AT A GLANCE:
Name of wine estate: Château d’Yquem
Wine region: Bordeaux
Standout points: One of the greatest sweet wines in the world; beautiful setting overlooking vineyards of the Garonne river valley
Winemaker: Sandrine Garbay
Wine style: Sweet wines
Regarded by many as the last word in great sweet wine, Château d’Yquem is a premier cru superieur estate located in Graves, on the left bank of the Garonne river. The estate has existed since at least 1477, while a vineyard has been planted here since at least 1711. Yquem’s reputation is as legendary as the palate length of its wines. Thomas Jefferson regarded Yquem as the best white wine in France, ordering 250 bottles of the 1784 vintage for himself. While such an investment will be beyond most budgets (in modern money, that would cost around £60,000), a visit to the estate will give you the chance to sample this sweet elixir for yourself.
Yquem’s success stems largely from its location’s susceptibility to botrytis, or noble rot – the uniquely favourable fungal disease which dehydrates the grapes and concentrates their sugars. The estate is located on the highest hill in Sauternes and enjoys the best growing conditions in the appellation. Thanks to its high sugar content, high acidity and dense structure, if carefully stored, a bottle of Château d’Yquem will keep for 50, 60, even 100 years or more. An Yquem from the comet vintage of 1811 was given a perfect 100-point score by Robert Parker in 1996. In 2011, a bottle from that same vintage sold at auction for £75,000, making it the most expensive bottle of white wine ever sold.
Personalised 90-minute tours of Yquem – including a tasting of its nectar-like wine – take place every day of the week. Reservations for these tours are essential. The cream-coloured château itself, overlooking the Garonne river valley of Sauternes and surrounded by exquisitely maintained gardens, is a picture of effortless luxury. View the hushed cellars under the rose garden before tasting the sacred elixir itself – a wine that has been described as liquid light, ‘qui fait la queue du paon’ – which ‘spreads out like a peacock’s tail’. The ultimate experience would have to be the ‘Anthology’ tour, which will give you the rare opportunity to taste three older vintages.