The Taste of Pure Gold
In the Bordeaux Classification of 1855, Château d'Yquem was given the unique and
unsurpassable rank of Premier Cru Supérieur, ahead of all other Sauternes, indicating its
perceived superiority and ability to command by far the highest prices. The wines of Château
d'Yquem are characterised by their complexity, concentration and longevity. In a good year, a
bottle will only begin to show its qualities after a decade or two of cellaring and with proper
care, will keep for a century or more, gradually adding layers of taste and hitherto undetected
The site has been home to a vineyard since at least 1711 when the estate was owned by Léon
de Sauvage d'Yquem. In 1785 it passed to the Lur-Saluces family when Françoise-Joséphine de
Sauvage d'Yquem married Count Louis-Amédée de Lur-Saluces, the godson of Louis XV and Lady
Victoire de France. Monsieur Lur-Saluces died three later, and his widow then focused her
energy on sustaining and improving the estate; indeed, the Château at it is now stands is
largely due to her work, as well as that of her descendants, who ran the property for over 200
years and whose name remains on the label to this day.
While envoy to France, Thomas Jefferson visited the château and later wrote, "Sauterne. (sic)
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 vintage for himself, and additional bottles for George
Washington. However, at that time the technique of allowing noble rot to infect the grapes had
not yet been discovered, so the wine Jefferson was drinking was effectively a different sweet
wine. Remarkably, the size of Château d'Yquem was, however, the same in 1788 as it is today.
For most of the 20th century the Château was run by the Marquis Bernard de Lur-Saluces who
developed and enhanced its reputation until his death in 1968. Since 1996, Château d'Yquem
has been owned by the French luxury goods giant LVMH, who bought 51% of the Château from
the family of the Comte Alexandre de Lur-Saluces after a bitter family feud.
In 2006 a 135-year "vertical" (containing every vintage from 1860 to 2003) was sold at auction
in London for $1.5 million, one of the highest prices ever paid for a single lot of wine
The vineyard extends to 113 hectares between the villages of Sauternes and Fargues, though
only around 100 hectares are in production at any time. The vines consist of around 80%
Sémillon and 20% Sauvignon Blanc, though the latter's productivity means that the proportions
are more equal in the final wine. Yquem's success stems largely from the site's susceptibility to
attack by Botrytis cinerea, the "noble rot" which is at the heart of all the great sweet wines of
Unquestionably the greatest vintage of the 20th century, Yquem in particular being legendary. Following the hottest summer since
1893, grapes were harvested with a tremendously high sugar content which after fermentation resulted in high levels of alcohol
and residual sugar.
A colossus. Perhaps the most staggeringly rich Yquem of all time, certainly since the towering 1847. A word of advice: do not be
put off by the dark colour. This is correct and the same applies to a slightly lesser extent with Yquem 1929 and 1937. I am of
course spoiled. But it is my job; and I have had the privilege and pleasure of tasting – of drinking (even I do not spit out the ’21
Yquem) the wine – at last count – over 30 times, from magnums as well as bottles... most have been unforgettable. One thing
that I have noticed is that the differences are more due to bottle variation rather than the wine’s evolution which, at least for the
past 30 or so years seems to be relatively static.
Rather than give a blow by blow account I propose to mention two tastings and three fairly recent dinners, the first in Germany at
Peter Ziegler’s tasting, in the eighth and final ‘flight’. It was placed between the 1893 and 1945 Yquems, ending with von
Schönborn’s Marcobrunner feinste TBA. I gave the 1893 and 1921 equally high marks...Coincidentally Christian Sveaas’ dinner in
1996, which opened with the 1893, ended with a superb (6-star) 1921. At the Rodenstock Yquem marathon in 1998 I gave it my
highest marks, fractionally above 1869 and 1937 (out of a total of 125 vintages tasted that week). It was voluptuous at Josh
Latner’s dinner at the Lanesborough Hotel in London, January 2000 and, when last encountered it was sheer perfection.
Finally I shall endeavour to describe the elements and variations in appearance, nose and taste. Certainly not dark, but in my last
five notes varying from fairly deep, at best a warm amber-gold, on one occasion reminding me of an old oloroso sherry, on another
Bual Madeira-like, with a pronounced apple-green rim. The bouquet, very rich, honeyed of course, peachy, barley sugar (boiled and
spun sugar), intense yet fragrant ‘custard cream’, crème brûlée yet again, but very true. On the palate from sweet to very sweet,
depending I think on context, unquestionably rich, powerful, even assertive, great length and intensity, and supported by life-
preserving acidity. One of life’s sublime experiences.
Here are the well-known French wine expert Michael Dovaz's tasting notes on this wine:
Today the robe of Château d’Yquem 1921 is dark mahogany. A heady mixture of aromas of citrus and plum, honey, vanilla scented
candied apricots precede the basic creamy, smooth, subtle texture and a mouth as long as it is harmonious. It is an ageless
And here is the precise vintage report for the 1921 harvest at Chateau Yquem:
In the spring, a sharp frost attacked the vine as it was sprouting. A lot of heat was then needed to obtain the perfect ripening and
hoped-for concentration upon maturity. In 1921, conditions were just right. After the usual mid-August storm, the fine weather
returned and continued until the fall, without being affected by the morning mists rising from the Garonne and the Ciron. The vines
had never been watered so little, hence the unparalled richness and concentration of the grape juice. The pickers began work on
September 13, and spent 39 days in the vineyard passing along each row five times. The ideal balance of 14-15 degrees of alcohol
plus six degrees of potential alcohol (120 grams of sugar per litre) was easily obtained.
Chateau d'Yquem 1921 en magnum
Chateau bottled. This was the last year the
Count Lur Saluces sold any wine in cask. Many of
the surviving 1921 bottles are bottled by Van der
Meulen in Belgium – these are inferior to the
The dark colour (in reality a dark amber gold) is
exaggerated by the flash photography, but is
absolutely typical and characteristic of this
vintage. 1921 is the darkest of all Yquems,
followed interestingly enough probably by the
1847 which has a similar colour, although
Chateau d'Yquem 1921
Another bottle showing the
typical dark colour of the
Chateau d'Yquem 1959
Chateau d'Yquem 1929
Chateau d'Yquem 1929
48 bottles, original corks and capsules, reconditioned labels and wooden cases from the Chateau.
FROM THE "MARAIS" CELLAR, DISCOVERED IN PARIS IN 2009.
These bottles come from an old Parisian family cellar 6 metres under the cobbled stones of the Marais district in Paris. They
were bought on their initial release ex Chateau in the early 1930's, and never touched or moved since. With great old wines
like this, provenance is everything, with the single exception of the famous "Doris Duke" cache of the same wine (equal to,
certainly not better than these bottles), these are the greatest Yquem 1929's in existence, and Yquem 1929 is one of the
greatest vintages ever, of the greatest sweet wine in the world.
Last year I had the great privilege of sharing a bottle of Yquem 1929 from this cellar with an international wine master friend
- it was arguably the finest single bottle of wine I have ever drunk - incredible complexity and finesse with amazing richness,
to taste it was really an exceptional experience.
Robert Parker apparently feels the same way, here is his review of Yquem 1929:
Hedonist Dinner One, Château Robuchon, Tokyo, Japan, December 2004
"We ended with perfection, an extraordinary 1929 Château d'Yquem. While the color was a medium amber, the wine was incredibly
rich, revealing notes of crème brûlée, orange marmalade, caramel, and honeysuckle. This magnificent bottle concluded the greatest
meal along with the greatest wines I have ever had in my life." 99/100
As you will see in the photos below, the levels are outstanding for an 80 year old wine with original corks: very top shoulder.
Yquem agreed to relabel all the bottles, and to supply a new wooden original wooden case (owc) for each individual bottle,
AS WELL as larger owc's that take 6 of the individual wooden boxes each (they only offer the service for bottles they
consider of unimpeachable provenance and historic importance).
Although the bottles are relabelled, they have NOT been recorked, these are the original branded corks, absolutely
Please email us for pricing and ordering information.
The harvesting is carefully timed, and the pickers pass through each row of vines at least a half dozen times to ensure that
only the best grapes are selected. The resulting yield is never more than 900 litres per hectare, compared to the usual 2,000
to 3,000 litres in Sauternes. The grapes are pressed three times and transferred to oak barrels for maturation over a period
of three and a half years.
On average, only 65,000 bottles are produced each year. In a poor vintage, the entire crop is deemed unworthy of bearing
the Château's name; this happened 9 times in the 20th century (1910, 1915, 1930, 1951, 1952, 1964, 1972, 1974, 1992).
Chateau d'Yquem from fine vintages has an extraordinarily long life, bottles of 100 years and older may be found in excellent
condition if properly kept. The wines from the very greatest vintages - 1847, 1869, 1921, 1929, 1937, 1959, 1967, 1989 -
seem to be almost immortal.
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