One member of the Wine Berserkers forum decided to celebrate his 50th birthday by opening an extra-special birth year wine: a bottle of 1969 Château d’Yquem. He had purchased the bottle years before, saving it specifically for this milestone occasion. Although the wine was 50 years old, he found that it still tasted fresh and lively, full of sweet botrytis, stone fruit flavors, and subtle floral aromatics. Others in the thread commented that he has a lucky birth year–this was certainly one of Château d’Yquem’s best vintages.
What makes a great Château d’Yquem vintage? All of these wines are excellent–the château doesn’t release a vintage if the grapes aren’t satisfactory–and they’re all designed to age for decades, so there aren’t many vintages that fall short. Still, different vintages have different strengths. You’ll find vintages that taste mature just 35 years after release and others that still taste exceptionally young at age 50. Some collectors prefer Château d’Yquem bottles that develop mature flavors fairly early whereas others prefer wines that age more slowly. This guide will help you find the best Château d’Yquem vintages based on your personal preferences and goals.
Château d’Yquem’s Best Recent Vintages
I have one colleague in particular who always drinks at least one bottle of each Château d’Yquem release while it’s still young. There are two good reasons for doing this. First, tasting these wines while they’re young can help you predict how they’re going to age over time. For example, my colleague tasted the 2001 vintage shortly after release and noted that it was very acidic and complex. He predicted that the wine would age very slowly, and so far, his hypothesis has been proven correct. When he tried the wine again this year, he found that it had developed somewhat but still needed much more time in storage to mature fully. Another reason for drinking Château d’Yquem vintages while they’re still young is simply because they can be excellent this way. Earlier this month, my colleague and I opened a bottle of the 2015 vintage and thoroughly enjoyed the wine’s sweet honey and apricot notes as well as its youthful energy.
It’s important to keep in mind that Château d’Yquem’s best young vintages require time to prove themselves truly age-worthy.
Whether you plan on laying down your wine long-term or drinking it now, young Château d’Yquem makes an excellent investment. Here are a few of Château d’Yquem’s best vintages of the past 20 years:
- 2017: It’s still far too early to say whether this vintage will be legendary or not, but critics who have tasted the wine say that it is very firm and racy and will likely age for many, many decades.
- 2016: Subtle aromatics are characteristic of this vintage. It’s less complex than some of the other vintages on this list and should mature more quickly.
- 2015: Receiving perfect and near-perfect scores from top critics, this vintage is very ripe and has excellent minerality. It should age for many decades, perhaps 70 years or longer.
- 2014: A creamy, intense vintage. It is well-balanced and should age through 2055.
- 2013: This vintage is deeper in color and has a richer honey flavor than the others on this list. This is the ideal vintage for collectors who prefer a powerful Sauternes.
- 2011: Very light and balanced, with racy citrus notes. This wine should age for a minimum of 50 years.
- 2009: The 2009 vintage is tangier than most, meaning that it’s slightly less sweet than some of the estate’s other top vintages. It will likely age through 2045.
- 2007: Like the 2009, this vintage is also fairly tangy and quite citrusy. It’s not as approachable in its youth as some of the others on this list, but it has great aging potential (through 2050).
- 2001: Spicy, rich, and round, this is an intense vintage that will age very slowly. James Suckling says that it could even be “the new benchmark for sweet wines.”
As you can see, nearly half of the vintages released in the past 20 years have received very high scores, averaging 97 points or higher. This may be due to a change in winemaking techniques as well as favorable weather conditions. Before 2000, Château d’Yquem aged its wines for 36 months in new French oak. Over the past 20 years, however, the estate has cut down on this oak aging time by six months, producing wines that ultimately retain more fruit flavors and are even more approachable in their youth. Weather conditions in Sauternes have also been warmer, on average, than they were in the past, which is resulting in richer, more concentrated wines.
It’s important to keep in mind, too, that Château d’Yquem’s best young vintages require time to prove themselves truly age-worthy. For example, only a small handful of vintages from the 1940s are drinking beautifully today, even though the decade produced many incredible young wines. It’s possible that only a few of the vintages in the list above will be considered among the best the estate has ever produced. Time will tell.
In the meantime, you can drink any of the vintages above right now, but if you want to taste them at their most complex, then you should wait a little longer–none of these wines have reached peak maturity yet.
Château d’Yquem’s Best Older Vintages
Château d’Yquem’s best vintages reward patience as they are among the longest-lived wines in the world. I once had the opportunity to try a bottle of 1945 Château d’Yquem that tasted as if it had been bottled just a few years ago. It was fresh and honeyed, and the only thing that gave away its significant age was its complexity–there isn’t a young wine in the world with that depth of flavor.
What makes Château d’Yquem’s best vintages so unique is their incredible potential for aging.
For this reason, you will likely want to invest in a few older bottles of Château d’Yquem, especially since most of the younger vintages won’t even approach maturity until midway through this century. If you want to experience the taste of aged Château d’Yquem now, consider some of the top vintages of the past 200-odd years:
These still need another ten or 20 years in storage to develop greater complexity.
The 1983 vintage is approaching maturity, but the three more recent vintages still need some time to develop.
These vintages can be enjoyed now, however, they will continue to develop in complexity for another decade or two.
Vintages from the 1960s have great depth of flavor but will likely continue to age very slowly if you choose to wait a little longer.
The 1940s to 1950s:
Vintages made prior to 1960 taste quite complex already. At this stage, aging occurs so slowly that it’s generally wiser to drink wines of this age now than wait for them to develop slightly more complexity and depth of color.
The 1920s to 1930s:
If you find one of these vintages, consider drinking it now. At this stage, these wines are very fragile and require careful storage. The longer you keep them, the greater the risk of damage. It’s best to keep these wines only if you’re saving them for a special occasion, giving them away as an inheritance, or you plan on reselling them at a later date.
The wines above have proven themselves to be the best Château d’Yquem vintages of the 19th century. They were able to outlive all of their peers due to the perfect complement of acidity and balance of flavors. Keep in mind, however, that wines from this century are frequently faked due to their rarity and value. Exercise caution and always get your wine bottles authenticated by an expert before you purchase them.
What makes Château d’Yquem’s best vintages so unique is their incredible potential for aging. Apart from those making fortified wine, very few producers can say that their wines from the 1800s are still drinkable, yet it’s rare to come across a top-quality bottle of Château d’Yquem that tastes over the hill.
How to Store Château d’Yquem’s Best Vintages
Although Château d’Yquem’s best vintages are designed for long-term aging, you need to keep them under perfect storage conditions in order for their mature flavors to develop properly. For example, if your cellar is too cold, your wine will take much longer to increase in complexity, as the low temperature will cause the wine to shut down. On the other hand, if your cellar is too warm, you run the risk of cooking your wine or causing it to age faster–and less gracefully–than is optimal. To improve your wine’s chances of surviving into the next century, consult with a storage expert or use professional storage services.
When your Château d’Yquem wine is kept at just the right temperature and humidity, it will become very dark in color–almost a tawny brown–and develop a more layered flavor profile that never stops evolving. Because the best vintages are always changing, there is no perfect time to open these bottles. By taking every possible storage precaution while these bottles are under your care, you’ll provide them with the conditions they need to add new layers of flavor with each decade.
Whether you are starting your high-end wine collection or adding to an established portfolio, Vinfolio is your partner in buying, selling, and professional storage. Contact us today to get access to the world’s finest wine.