Yquem releases its 2018 and Ygrec 2019

The third Monday of September is now firmly etched into the calendar of La Place de Bordeaux and the global fine wine market; for it sees the annual release of the last-but-one vintage of Château d’Yquem and the current vintage of dry wine ‘Ygrec’. 

Yquem 2018 and Ygrec 2019 will be released to the fine wine world today, 21 September 2020.   

Almost a month ago to the day, with the first grapes for Ygrec 2020 having just been harvested, I was lucky enough to be able to spend the morning with the inimitable Sandrine Garbay, Yquem’s maître de chais (pictured), during a short pause between picking the Sauvignon Blanc and the Semillon for Ygrec 2020. 

Alongside the freshly pressed juice from the Sauvignon Blanc, we tasted both wines alongside a few other recent vintages to help provide a little comparative context.   

Ygrec 2019 (75% Sauvignon blanc; 25% Semillon; alcohol 14.1%; pH 3.15; residual sugar 5g/L; picked relatively early, if not in comparison with the 2020, from 26 August until 5 September). Tasted with Sandrine Garbay at the château a week before bottling. Lighter in hue than the 2018 and in personality too, with a striking aerial freshness, levity and verticality. Pure, lifted, lithe and feather light. This has, from the start, a wonderfully floral lift and zest. Seashells – hinting at the way in which salinity is an essential part of the structure of this wine. Sappy, juicy and with great definition and precision. The finish is very chiseled and focused. If there has been a subtle evolution of the style in recent vintages it is to accentuate the sense of freshness. There is in fact just a little more residual sugar than in the 2018, Sandrine Garbay tells me (though it still rounds out to the same 5g/L); but you are less aware of it. 

Supremely tense and well-balanced. The minerality is so attractive – crushed or powdered stones, mica and that, oh so crucial, salinity again – grains of fleur de sel that seem to draw the wine out over the palate one by one. The freshness and sappiness seem almost to ripple in vying for your attention one after the other. Pink grapefruit, pear or papaya even, mimosa and elderflower. This is superb and deceptively powerful. As good an Ygrec as I can recall. Exquisite balance, tension and freshness with a glorious citrus/saline spine. 

Yquem 2018 (85% Semillon; 15% Sauvignon Blanc; alcohol 13.5%; pH 3.95; residual sugar 145 g/L – almost identical to the 2015; largely picked between the 22 and 30 October – making this the latest harvest in the last quarter of a century; around 4,500 cases – the average is more like 7,500).  Tasted with Sandrine Garbay at the chateau a week before bottling. Even if 2018 is unlikely to go down in the annals of vinous history as a ‘great’ Sauternes vintage, as is so often the case in vintages like this Yquem has produced an unquestionably great wine. For me, by quite some distance, the wine of the vintage. 

Botrytis came very late, only really in mid-October after the catalyst of the long-awaited rainfall on the 5th and 13th. There is a good side to that, the botrytis formed on grapes that were already completely and fully ripe. But there is a downside too – in that levels of acidity had dropped in the grapes before they were picked (though the effect was mitigated in part by moderate September temperatures). At Yquem the upside trumps by some way the downside, not least as this is a wine that does not lack for balancing acidity. 

Tutankhamen gold in the glass; viscous and enticing. Super fresh and lifted on the nose. A little like the 2017 (tasted alongside), the freshness here is delivered almost vertically. Almonds and exotic spices – mace, nutmeg, turmeric and even a hint of star anise. Toasted brioche and pain perdu.  Shockingly soft – paradoxically so for a wine that is so rich and intense. On the palate this is almost chewy. Yet at the same time it has this incredible levity and brightness as it tempts and teases the sense and dances on the tongue.  So subtle and refined and yet with considerable depth and underlying power. Structured like no other wine in the vintage. Very marked by its botrytis which weaves imperceptible sinews through the wine and holds and binds everything tightly together. This is seamless, supremely integrated and harmonious even at this very early stage – unlike the 2016 which, at the same stage, was much more of a cornucopia of senses and sensations. Apricots and mirabelles, saffron, mimosa and buttercups – shades of yellow and orange, reflecting the sunniness and warmth of the late summer. Extraordinarily textured and with a lovely spiciness. Rich, quite exquisite and very special.

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