Château d'Yquem is a property in the Sauternes district of Bordeaux, making what is arguably the world's most famous dessert wine. It was the only Sauternes château rated as Premier Cru Supérieur in the official Classification of 1855, and is priced accordingly. Yquem can show stonefruit, mandarin, toast and vanilla when young and develops rich complexity with age. In top vintages it can be cellared for 50 years or more.
The Yquem estate, owned by the King of England in the Middle Ages, has produced late-harvest wine since at least the late 1500s. The 113-hectare (290-acre) vineyard is situated on the highest hill in Sauternes. The soils here are perfect for the production of sweet wine – a warm, dry topsoil of pebbles and course gravel lies over a clay subsoil that retains generous water reserves, aiding with the development of noble rot, and there are around 60 miles (100km) of drains to prevent waterlogging. At any one time around 12ha (30 acres) of vineyard are either fallow or have young vines not suitable for production.
The Yquem vineyard is planted to around 75 percent Semillon and 25 percent Sauvignon Blanc. A team of around 150 expert pickers are used each vintage and make multiple passes through the vineyard to ensure that only fully botrytized fruit is harvested. Yields are very low – about 900 liters per hectare, or around one glass per vine.
In the winery, the grapes are pressed three or four times, with increasing pressures yielding lower volumes but higher sugar levels. Yquem is fermented in new oak barrels for maximum control over small lots. The cellar team have an ideal target of 13.5 percent abv for a wine with 120 to 150 grams per liter of residual sugar, though the alcohol content can vary either way by about 1 percent depending on sugar levels.