THE HISTORIC PURCHASE OF CHATEAU D’ YQUEM 1811
Discovering the 1811 Château d’Yquem
My search for an old and exceptional vintage of Yquem started in November 2010 via several sources in London and Paris. In January of this year, I investigated two prominent London wine merchants who each had a bottle of Yquem 1811 for sale. While one wine merchant could not produce adequate proof of authenticity, the other merchant, The Antique Wine Company, could provide a Record of Inspection from Château d’ Yquem signed by 3 parties: Ms. Sandrine Garbay -Maitre de Chais of Château d’Yquem-, Mr. John Salvi Master of Wine Bordeaux- , and Stephen Williams -C.E.O. of The Antique Wine Company-, certifying the authenticity of the bottle which was reconditioned at the Château d’Yquem in 2007. Between this vital document, the impeccable condition of the bottle and the top-notch reputation of one of the world’s foremost international wine merchants -The Antique Wine Company- it made me satisfied enough to conclude the transaction which was done on January 18, 2011.
How is the bottle secured and displayed?
The bottle is currently displayed at SIP WINE BAR. I wanted to create a strong focal point in the restaurant, securing SIP WINE BAR as a wine Eden. The bottle is safeguarded and presented in a bullet-proof, temperature and hygrometrically-controlled glass showcase, lying down in a bronze hand. This presentation was a collaborative effort between a Bali-based architect/designer - Espace Concept-, a French bronze artist -Pierre Sicre- and myself.
Will the bottle ever be opened?
Yes, I wish to open this bottle at some point in time. Yquem 1811 is not only drinkable, but still vibrant and subtle to this day. Also, I did not purchase this bottle as an investment (although it clearly is), but as a personal ‘petite folie’. Incidentally, I was not aware that is was the most valuable white wine ever sold at the time of the purchase. It is The Antique Wine Company who alerted me of that fact a few weeks after the transaction. I will open this bottle in August 2017, 6 years from now, at La Tour d’Argent in Paris, during a dinner with my wife Agnes, my brother Daniel, my best friend Georges (both also ex-sommeliers of La Tour d’Argent) and Stephen Williams from The Antique Wine Company. It will mark the 50th anniversary of my career since I started at La Tour d’Argent in August 1967. The menu is already in my mind: The Yquem 1811 will be served with the famous Foie Gras des Trois Empereurs to start with and after a main course of our choice, we will come back to the Yquem 1811 which will then be served with a Roquefort Fermier et Affinẻ. It is my hope that the current proprietor of the restaurant, Andre Terrail (son of the late Claude Terrail for whom I worked for) and David Ridgway, current Head Sommelier and my replacement since I left La Tour d’Argent in 1977, will both be on hand to taste this historic wine with us.
Prior to obtaining this wine, what was the oldest Yquem vintage you have tasted?
While I was at La Tour d’Argent as a sommelier I was privileged to taste a number of old Yquem from the 1900′s quite regularly over the years. I think the oldest one I tasted was from 1901.
As a sommelier, how would you describe the taste of this Yquem 1811 to your guests? What food would you pair it with?
To reaffirm the old adage of any sommelier, which says: ‘you cannot formulate an opinion on a wine until you taste it’ and since I never tasted this wine, I can only refer to the tasting notes of two of the finest ‘palates’ in the business who tasted Yquem 1811 at various dates. In 1999, The Wine Spectator’s Per-Henrick Mansson, who gave it a 100-point score and stated: “The famous ‘comet vintage’ yielded this perfect Sauternes that’s the pinnacle of Yquem. Full-bodied and very smooth in texture, it offers an exotic combination of whipped cream and fresh crushed raspberry rolling over the palate with incredible finesse to end on a dream-like, velvety finish”. Before that, in 1995, Wine Advocate’s Robert Parker who also rated the wine with 100 points noted: “The Yquem 1811 with its dark gold color, awesomely intense, sweet nose, unctuous, thick, fabulous flavor extraction, pinpoint precision and a finish that lasted a minute or more, is the kind of wine on which Yquem’s reputation is based. It was liquified crème brulẻe -an astonishing wine-”
As for the pairing of such a wine with food, it seems that the level of any dish would appear pale to do justice to it, that’s why I would venture to present this ‘young grand father’ to a foie gras. The Roquefort/Sauternes combination (that I am planning at La Tour d’Argent) although extremely harmonious because that cheese is so sharp that the sweetness of a Sauternes makes it a perfect compliment, yet, the characteristics of that wine may be too challenging for the Roquefort. I’m not sure. In any case, I strongly believe that such a historic wine could also very well be paired with conversation alone!
Is there another old vintage of wine you have your sights on?
Honestly, no. I am a sommelier by trade which means that I am a wine drinker and not a collector. I have always maintained a decent wine cellar throughout my life but I am very happy to drink my wines. That’s the pleasure with wine, to drink it, not to look at it. I do know of a Yquem 1784 in the hands of an American collector which could become available very soon but first of all, prior to the early 1800′s, Sauternes wines -including Yquem- were not necessarily sweet. The ‘noble rot’ or botrytis was largely left to the chance of nature. In these times, no one had mastered the technique of ‘infecting’ the grapes with this botrytis which complicates winemaking. Therefore, it is very possible that many Sauternes prior to the 1800′s were dry! Secondly, to want to buy the oldest bottles of wine in the world is an expensive sport and I prefer tennis!