Ramon Felipe Eyquem had made a fortune as a wine and herring merchant when, in 1477, he bought an estate in the southern part of Bordeaux. More than two centuries later, the first vines were planted around Château d’Yquem.
In 1784, while Minister Plenipotentiary to France, Thomas Jefferson visited the château. Shortly after that visit, Jefferson wrote, “This is the best white wine of France and the best of it is made by Monsieur de Lur-Saluces.” Jefferson ordered 250 bottles of the 1784 Château d’Yquem for himself — and a few more for PresidentGeorge Washington.
Truth is, the wine Jefferson tasted has little to do with the Château d’Yquem of today, as the techniques for encouraging the formation of pourriture noble (or “noble rot”) had yet to be invented — techniques that would make for the most age-worthy and priceless white wine in the world.
Today, the vineyards of Château d’Yquem comprise 310 acres. Perhaps more than at any estate in the world, the vines of d’Yquem are not so much tended as nurtured, eking out a tiny crop each year of botrytised Sauvignon Blanc and Semillon. The call to harvest at Château d’Yquem is the most carefully calibrated in Bordeaux. On average, the vineyard crew passes through the vines six times before a row is completely harvested, eyeballing every cluster before picking. Yields are minuscule — just 9 hectoliters per hectare, roughly one-fifth that of Château Lafite Rothschild. Grapes, caked with pourriture noble, are gently pressed three times before being transferred to oak barrels, where the wine is left to age for three years before bottling.
The 2008 Château d’Yquem is an absolute elixir. The nose alone is (almost) worth the price of admission. The bouquet is delicate, featuring a mix of dried apricot, sweet nectarine, peach preserves, bitter honey, and honeysuckle. Robert Parker’s Wine Advocate nearly got carried away, calling it “poised, tense and tightly coiled on the entry and then it just explodes in the mouth with pure, unbridled, joyous botrytized fruit struck through with a silver thread of acidity.” When to pop a cork? Now through 2065 (if you can hold out that long)!
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