With the 2013 New York Wine Experience about to kick off tonight, it's no surprise to see a few vintners strolling through the Wine Spectator offices today. I sat down with Pierre Lurton this morning to get a sneak peek at the two newest releases from the famed Château d'Yquem—both the 2011 Sauternes and 2012 dry white.
If you're thinking that because of the lack of an Yquem in 2012 there might be more of the Château d'Yquem Bordeaux White Y 2012, think again. The dry white represents fruit picked earlier, not declassified Yquem lots, and thus it remains at its usual production level of around 1,000 cases. There's a touch more Sauvignon Blanc in the '12 vintage (80 percent, versus 75 percent in '11). But while the '11 shows its Sauvignon side prominently, the '12 lets Sémillon do its thing. There's still a brisk edge but a lovely creaminess overall in the feel, as very pure, precise aromas and flavors of tarragon, quinine, chamomile, tangerine and green plum glide along beautifully. Vinified half in new oak and half in second-fill barrels, the wine nonetheless keeps a bright, unadorned profile rather than showing any overt oakiness. It has the balance and well-integrated acidity to provide pleasure now or age for up to a decade. The 2012 flirts with the quality level of the '11, but I'll hold off on final judgment until I can taste the wine formally (blind in a flight with other dry whites).
As for the big boy, the Château d'Yquem Sauternes 2011 is flat-out stunning, and it fulfills the promise it showed when tasted from barrel. In Sauternes and Barsac, the 2009 vintage featured ripe, tropical fruit-powered wines; the 2010 vintage had better focus, acidity and clarity. But the 2011 vintage may top them all, offering beautifully high-pitched floral notes to go along with a range of dense tropical and orchard fruit flavors. I still haven't found perfection in a wine, but the '11 Yquem comes achingly close.
"It's the archetype vintage for Sauternes," said Lurton, beaming. "The harvest started very early, right at the beginning of September, but then it stretched out as usual, and we did five or six passes [of picking in the vineyard]. We were able to get both purity of fruit and purity of botrytis."
The range and clarity of apricot, orange blossom, coconut husk, ginger and persimmon flavors in this wine is impressive, while the mouthfeel is jaw-droppingly caressing. The wine is remarkably light on its feet already, instead of the showy, lush, sometimes unbridled power Yquem can display early on. That freshness is a function of both the vintage's acidity as well as a slightly shorter élevage than usual, just 24 months versus the usual 30 months.
"That was just for this vintage, though, to protect the freshness," said Lurton. "The wine developed quickly and easily in barrel, so there was no need to go farther with the élevage."
The 2011 Yquem was not released during the typical Bordeaux en primeur campaign in the spring following the harvest, as Lurton did not want the wine judged vis-à-vis the mixed quality of the reds, which dominate the marketplace and press coverage. With the quality of Sauternes in '11 easily outpacing the reds, he chose to wait and then release the wine now, when it is in bottle and ready to go. Another advantage: Yquem has the stage of the Place de Bordeaux, where wine and money trade hands, to itself. There was just a single tranche representing two-thirds of the production released at €210 per bottle (ex-cellar), so expect U.S. retail to be around $400.
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