1899, 1947 & 1970 Yquem


This Cellar Favorite comes from a private dinner held at Château Yquem last April. In-house chef Olivier Brulard, who worked with Michel Guérard at his fabled restaurant in Eugénie-les-Bains for many years, cooked a sublime array of dishes to accompany the wines. I understand some who say that an evening devoted to Sauternes is too much. I guess it depends on the Sauternes. In fact, the first pour was the dry wine, the 2021 Y de Yquem. This latest release has a more powerful bouquet, with a distinctive marine influence, a nuanced oxidative trait that lends freshness. The palate is, likewise, quite intense with razor-sharp acidity to the extent that I find this refreshingly penetrating in style, hints of tinned apricot and white peach filtering through on the finish. A lovely dry Sauternes. 90/Drink 2024-2044.

The 1970 Yquem comes from a vintage overshadowed by that year’s reds and subsequent Sauternes vintage. Lorenzo Pasquini, who took over as head winemaker from Sandrine Garbay last year, told me that this contains 102g/L residual sugar. With light greenish tints on the rim, this bottle offers enticing scents of crème brûlée, orange rind and mandarin, a dab of rose water emerging with time. The palate is fresh on the entry with Seville orange marmalade, rooibos and dried honey. It is not a complex Yquem, yet it is very commendable for the vintage. I admire how it blossoms in the glass. Bottles should be opened now and over the next decade. This is certainly the best bottle that I have encountered. 92/Drink 2024-2040.

The 1947 Yquem is a vintage that I had never tasted. This legend was bestowed with 134g/L residual sugar after that year’s infamously hot summer, a heavily-botrytised vintage that, according to estate records, was picked “in double-quick time,” September 13 to October 13, according to Michael Broadbent. This is Yquem in full flight. It has a haunting bouquet with dried honey, figs, antique bureau, star anis and Clementine, all delivered with breathtaking precision that is remarkable given how much time has passed. The palate is medium-bodied, broad-shouldered rather than fat, laden with fig and orange pith, tangerine and even suggestions of red fruit, strawberry and redcurrant. The texture is velvety rather than unctuous, gradually developing a slightly confit-like finish. This audacious Yquem has flair and panache to spare. It clearly ranks amongst the greats. 99/2024-2047.

As depicted in the image, a 1945 Yquem was also opened to compare to the 1947. However, this meant it was not at the optimal temperature. That notwithstanding, it was clearly not close to perfect examples that I have tasted in the past.

Finally, the 1899 Yquem. This was a year in which the region suffered a heavy frost on May 20 when temperatures fell to -6.3° C. After this episode, the weather remained clement and dry all the way through until the end of October. The picking commenced at the end of September, with two spells of rain (20mm) provoking uniform botrytis infection, followed by three weeks of dry weather, enabling the harvest to take place in dry conditions. The fruit was apparently rich as potential sugar levels increased for 13 consecutive days. I have been privileged with several 19th-century Yquem, though never one poured directly from the château’s reserves. They can be ethereal experiences, but to be frank, this 124-year-old Yquem seems to have entered a graceful decline. I want to emphasize the word “graceful”. The 1899 is a class act whose golden days are behind it. The bouquet is a little faded with scents of linseed oil, again, an antique mahogany bureau, aniseed and grilled walnuts. Maybe just a little tertiary? It did not possess the refulgent aromatics of the 1947. The palate is clearly well balanced with a silver bead of acidity that keeps it very much alive: notes of orange rind, strawberry and dried honey, a slight oiliness towards the finish. You could quibble and say that it’s a little short, and yet there is no question it is profound, and remarkably, after 40-45 minutes, it reveals touches of Indian spice on the nose. 92/2024-2030.

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