In a surprise move that delighted buyers around the world today, Château d'Yquem released its 1999 vintage to the trade for 75 euros (nearly $92) a bottle, the lowest price in more than a decade.
Within hours after Yquem's announcement, the famed Sauternes was selling briskly to importers, distributors and collectors in Europe, Asia and the United States. Bordeaux brokers, or négociants, sold the wine for 90 euros ($110) to their clients. Now U.S. retailers, such as Zachys Wine & Liquor in Scarsdale, N.Y., are offering the wine to customers for around $130 a bottle.
"It's a great price for Yquem -- the most reasonable I've seen in years," said Zachys president Jeff Zacharia. He added, "Yquem is always in demand, and to find it offered at $130 is just great. Just an hour ago, I sent our offer out to our top customers, and I am already getting a nice response. I am buying more than I did in the past."
Buyers have to go back to the 1994 Yquem (which the château released to négociants for the equivalent of 103.67 euros) or the 1993 (91.47 euros) to come even close to the price of the 1999, according to Bordeaux négociant Sébastien Moses, managing director of Twins.
The owners of the 252-acre estate, which makes the world's most renowned botrytized sweet wine, have been adopting a new strategy to better fit into the current wine market. Pierre Lurton, who was appointed Yquem's CEO and managing director in May, is trying to make Yquem an exciting brand for consumers, not just a collectible that gathers dust in cellars or at the château.
"I want to give vigor to Yquem, a spring," said Lurton, who made 11,666 cases of the 1999 available for sale -- all but 18 percent of the stock from that year. "The idea is for people to drink Yquem and allow it to be present in restaurants and shops."
While Yquem and its owners were happy to make the gesture, Lurton said, it is likely to be a one-time-only opportunity. Yquem plans to release the great 2001 vintage at a much higher price, he added.
Yquem set the price for the 1999 vintage after Lurton consulted with Bordeaux négociants. They advised him to release the wine about 25 percent below the price of the 1998, which was originally offered at 100 euros. "The 1998 and 1999 are about equivalent in quality, and at 100 euros, 1998 didn't sell well," said Moses.
Lurton said that 75 euros "is an attractive price for the 1999; it is delicious, although the finish tastes a bit hot." In a non-blind tasting this summer, senior editor James Suckling scored the wine 94 points.
As part of its changing strategy, Yquem released its 2003 wines as futures in June for 135 euros to the trade, only the second time in its history it has sold a yet-to-be-bottled vintage. The policy of former director Alexandre de Lur Saluces, who had headed the illustrious château since 1968, was to release bottled wines about five years after the harvest. But most other estates in Sauternes and Barsac offer futures, and négociants wanted Yquem to do the same. The estate will continue to release en primeurs in future years, said Lurton.
"We need to take the dust off Yquem and give it a new élan," said Lurton. "Why keep a lot of stock at the château?"
Zachys was not holding back on the '99s. "I already bought a fair amount," said Zacharia. "Hopefully, there will still be more available [to buy] tomorrow."
Read about senior editor James Suckling's recent Yquem tasting:
Check previous ratings of Yquem.