There was a time in the wine world when the most expensive wine in the world was Chateau d’Yquem. It was more expensive than the First Growths or Romanee-Conti, and it was the most prestigious and highly regarded wine in the world.
It still is highly regarded, considered by a healthy majority to be the greatest sweet wine in the world, but sweet wine does not hold the same weight in the market place it did 100+ years ago. Palates have changed, and a spoonful of sugar doesn’t always help the medicine go down. In fact, too much sugar might require the need for some Tums or Pepto.
Personally, I rarely eat dessert or drink dessert wine because by the time I reach the end of dinner, I have had enough wine to cover the need for either, and I would prefer to finish the wines that are usually still in my glass. Remember, your body breaks alcohol down into sugar, so there is a sensitivity there that many take for granted.
However, I still love sweet wine. There is nothing quite like it in the world, and a little nip can be irresistible, especially on a first date lol. And when it comes to sweet wine, there is Chateau d’Yquem, and then everything else. When the Wine Workshop put together a tasting of twenty-two vintages from 1990 back to 1945, with David Bouley himself in the kitchen, I had to get my sweet tooth on and see if I could handle this memory and sensory overload. I did spit more than usual, I must confess.
Lunch with Bouley Is Always A Yes
We started with the classic quartet of 1990, 1989, 1988 and 1986. The 1990 Chateau d’Yquem had aromas of seawater, salt, honey, beeswax and candlewax in its nutty and creamy nose. It became more reticent with time in the glass, but its palate stayed honeyed, and it was ‘more textured’ than some of the others in the flight. Orange kisses blew gently over its finish. Interestingly enough, it seemed almost shut down after the 1989, but this was certainly a great Yquem with decades of potential (96).
So Young Yet So Good
The 1989 Chateau d’Yquem had the darkest color of the first four, suggesting a faster maturity curve, meaning drink up by 2050 lol. Strangely enough, there were more slate and rock aromas (suggesting youth), but that nutty, marzipan goodness was still there. This was a very musky wine, ‘more open and evolved’ per the Copperhead. Its palate was creamier, sweeter and more congenial than the 1990. It was honeyed with layers of caramel flavors, and so good now. This is THE vintage of great, young Yquem to drink, possibly over the next two decades (96).
The 1988 took charge of the flight; it was regal by comparison. There was a little herb and marijuana in its nose, with some earth and honey. Its nose came across leaner yet deeper, and lavender emerged. Its palate was the longest of them all, and the Copperhead noted its ‘cough syrup viscosity.’ This was beauty and the beast all in one, clearly the best Yquem since ’75 and until 2001 (98).
The last wine of this flight was a disappointing 1986 d’Yquem. It smelled on the tight side and was icy in its profile. There was a bit of Teppanaki to some meaty qualities, and ‘smoky’ and ‘cheese’ came from the crowd. Its flavors were a bit awkward after the first three, and this was less pure with a bit of alley and wet cement on its finish. It should no longer be in the discussion of great Yquems from the Eighties (93).
The 1983 d’Yquem also had a deeper color a la 1989, a veritable sibling. There was smoke and cement in the nose, along with honey and caramel. Open orange flavors were supported by creamsicle ones. There was less purity to its sweetness as it was a bit tangy, make that very tangy. Its lemony finish dominated its palate, so much so that it left a sour impression. Some food cut the sourness, but the ’83 remained a bit wild, weedy and tangy. It was another vintage that didn’t live up to its reputation, or its rating that everyone relies on (93).
1982 was a great vintage for red Bordeaux, but not so much for white. I am not sure I believe that sentiment anymore after having the 1982 d’Yquem. There was more mint here, ‘similar’ to the 1983 per the lady on my right. It had a smoky nose with some exotic spice. There were lots of wild greens, and then it hit me – mint jelly! The palate had it, too, and it finished well. This is an undervalued and underappreciated Yquem that put on a good show, stealing it from the ’83 (95).
The 1981 d’Yquem had a ‘smoky’ nose with a bit of turned milk and unfamiliar forest. There was candle wax and dry brulee there in the nose and the palate, and the Copperhead remarked how its ‘palate was better than nose.’ I agreed. There were pleasant rocky flavors on its finish, and more bitters emerged in this ‘very acidic’ Yquem (91).
The Burger Is Always Well Done
The 1979 d’Yquem was another sleeper, surprisingly clean and fresh. Honey was there, but not in an open way; in fact, this was shier than expected. Smokehouse and stonewall accompanied dry caramel in its nose, and in the end this was really the most classic of the entire flight. This was right down the middle, lighter than the ’82 or ’83 but more classy. Caramel ice cream and candle wax flavors rounded out this excellent Yquem. This is a steal at auction, by the way, when it rarely comes up (94).
She Said Her Name Was Amber
The next Yquem was quite exotic, possessing more mango and passion fruit. The 1976 d’Yquem reeked of decadence and pleasure. This was a heavy and thick Yquem, quite sexy, opulent and more concentrated. Someone likened it to the 1989, and this was certainly an extroverted Yquem. There was less vim on its finish than the top-tiered vintages, but it is ‘not gonna go away’ either (95).
The legend delivered on cue, as the 1975 d’Yquem was extraordinary, as always. It was deep, showing more youth than maturity, but wisdom in regard to the latter. The aroma roll call was honey, caramel, nut, brulee, toast and more nut. Its palate was rich and lush with great acidity. This was still a baby, one with adult teeth that could bite into its long finish. I had a flash of 1988, but it really should have been the other way around (99).
The 1975 was a tough act to follow, but the 1971 d’Yquem gave it a good college try. I thought for a second it was corked, but it wasn’t. There were aromas of wintergreen and bacon, and its palate was rich and oily, sweet and bordering on great. It was a touch dirty on its finish, but sometimes I like a dirty finish (94).
The 1970 d’Yquem was leaner than the ’71, but in the same category qualitatively. There were more cedar, mahogany and wood qualities, along with a great minerality. It felt younger than the ’71, but it wasn’t as opulent. This reminded me of the 1979 with its earthy, long palate (94).
There’s Iron Man, and then there is Gold Man. He found the 1967 d’Yquem ‘where old and new meet,’ and he was right. This was the vintage where you felt that perfect balance between youth and maturity. I guess 46 years old is about right ha ha. The ’67 was so decadent and sweet, with its sugar qualities browning in a good way. It was definitely more mature than anything so far (duh), but it was still so good, and great dust and mineral flavors were on its finish. Its acid was still deceptively strong. This was a hedonistic Yquem that will still age forever (97).
The 1966 d’Yquem had vitamins in its nose, along with rose and potpourri. This was another Yquem in the more exotic category. There were a hint of bathroom flavors in that potpourri direction, but this was a solid Yquem (93).
The 1962 d’Yquem had a candle wax and peanut brittle nose. There was real vigor here in regards to nose. This had smoky and nutty greatness, along with some red hues that carried over to its palate with red fruits, in an October hunt kind of way. There were nice fruit and caramel flavors, and a long, stylish finish to this classic Yquem. Its acid was great, and Philippe found it ‘ethereal with no heaviness’ (95).
The 1961 d’Yquem was much browner with sugar and cola in its nose, Dr. Brown’s celery soda to be precise. Its palate was round and sweet with cola flavors but also a touch medicinal. Tangy and smoky, the ’61 had a hint of sour, although its acid was holding well (92).
I Told You So
There were six vintages to go, and four of them were legendary, the first of which was the 1959 d’Yquem. Its nose was all about the caramel, more crÃÃ‚me caramel than any other wine before. Its texture was perfect, with great balance between its oil and cut. It was so delicious in a just right spot. Its acid was mid-level, and ‘great’ and ‘superb’ kept coming up in my notes. There was ‘a lot of sugar’ here from this hot vintage, but it didn’t come across overly sweet (98).
The 1958 d’Yquem was much more mature despite being only a year older. This was the first in molasses territory with hints of Madeira goodness. The palate was similar yet tasty. This was sugary sweet in a more mature way with cola and Madeira flavors yet solidly so. Gold Man noted ‘honey raisin.’ While some may have found this advanced, it was still on the enjoyable side of the curve for me (91).
The 1953 d’Yquem was a bit weird with aromas of hay, animal, stable and almost some paint thinner. There was some alley and wet dog here, and this was my least favorite of the day so far. I even found alligator action, and that’s not a good thing. I couldn’t help but wonder if it was the bottle or the vintage (88?).
Older is Better
The last flight was comprised of three of the greatest vintages of Yquem…ever. In fact, I think if you took a five year window, you would not find a better trio of Yquem…ever. We began this climactic finish with the 1949 d’Yquem. There was a divine nose here with amber love, butterscotch and butter rum. Its nose was perfectly suntanned, and there was that caramel greatness a la the ’59, but this was heavier. In the end, I preferred the cleanliness of the ’59 by comparison, but that would be splitting hairs. The 1949 was like a bottle of rum raisin with a side of yo ho ho (97).
The 1947 d’Yquem took it up a notch, even though there wasn’t much room to grow. Candle wax, potpourri, straw, beef and almost some lime thai kink graced the nose. The palate was all about caramel and sex. Its acidity stood out, and it was so sexually texturally, I had to check myself. There was a kiss of orange to its ridiculously good flavors (98).
It Was A Very Good Year
The last wine of the afternoon was the 1945 d’Yquem. I have long been a proponent of this being the best vintage of all time, and the Yquem didn’t disappoint. There was more honey and sweetness here, along with noticeable t ‘n a and slate greatness. The minerality and rock solidness of the wine surpassed its rich and creamy fruit in the end, and the wine’s texture was absolutely ridiculous. Wow, wow and then some (99).
Sweet is better than sour, and when it comes to Yquem, I can safely say ‘pour some sugar on me.’
In Vino Veritas,