It may be a coincidence, but the legendary Chateau d’Yquem has chosen February to open to the public for the first time in its 400-year history. February, of course, is the month of Valentine’s Day, and it would be impossible to find a sweet wine — or any wine, for that matter — equal to Yquem for honoring a loved one. By appointment only, in groups of 12 at a cost of about $70 each, the chateau will host visitors through September.
There will be no serious disagreement with anyone reminding that the wondrous Sauternes of Yquem is the finest sweet wine of all. It is held in such high esteem that in the famous Bordeaux classification of 1855 when the Premier Crus of Lafite, Margaux, Latour, and Haut-Brion were ranked, Chateau d’Yquem was given the honorific Premier Cru Superieur. When its 2011 vintage sold for $117,000 a bottle, it set a record for the most expensive white wine ever.
I have been privileged to visit the estate twice, each time arranged by the Bordeaux Wine Syndicate. I have also twice had a bottle in my cellar, both gifts. While Yquem belongs to the Sauternes Appellation, it stands alone as the flagship of that district. It has a richness that reaches one’s toes almost as quickly as it does the palate. Its finish lingers and lingers and lingers.
My visits there made me pay attention to the districts of Sauternes and Barsac, both of which produce marvelous sweet wines. Never cloying, always lush, ever loving on the tongue, Sauternes has become my favorite sweet wine.
No, my Valentine will not have an Yquem with her foie gras, but she will have a Sauternes — a 2010 Doisey-Vedrines, a mere $40 a bottle. It will be chilled, sipped at first on its own, then matched with the foie gras.
On my first visit to Yquem, then cellarmaster Guy Latrille, knowing I had come from Germany, asked what I thought of Eiswein. When I told him I appreciated it, he smiled and said he had always found it a “bit thin.” That says a lot about Yquem and Sauternes.
Dr. Aldo Vaccha is a good friend even though I see him only every five or six years and don’t communicate with him any more often. He is a good friend because I only need to call or write, and he is immediately responsive to my requests and a splendid host when I do visit. He is also a good friend because he oversees the production of very good wine.
Aldo is director of a remarkable enterprise, the Wine Cooperative of the tiny town of Barbaresco in the Piedmont region of northwest Italy. The true name of the cooperative is Produttori del Barbaresco, and it is consistently named as one of best wine cooperatives in Europe and one of the very few that produces grand cru wines.
The wine of the locale — made totally from Nebbiolo grapes — takes its name from the village of about 1,000 residents, nearly all of whom live along a single street that is home to at least twelve fine restaurants, a few independent wine producers, and, of course, the Produttori.
Memories of the place and my visits over the years came fast and furious as I celebrated the Peyton Manning Super Bowl victory with a bottle of the 2010 vintage Barbaresco. Like its neighbor and friendly (mostly) competitor across the Tanaro River — Barolo — also a noble Nobbiolo home, Barbaresco lays claim to some of the most prestigious wines in Italy.
The Produttori in its present iteration was established in 1958 at the urging of the parish priest who convinced half a dozen producers to join forces to promote Barbaresco out from under the Barolo umbrella. Today it is managed by some 50 wine families as voting members. For its first three or four years it operated out of the parish church directly across from its present building — with no objections from the diocese.
The only wine, of course, is Barbaresco, the only grape Nebbiolo. There are Barbaresco strata based on the quality of the grapes in a specific vintage, and there are some Nebbiolos labeled simply Langhe, for the surrounding hills, because some of the grapes are not quite ready for the big time but which are nonetheless worthy of attention.
I was last in Barbaresco in 2011, and, like Peyton and another season, I wonder if I will ever venture back. Fortunately, this is one cooperative that ships its wines to America, and so, when I want a splurge and can come up with $30 – $35, I can re-play my 15 or 20 visits to the Piedmont over the years. I also have a hunch that Aldo knew about the Super Bowl.
The world has begun the observance of the 400th anniversary of the death of William Shakespeare, and as copies of his First Folio begin circulating the country, it seems appropriate to call attention to some of the Bard’s comments regarding our beloved beverage and its relationship to emperors and kings, especially now that we have reached something of a climax in the Presidential debates of 2016.
It could very well be instructive to start with what one famous character said of one of those kings: Falstaff about Henry IV. “A man cannot make him laugh; but that’s no marvel, he drinks no wine.”
Henry IV, however could very well have been speaking for a line-up of candidates on-stage just last night: “And shall our quick blood, spirited with wine, Seem frosty?”
To apply a comment to all the candidates, we should reach back to our high school readings of Julius Caesar and recall the Emperor’s request to “Give me a bowl of wine; In this I bury all unkindness, Cassius.”
Having now endured almost six weeks of close to two dozen aspiring Presidents in verbal combat, I am inclined to invoke Mark Antony: “Let’s all take hands, Till that the conquering wine hath steep’d our sense In soft and delicate Lethe.”
How relevant indeed is our Bard!OLDER POSTS »