Close Menu

‘Yquem day’ sees release of fabulously fresh and crystalline 2021 vintage

Db’s Bordeaux correspondent Colin Hay made his  annual pilgrimage to Yquem, talking to Lorenzo Pasquini and Annabelle Grellier about the 2021 vintage and release strategy, a wine of “staggering purity and freshness”.


‘Yquem Day’ – a term, I believe, first coined in the pages of this very column – marks for me the vinous start of spring, the last great release before the en primeur campaign to come. This year it falls on the 21st of March and brings with it the release of the sublime 2021 vintage through La Place de Bordeaux.

The vintage is an exceptional one in Sauternes – as, indeed, it is in Barsac. But it is not one without significant challenges. And those challenges are now in a sense compounded by the very different prevailing market conditions, arguably the most difficult in well over a decade.

Both influence the release strategy of LVMH this year, with the likely effect that a truly exceptional expression of Yquem will be offered to the market at price significantly below that its sheer quality would clearly warrant in a more conducive and benign economic context. To be clear, the final price has yet to be set. But this is the message emanating from LVMH on the eve of the release and the clear impression, too, of those lucky négociants in the pool to whom I spoke.

With the château set to hold back a little more stock in this most age-worthy of vintages and with a derisory final yield for the grand vin of just 8 hl/ha (derisory, yes, but much higher than that of the appellation average of 3 hl/ha) this is likely to one of the smaller ever releases of a new vintage of Yquem to the market (close, in fact, in size to that of the 2020 vintage last year).

The challenges of the vintage began early, with all possible meteorological woes present almost from the moment of bud burst itself. The spring was a veritable viticultural nightmare of, at times, devastating frost and hail followed by significant and sustained mildew pressure.

But the suffering within the appellation was far from evenly distributed. A number of Yquem’s neighbours produced, essentially, no wine (tragically, Guiraud and Sigalas Rabaud are examples). Yet Yquem was, in comparative terms at least, partially spared, with amongst the highest yields in the appellation, albeit well below the estate’s long-term average yield.

If the spring was horrific, then the summer offered respite and repose as almost perfect summer conditions set in. The potential yield, by this stage, was already low. But with little or no subsequent rain and relatively low temperatures, the preconditions for the production of exceptional fruit were all in place. It was here, in the near perfect and slowly evolving summer conditions that the signature freshness of the vintage was established.

Two rainy periods in mid-September and early October saw noble rot spread throughout the vineyard, with an again almost perfect three-week window of cool, dry and sunny conditions allowing the botrytis to establish, develop and concentrate the fruit on the vines. The harvest was easy, with no deteriorating in the weather conditions permitting three successive passes through the vineyard between the 30 September and 30 October.

The result is a vintage of staggering purity and freshness.

Lorenzo Pasquini, Colin Hay and Annabelle Grellier

Tasting note

(tasted at Yquem with Lorenzo Pasquini and Annabelle Grellier):

Yquem 2021 (Sauternes; 65% Sémillon; 35% Sauvignon Blanc; a final yield of 8 hl/ha, comparing favourably with the appellation average of just 3 hl/ha; 148 g/l of residual sugar; pH 3.79; 13.9% alcohol; 100% new oak though you have nothing directly to indicate that). Tutankhamun gold, maybe a hint of buttercup. I find this more direct and intense than the 2020. Yet this is also a wine that exudes balance and harmony, even at this nascent stage. Beautifully limpid and with a disguised natural power. Supremely aerial. Green apple skin. Saffron. Fresh ginger. A hint of confit ginger too. Lime. White grapefruit. A touch of fleur de sel. Marzipan. White almonds. Mango. Guava. Passionfruit. Pineapple – entirely pure and crisply fresh. All in great purity. This is floral, too. Mimosa. Buttercup (almost the leitmotif here). On the palate I find this tight and tense, yet so incredibly softly textured. And, above all, intense and captivating. Sparklingly striking and dynamic – and held together by the salinity as much as by the acidity, the two in fact working together, giving this an incredible aging potential. Delicate in its intensity. Sapid and with lovely waves of saline-inflected juicy fluidity. Even now this is a wine of very considerable complexity – built from assembling the finest botrytised grapes from the best of the couronne (the crown) of Bommes (with the Château of Yquem at the epicentre). This finishes with the most glorious bitter sugar note – burnt caramel just perfectly on the edge of bitterness. So accessible but so totally ageless and, for now, almost cool in its freshness. 99.


It looks like you're in Asia, would you like to be redirected to the Drinks Business Asia edition?

Yes, take me to the Asia edition No