Château d’Yquem Y (Ygrec) 2016
Château d’Yquem is considered by many to be one of the greatest – if not the greatest – wines in Bordeaux. The luscious, weighty, complexly honeyed Sauternes the estate produces has captivated the palates of many throughout the ages. From critics such as Robert Parker who swear by this wine, to United States Presidents of yore like Thomas Jefferson, there is one thing they can all agree on – Château d’Yquem is one of the best wines in the world. For those who love their wine on the drier side, “Y” by Yquem is a powerful wine with beautiful balance – a stunning expression of White Bordeaux if there ever was one.
The history of this estate is a lengthy one, dating back to the middle ages when it was owned by the King of England. Over a century later, the property was acquired by Jacques Sauvage, who had the château built within the Sauternes appellation. The same château still stands to this day. Château d’Yquem produced Sauternes in 1666 and hosts a lengthy legacy of perfecting the craft of this high-risk endeavor. For those familiar with Sauternes, they will understand that in order for a producer to make it, significant portions of the vineyard must be infected with the noble rot or botrytis cinera. This noble rot raisinates the grapes just prior to the harvest and vinification process and the result is a truly memorable wine with a rich consistency, lingering finish, and honeyed taste. Since Y is a dry white wine, the vines for this have not been touched with the noble rot.
Château d’Yquem is blessed with some exceptional terroir, and it is the only producer that is classified as a First Growth Premier Cru Superieur within the appellation. The 113 hectare property is planted in the highest elevation of the Sauternes appellation at an impressive 80 meters above sea level. The microclimate is very unique to Château d’Yquem, with gentle winds that remove excessive moisture – but allow just enough to cultivate the noble rot. The estate hosts limestone and clay soils of myriad colors. Interestingly enough, Château d’Yquem hosts the same blue clay as the legendary Pomerol producer, Château Petrus. The plantings of Semillon and Sauvignon Blanc are harvested by hand, berry by berry, in a series of multiple passes. The wine is then vinified in New French oak, with the assistance of Pierre Lurton – who is also associated with the Saint-Émilion estate Château Cheval Blanc.
Y is only made in select vintages. The first vintage of this dry white wine was made in 1959. The berries for Y are picked prior to the harvesting of vines for the Sauternes. Y is typically a mixture of 80% Sauvignon Blanc and 20% Semillon. The Semillon is picked just prior to developing noble rot for this wine. Y is a rare find, as less than 1,000 cases are produced of this wine a year. Y has a dry steeliness from Sauvignon Blanc coupled with the richly honeyed qualities of Semillon.
With an annual production of 10,000 bottles a year, Y (pronounced "ee-grek" in French) is a rare wine. It is made from the same outstanding terroir and the same vines as Château d'Yquem. Although work in the vineyard is every bit as meticulous, the grapes are picked and the wine made in a different way.
Y was formerly made at the end of the harvest, with the last bunches left on the vines. These grapes, affected to varying degrees by Botrytis cinerea, but never with more than 15% potential alcohol, resulted in a very unusual wine. This explains why it has always been produced in small quantities and on an irregular basis since 1959. Y changed starting in 1996, but without compromising its unique character, to be more in tune with the times by displaying the qualities of freshness and crispness – essential for a modern great white wine. It was decided in 2004 to make Y every year. It is thus by deliberate choice that we now harvest certain plots of Sauvignon Blanc at the beginning of the vintage, making sure to pick perfectly ripe bunches. These are completed by Sémillon grapes picked just at that fleeting stage when the grapes have reached maximum ripeness, botrytis has just appeared, and the skins have turned a pinkish colour. This is the precise moment when this grape variety's tannins are soft enough for the aromatic potential of the best plots of clay soil to come through.
The wine receives close attention all during fermentation: light, precise pressing as well as temperature-controlled must racking and alcoholic fermentation in a new aesthetically pleasing, state-of-the-art vat room set aside just for this wine. The end of fermentation and ageing on the lees take place in barrels. Only one third of these are new, and the lees are regularly stirred (bâtonnage) for ten months.
The final blend is made after tasting. It usually consists predominantly of Sauvignon Blanc and a few lots of Sémillon. (credit: Château d'Yquem)
“The 2016 Ygrec is blended of 75% Sauvignon Blanc and 25% Sémillon and contains seven grams per liter of residual sugar. It has a very delicate nose of lemon peel, fresh green apples and grapefruit with touches of crushed stones, white pepper, dill seed and lime leaves. Medium-bodied, elegant and very refreshing, with great mineral intensity, it has a lingering citrusy finish." - Lisa Perrotti-Brown, The Wine Advocate (3/29/2019), Ratings: 92+, Drink: 2020-2032