux Blanc and 2013 Chateau d'Yquem, and a selection of back vintage wines from their cellar. 

Steeped in history Chateau d’Yquem was the only wine of Bordeaux designated Premier Cru Superieur in 1855 in the classification made at the request of Emperor Napoleon III.  Sitting on top of a rise, of a mere 80 metres, the 103 hectare vineyard reaches higher temperatures than the rest of Sauternes.  100 hectares are planted under vine on four soil types (clay, limestone, gravel and sand) offering a mosaic of soil that has never undergone chemical weed control.  Seventy five percent of the vineyard is planted to Semillon and the balance to Sauvignon Blanc.

Alternating morning mists and dry, hot afternoons fosters the development of Botrytis cinerea (known as noble rot), which transforms the grapes, concentrates the sugars and is a feature of this incredible dessert wine.  Only fully botrytised grapes are picked, at a great risk given the reliance on weather patterns, where in some years no wine is made at all (non-productive vintages include 1910, 1915, 1930, 1951, 1964, 1972, 1974, 1992, 2012).

Several ‘tries’ (passings) through the vineyard over six to seven weeks results in many parcels of grapes coming into the winery.  The grapes are pressed as quickly as possible to retain their freshness, settled overnight and then fermented in 100% new French oak for several with indigenous yeast.  Once fermentation has ended each wine parcel is aged for a further 6 - 8 months in barrel.

A preliminary blend is made the following spring and barrels that meet the very high standard of Yquem are then placed in an underground cellar in barrel for a further fourteen months ageing.  After two and a half years the wine is bottled, rested and then ready for distribution throughout the world.  The finished wine is normally between 12.5 - 14.5% alcohol and has between 120gm - 150gm per litre of residual sugar. 

Since 2004, ‘Y’ Bordeaux Blanc has been made every year, with production capped at 10,000 bottles.  It is made from the same vines as Yquem, with Sauvignon Blanc grapes picked at the beginning of harvest and a small selection of Semillon at a later date just as Botrytis starts to set in.  Fermentation takes place in vats and this is finished off in barrels and then aged in barrel (only one third are new) with regular lees stirring for 10 months.

The wines presented at the masterclass included the following:

2013 Chateau d’Yquem ‘Y’ Bordeaux Blanc - restraint on the nose with dry herbaceous and citrus notes.  A savoury palate with very long finish.

2000 Chateau d’Yquem ‘Y’ Bordeaux Blanc - golden in the glass, developed with honey, toast and baked pear on the nose.  Generous palate weight with a long and slightly warm finish.

2013 Chateau d’Yquem - fresh and vibrant, brimming with youthfulness and varietal characters on the nose.  This vintage offered a warm and dry summer followed by a cold and wet autumn, producing massive infection.  The vintage was rapid and resulted in great sweet wines.

2005 Chateau d’Yquem - a sweet wine in transition with development starting to take over the primary fruit characters, harmony unfurling in the glass.  This was a great vintage, very dry with good sugar levels and regular rain falling in September aiding the spread of Botrytis.

1995 Chateau d’Yquem - developed, complexity from the sweet style and bottle maturation; it’s in the zone for enjoyment at its best!  This vintage was text book in Sauterne, generous in volume and quality, seeing some of the highest acid from this vintage.

Needless to say the masterclass and tasting opportunity was brilliant.  Thank you to those who organised this event.  If only every Wednesday morning could start that way ...

Cheers Sarah

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Selador Wines Pty Ltd    ABN 76 109 676 164    Liquor Licence # 36104810