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1787 Sauternes – Chateau d’Yquem


Sautenrs Barsac posterThe winemakers of Sauternes and Barsac hold an Open Cellar Door weekend (Portes Ouvertes) 10 – 11 November 2018  at Chateaux in the villages of Preignac, Bommes, Sauternes, Fargues and Barsac.  27 chateaux will be offering wine and cheese pairings – there is more to Sauternes and Barsac than the top Chateaux!- see 

In 2013 a very rare 1787 bottle of Chateau d’Yquem was sold for a mere £122,000 (or about US$155,000) Now is it sheer rarity, sheer historical value or the sumptuousness of the nectar that prompts such a purchase?

The interesting thing is that no-one has tasted it, but a number of interesting things come to light. Any wine will slowly evaporate in the bottle, and hence over the years the levels will have been “topped up” – like taking your car into the garage, Bordeaux chateaux will “service” your bottles of fine wine – re-corking, topping-up and often supplying a new label with a certificate of authentication. If you have old or rare bottles of wine it will be important to have some evidence of its provenance (where it came from) and how it has been stored. (It is hard to believe that during this “topping-up” someone was not tempted to try a little sip – for quality control purposes of course! )

Sauternes is of course famous for the longevity of its wines. It is however bizarre that this hallowed wine is made from what are otherwise “rotten” grapes. The noble rot, or “pourriture noble” is a feature of the Atlantic veineyards and also applies to nearby Monbazillac and Saussignac. In the damp late Autumn the Semillon grape can grow a surface mildew, which crucially does not puncture the skin. As the late harvested grapes shrink, aided by this botrytis, the juices attain a tremendous concentration which makes for such rich, sweet dessert wines, usually vinified and matured in new oak to produce a nutty caramelised character which is so distinctive, In some years the climatic conditions may not be right for this botrytis to grow and so there will be no harvest.

Other sweet wines such as those from Jurancon, Alsace and the Loire Valley do not get this noble rot, but will often be harvested even later in the Autumn to ensure that the sugars are really concentrated.

I would like to think that the buyer does actually drink the wine, despite the ridiculous equivalent price of a glass of the golden liquid. Of course, there is always the danger that it turns out to be the most expensive bottle of vinegar (well, old vinegar)!

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