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The history of Château d’Yquem is like a novel, an epic saga full of events and colourful personalities spanning more than four centuries.
Château d’Yquem was almost English. During the Middle Ages, in fact, the estate belonged to the King of England, who was also Duke of Aquitaine at the time. In 1453, southwest France was once again brought under the dominion of the French crown by Charles VII and has stayed French ever since. A century and a half later, in 1593, a descendent of a local noble family, Jacques Sauvage, was given feudal tenure over Yquem. The Gironde department archives, as well as those of the château, show that special winegrowing practices and late harvesting already existed at this time. A few years later, the Sauvage family built the château and patiently set about constituting the present-day vineyard, plot by plot. The family became full owners of Yquem in 1711, during the reign of Louis XIV (by which time they had received noble status). In 1785, Françoise Joséphine de Sauvage d’Yquem married Count Louis Amédée de Lur-Saluces. Three years later, in 1788, the count died after a riding accident. His young widow thus became the head of the family and showed extraordinary acumen in managing the estate. The wine was already much appreciated by famous connoisseurs of the period, such as Thomas Jefferson. A staunch opponent of the excesses of the French Revolution who was thrown into prison on two occasions, Françoise Joséphine managed to hold on to the family property and make Yquem prosper. She built a new wine cellar in 1826 with her steward Garos – an audacious step at the time – transforming the estate into a true business and developing its international reputation. It was during her time as head of Yquem that the method of picking in several passes was perfected.
THE STYLE OF YQUEM
The pleasure derived from tasting Yquem is difficult to describe. It offers a myriad of well-balanced, complex flavours that generate even more harmonies over time. The impression that remains is reminiscent of a quote from Frédéric Dard "the silence that follows a piece by Mozart, in which the listener remains suffused with the music". This reflects the fact that Château d'Yquem stays on the palate for a remarkable long time, providing a unique, prolonged pleasure. There is a lovely expression in French to describe Yquem's tremendously long aftertaste: il fait la queue du paon, which means that it spreads out like a peacock's tail.
It is always difficult to describe wine-tasting experiences with any precision. The senses of sight, smell, taste and touch are all stimulated virtually at the same time. While gifted tasters can identify some of the aromas and flavours in a glass of Yquem in an effort to define its complexity, they never really succeed in communicating its essence or explaining its mystery. Mere analysis, whether chemical or organoleptic, is not sufficient to account for Yquem's greatness. Yquem tells a unique story... It starts with the bouquet. Although not always very outgoing in young vintages, it is marked by fruit (apricot, mandarin, and occasionally tropical fruit) and oak (vanilla and toasty aromas). Older vintages, on the other hand, have an extraordinarily complex fragrance as soon as the bottle is opened, with hints of dried fruit (dried apricot, prune, stewed fruit, and marmalade), spice (cinnamon, saffron, and liquorice), and even flowers (lime blossom, etc.). The first impression of Château d'Yquem on the palate is always very silky, and often sumptuous. It then fills out, "coating the palate". This fine wine has a strong, but never overbearing character, with great elegance and poise. It always maintains a balance between sugar and acidity (sweetness and freshness). A touch of bitterness can also contribute to the overall harmony. Château d'Yquem's aftertaste is legendary, and it tells another story, which lasts and lasts…
Certain connoisseurs consider it outrageous to drink a young Yquem and believe that opening such a monumental wine before its thirtieth birthday is tantamount to a sacrilege. Others, on the contrary, think that Yquem can be enjoyed at all stages in its life.
Château d'Yquem has a very long life span: twenty, fifty, a hundred years, or more… As with all great wines, Yquem is transfigured over time, developing a host of deliciously subtle aromas and flavours. Its colour changes over the years from the brightness of dawn to the darkness of dusk, and from shimmering straw yellow to golden-brown with amber and caramel highlights, and then to mahogany.
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