Sauternes and Tokaj wines are some of the most sought-after in the world. Both regions are famous for producing sweet, concentrated white wines that can age for decades–some can even age for centuries under the right conditions. These wines share similarities–botrytized grapes are used in both regions, for example–yet comparing Sauternes vs. Tokaji reveals that these are two very different wines. For one thing, they don’t have the same flavor profile. Fine Sauternes is known for tasting rich and honeyed, while Tokaji Aszú is often much fruitier and more acidic.
A few years ago, a wine enthusiast wrote a letter to Wine Spectator’s Dr. Vinifera asking whether it’s safe to decant Sauternes. The letter writer had just come back from a restaurant and had been surprised to see that the sommelier poured a 1995 Château d’Yquem from a decanter. Dr. Vinifera responded that decanting Château d’Yquem certainly isn’t a common practice, but it’s also not a bad idea. Like any other fine wine, some Sauternes vintages open up with a little aeration and become more expressive.
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.
Finding the right Château d’Yquem food pairing can be a challenge–although Yquem is an intense and powerful wine, some foods will overpower its complex flavors. I know a wine enthusiast who served a bottle of 1947 Château d’Yquem alongside a platter of very strong cheese (including blue cheese and aged asiago). The bold flavors of the blue cheese completely overwhelmed his palate and he could no longer taste the Yquem properly. Frustrated after this experience, he decided to only drink Yquem on its own in the future or to pair it with very delicate, mild foods like lobster or fresh pear. He’s now afraid to serve the wine with anything too bold or savory.
Sweet wine sales are on a steep and steady decline around the world as more wine drinkers prefer the taste of dry white wines. Where does this leave traditional white wine regions such as Alsace and Sauternes? Terroirs that grow some of the finest white wine varietals in the world are being forced to either…