Robert Parker | 98 RP
Wine Details for 1986 d'Yquem
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: In the minds of many wine lovers, no food pairing matches the appeal of a dessert and an appropriate dessert wine. For those of us with a pronounced sweet tooth, dessert whites come in many shapes, sizes, and, most importantly, varietals. Whether you're dealing with an Austrian Pinot Blanc or a sweet German Riesling, it's hard to resist for long.
: Twenty-five miles southeast of the city of Bordeaux, in the southern end of the Graves winegrowing district, a magical event takes place – harvest season in Sauternes. Each year, beginning in September, the white grape varietals Semillon, Sauvignon Blanc and Muscadelle become the star performers in an otherworldly transformation that takes winemaking to a completely magnificent level. Of course, this event could not take place would it not be for nature to play its part.
A unique set of climatic and geological conditions combine to form a rare equilibrium. A ghostly fog descends upon the region each morning, created by the differing water temperatures of the cool Ciron tributary as it flows into the warm Garonne River near Barsac and Preignac. The humid mornings give way to warm afternoon sun, encouraging the proliferation of Botrytis Cinerea.
Approximately 2,000 hectares of Semillon, Sauvignon Blanc and Muscadelle apron the region’s vineyards of Sauternes. Semillon is the most widely planted, with roughly 75% of the distribution in the vineyards, Sauvignon Blanc is planted to a little less than 25%, while Muscadelle inhabits the remaining hectares (Muscadelle is able to contract Botrytis Cinerea but not to the same effect, thus being used in miniscule amounts). The three allowable grapes (by AOC law) thrive in a terroir of varying degrees of chalk, limestone, sand, clay and gravel which rest over an alluvial bed. The soil in Sauternes is warm and dry, accumulating heat due to the smooth flat pebbles and course gravel which collect the suns warmth.
The Sauternes’ plateau reaches elevations of 3 to 80 meters, awarding the location with a unique set of micro-climates and allowing winds from the east to move through the vineyards helping to remove unwanted moisture. This is especially crucial later in the growing season, as the noble rot sets in.
Noble rot, otherwise known as Botrytis Cinerea, is a fungus that attacks the grapes. The very unique and specific climate of this region allows for this magical process to occur. The grapes become shriveled, dehydrated and concentrated with extraordinary characteristics. The byproduct is a honey filled, tropical, roasted nut and exotic elixir that is otherworldly. Pineapple, peaches, flowers, orange, vanilla, butterscotch, coconut and honey infiltrate the nose and palate creating an experience that is euphoric. Typical Sauterne blends are golden yellow in color and turn amber when aged.
Due to the immense risks taken during the harvesting season, where the possibility of grey rot (grapes become overly saturated with moisture) could occur or the complete absence of noble rot, they are the most expensive wines in the world to produce. This viticultural hazard combined with the “gold” quality liquid commands top-dollar prices.
: Wine is the lifeblood that courses through the country of France, pulsing with vigorous pride and determination. Viticulture is not just a hobby or an occupation in France; it is a passion, a cherished tradition that has been passed down through generations of wine stained hands. Winemaking is a beloved art that has been ingrained in the culture, an aptitude instilled in sons by fathers and the hallmark for which France’s reputation was built, allowing it to be renowned as, arguably, the most important wine producing country in the world.
For centuries, France has been producing wines of superior quality and in much greater quantity than any other country in the world. It boasts some of the most impressive wine regions, coveted vineyards and prestigious wines on earth. The regions of Bordeaux, Burgundy, Rhone, Sauternes and Champagne have become the benchmark, for which others aspire to become. Legendary producers such as Chateaux Margaux, Domaine De La Romanee Conti, Chapoutier, d’Yquem and Dom Perignon are idolized world-wide.
France has stamped its name on nearly every style of wine, from the nectar-like sweet Sauternes to hedonistic Chateauneuf Du Papes classic Bordeaux and Burgundy, to its sparkling dominance in Champagne. Many of the most infamous grape varietals in the world, such as Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Pinot Noir and Chardonnay originated in France and are not only beloved, but utilized in the creation of some of the greatest wines on earth. French wine production commands the attention of the wine market year after year. With over 860,000 hectares under vine, and numbers close to 50 million hectoliters of wine produced annually, France dominates the market and sets the standard for not only product quality, but also quantity.
France’s many contributions to the world of wine have been absolutely indispensable. The country is the originator of the term “Premier Cru,” coined the term Terroir (a French term so complex there is no literal translation) and has laid the blueprint for a structured appellation system, which others have implemented in their own countries. French vineyard techniques and winemaking practices are mimicked world-wide. California vintners have been replicating Rhone style wines for decades, South America has adopted the French varietal of Malbec and countries around the world are imitating Burgundian styled Chardonnay and Pinot Noir.
With vast diversity in terroir, France is home to some of the most hospitable winegrowing locations on earth. The combination of topography, geology, climate, rainfall and even the amount of sunlight combined with the long historical tradition of winegrowing and making, has allowed the vintners of France to not only hone their skills, but learn from nature to create a product that like the world in which it resides… is very much alive.
: The white wines of Bordeaux are sometimes sadly looked over, as the region is primarily known for their almost absurdly powerful and delicious reds. However, if you like a refreshing, sweet treat on a late summer evening or you wish to complete your journey through Bordeaux's finest wines, you should not skip a Sauternes bottle or two. Made from a carefully balanced mixture of Semillon, Sauvignon Blanc and Muscadelle grape varietals, this wine boasts an almost supernatural sweetness. This sugary nature can be attributed to the presence of noble rot that can cause the grapes to visually resemble raisins in a way.
We would completely understand if a single taste of fine Sauternes brought visible tears of joy to your eyes, as the flavor is just that magnificent. As you swirl the liquid gold in your mouth, an orchestral performance echoes on, with a grounding double bass of honey and the sharpness and acidity of a passionate violin solo. Notes of peach, apricot and nut punctuate the experience, sending you sky-high with inspiration and pure, emotional bliss. Let us open the door to a whole new world together.
: Often referred to as “Liquid Gold,” Chateau d’Yquem has become synonymous with excellence, perfection, and prestige. The Chateau has endured a long history of complexity and conflict. Its origins date back to the middle ages when it belonged to the King of England. Many events took place that are both complex and feudal; however, in 1593 the French Crown under Charles VII granted Jacques Sauvage, the descendent of a local noble family, tenure over Yquem. In 1711 the family finally enjoyed sole ownership, building the Chateau that is revered and respected today.
This epic saga has many contributing factors that aided in the shaping of this infamous Chateau through family tragedy, world wars and unfortunate legal battles. In 1785 Francoise Josephine de Sauvage became a widow after her newly wed husband died in a horse-riding accident, thrusting her to the head of the family and of the Chateau. The task was met with extraordinary acumen. The success of its bottlings had already gained recognition by many connoisseurs such as Thomas Jefferson, serving as a bright spot in its ill-fated past.
Yquem would face many more challenges throughout its history; enduring two World Wars, in which it served as a military hospital. Family disputes led to the sale of the Estate to LVMH. Multiple legal battles developed into a tempestuous relationship between the family and its buying partner. After two years of court battles, the court arranged for LVMH to purchase the remaining shares of the property.
Today, Yquem continues its legacy as perhaps the greatest wine residing in Sauternes. Great wines are not born just anywhere, by accident. A unique set of climatic and geological conditions combine to form a rare equilibrium. The soil in Yquem’s vineyard is warm and dry, accumulating heat due to the smooth flat pebbles and course gravel which collect the suns warmth. There is a good water reserve in the subsoil, thanks to the numerous springs that dwell on the Estate. The terroir is at the highest elevation in Sauternes awarding the vineyard with a unique micro-climate and allowing winds from the east to move through the vineyard helping to remove unwanted moisture. This is especially crucial later in the growing season, as the noble rot sets in.
Noble rot, otherwise known as Botrytis Cinerea, is a fungus that attacks the grapes. The very unique and specific climate of this region allows for this magical process to occur. The grapes become shriveled, dehydrated and concentrated with extraordinary characteristics. The byproduct is a honey filled, tropical, roasted nut and exotic elixir that is otherworldly. Pineapple, peaches, flowers, orange, vanilla, butterscotch, coconut and honey infiltrate the nose and palate creating an experience that is euphoric.
The vineyards are planted with 80% Semillon and 20% Sauvignon Blanc. The blend creates its flagship, Chateau d’Yquem and its second wine “Y.” The grapes are hand-picked berry by berry and due to intensive sorting practices and the process of noble rot, the yields at Yquem are extremely low. The flagship produces a mere 10,000 bottles annually.
Throughout its tumultuous history, Yquem has never failed to shine, producing wines of unrivaled quality. Yquem is the definition of perfection, perseverance, and a timeless struggle for dominance. This tremendous Chateau has risen to the “Gold” standard and sits atop the whole world of wine as one of the finest examples of winemaking at its pinnacle.
Robert Parker | 98 RP