Yquem: Is That French for “Disappointment”?

Before I get started, I need to say that I since I started this blog, I have been very fortunate. Very Fortunate. I have met some incredible people, visited some fantastic places, and consumed many fabulous wines. I fully realize that the following rant comes from a place of privilege and should be viewed as such.

But.

Last fall, I was on a press trip with several other journalists to Bordeaux, but the entire week I did not have a drop of red wine. The very kind people of Sweet Bordeaux (a consortium within the much larger Vins de Bordeaux) organized the visit and did a fabulous job. We visited about a dozen different wineries and tasted scores of the fabulous sweet wines from the region. (While Sauternes is certainly the most widely known, there are 10 appellations within Bordeaux that are permitted to produce sweet wines.)

We either met with the owner, the winemaker or often both, who were very gracious and answered all of our questions, no matter how inane. They, in turn, made their best case as to why they thought that Sweet Bordeaux wines are fantastic choices for a variety of cuisines, not just dessert (which was the whole idea behind the trip).

Each visit was well thought out and showcased the particular winery in it’s finest light and I left each stop impressed.

Except one: Château d’Yquem.

We visited Sauternes’ famed estate near the end of the trip, and I have to admit that I was more than a little excited to visit what most wine lovers consider hallowed ground. OK, I was down right giddy. I performed a quick review of my mental list of contacts and I determined that each would probably give at least a fairly important body part to be where I was at that moment (and one would tell me that she had already been there and loved it).

I was so excited about the light when we were at Yquem that I waited a good ten minutes to get this shot without the adulteration of other humans.

Shortly after arrival, we were joined by our Yquem appointed tour guide, and that is where it all started to go south. She clearly had a script and she was determined to follow it.

I must have been falling when I took this.

I am a sucker for cables, particularly those that span architectural eras (or at least want you to think that they do).

And I particularly like turrets for some reason—I imagine that I am the one with the bow, vowing to save the king/duke/earl/comte. Although the song “Duke of Earl” gets me all confused.

As we toured the grounds, our host kept to her script despite my attempts to get her to alter her course, to offer a tidbit that was not a part of her clearly rehearsed and oft-repeated diatribe.

No luck.

About 30 minutes into what I consider a modern form of torture, I asked if there were a dungeon on the estate. The host looked at me as if I had two heads and simply responded “No one has ever asked that.” This brought about a smidgen of delight as it seemed to cause her to at least reflect for a nanosecond, but then it was right back to her soliloquy.

I could not help of the only other time I was on such a tour—it was at Moët et Chandon in Epernay, in the heart of Champagne. Coincidentally (?), Moët and Yquem are now owned by the same corporation: LVMH Moët Hennessy Louis Vuitton SE. At least at Moët, I was on the tour with a bunch of Norwegians (or were they Swedes?) who thought it was the best tour they had ever been on.

But I do not speak Norwegian (or Swedish), so I am not entirely sure if they liked the tour at Moët. At Yquem, though, I was with a group of American (I am pretty sure none were Canadian) writers, most of them of a (much) higher status than I, but we were getting the “stock” tour, nonetheless.

The vines that produce the world’s most famous elixir.

After another ten minutes of futilely trying to interact, I gave up and tuned out, which is too bad on many levels. Not the least of which was that she was providing an occasional tidbit that was actually interesting (each of the vineyards is controlled by women—with the exception of pruning—24 women care for the 20 hectares [50 acres] of vines, for example).

So I wandered and took a slew of photos, some of which I am posting here.

I try to get artistic once in a while. I usually fail—I should stick to waiting in front of the château, waiting for the tourists to get the heck out of the way.

We then went inside, where we saw the barrel room (yawn) and the tank room (bigger yawn)—sorry, but those do not hold much interest for me any more unless a barrel sample tasting is involved. I know that sounds crass and entitled, and it probably is, but I have probably seen over a thousand of each now. Like with most other genres, I imagine, when you see so much wine porn, you become desensitized.

Then it was off to the tasting. Well, I should not really call it a “tasting” since it lasted less than ten minutes. No, I was not frustrated. I did not storm off in a huff. I was not asked to leave for a snarky remark (although I had several ready, just in case). No, the tasting was short because we tasted just two wines.

Two.

As in “one more than one.”

As in “two more than none.”

(I was a math minor.)

That’s right, a group of wine writers from the U.S. came to Château d’Yquem, which has been making wine since at least 1711, and we tasted two wines. That really does not paint the entire picture, sadly. For most people, Yquem makes one wine a year, the eponymous Château d’Yquem, the sweet, golden, unctuous, elixir of the gods.

What most people do not realize, is that since 1959 they also produce a dry white, which is called, simply, “Y.”

The two wines we tasted? The current vintage of “Y” (2016) and of Château d’Yquem (2015).

2016 Y from Yquem: Retail: 150€ ($200). 75% Sauvignon Blanc, 25% Sémillon. The SB really comes thru with white peach and pear, and even some exotic fruit. The 7 grams of residual sugar is barely. Brilliant acidity and really fresh. Fantastic, but noticeably a bit hot at 14.5% ABV. $200? Well…. Still, just short of a Whoa. Outstanding. 91-93 Points.  

Whoa. Blow my thinning hair back.

Reportedly, Robert Parker got to taste the 1811 back in the 1990s. OK, I am no Robert Parker (nor do I aspire to be), but would it have killed them to have us taste an older vintage? Say the 2014, for chrissakes?

2015 Château d’Yquem: Retail 350€ ($460). 75% Sémillon, 25% Sauvignon Blanc. Whoa. Honey and pineapple. Still comes off as a baby, but yeah. Yquem. Rich and unctuous, this is my first baby Yquem—how do you spell infanticide? Still it is focused and rich, honey and length. Yeah. Whoa. Outstanding. 94-96 Points.
Is it a crime to spit this out ?

Yes, I realize that this is a problem that most would like to have. And I would have been apoplectic had the exceedingly kind people at Sweet Bordeaux excluded Yquem from the press trip, but part of me wishes they had—it is tough to have a lifelong “hero” become a bitter disappointment.

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About the drunken cyclist

I have been an occasional cycling tour guide in Europe for the past 20 years, visiting most of the wine regions of France. Through this "job" I developed a love for wine and the stories that often accompany the pulling of a cork. I live in Houston with my lovely wife and two wonderful sons.
This entry was posted in Sauvignon Blanc, Sémillon, Wine. Bookmark the permalink.

25 Responses to Yquem: Is That French for “Disappointment”?

  1. okiewinegirl2015 says:

    Maybe if your expectations hadn’t been so high? or maybe they’re at the point they just don’t care because they’re “It” and there is no other so where else are you going to go? Still, it’s painful when a hero becomes mortal.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Yeah, I see what you are saying, but it is pretty hard not to have the highest expectations for one of the world’s finest wines. We had just come from Château de Fargues, which is owned by the original owners of Yquem. Wow, what a difference! Fargues absolutely blew me away, it made Yquem seem that much worse in comparison. I will be writing about Fargues and a few others next week,

      Liked by 1 person

  2. wineismylife says:

    Dang son. Rip em a new one why don’t you? 😉

    Liked by 1 person

  3. lizbarrett says:

    I love this post because I can totally empathize! I’ve tasted Y’quem many times and it never fails to stop me in my tracks – but is part of my awe due to the current “terroir” — that of the ginormous and horribly carpeted cavern of a space at the Wine Spectator NY Wine Experience? Would it taste differently AT the chateau? Thought provoking post!

    Like

  4. Dr B says:

    What a disappointment, and you are right to be disappointed too! I am a fan of YQuem wines, but …. I’m not a fan of motor mouth tour guides or those who have no concept of YOU being a client! I have not actually experienced this anywhere wine connected, but I have had loads of experience from cultural and city tour guides in US and Europe. They forget they have ears as well as a mouth!

    Liked by 1 person

    • Don’t get me wrong, the wines are phenomenal, truly, but there is certainly a distinct “corporate” feel to the place now, without a doubt. And that is really too bad.

      Liked by 1 person

      • Dr B says:

        Agreed, walking around an Ancient Greek ruin, or Archimedes home etc is a great experience but can be ruined by a shitty guide. Not happened to me in 50 years wine experiences though!

        Liked by 1 person

      • The thing is, I am not sure that her boss would see her as a “bad” guide, and therein lies the problem. I think a good guide is like a good teacher—read the audience and determine how you are going to best reach them. Sticking to a script, no matter how good the script is, is wasting an opportunity to connect with people.

        Like

  5. SAHMmelier says:

    Yet another reason to seek out the smaller producers. That is disappointing for sure.

    Liked by 1 person

  6. A definitely entitled response. A thoroughly enjoyable one though. 🙂

    I hate places that are too bored to care enough about their story to want to tell it in a unique way. Especially when someone like you wanted to get more.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Yeah, I know it was entitled, but I decided to embrace it instead of run away from it. There really is a great story there, but it seems like they are a bit fearful of telling it—or worse, they don’t care.

      Liked by 1 person

      • We were in Rioja at a winery that has been around since 1850 and they had a “ho hum” 90 minute tour followed by a tasting of …2 wines! When you get so famous you don’t have to try anymore.

        Like

  7. lccmalone says:

    Nice photos!

    Liked by 1 person

  8. Ed St. John says:

    Sounds like you discovered their feet are made of “clay subsoil”. I think sometimes it’s best if we don’t meet our heroes.

    Like

  9. I tried that dry Y a couple of weeks ago at a Bordeaux tasting. Such balance…outstanding wine!

    Liked by 1 person

  10. Tom says:

    Perhaps they thought you were bringing OhMyGod along and didn’t want him barfing on the tour guides shoes? ;o)

    Like

  11. I guess they showed you their true nature. Still, your sponsors went to a lot of trouble to bring a group of influential writers and you got the dog & pony show. Not exactly what your sponsors were hoping for either.

    Like

  12. Oz's Travels says:

    Guess they feel that they don’t need your help to spread the word… What was the feedback from the others on the tour?

    Like

  13. Stunning photos!

    Like

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