Château d’Yquem – 2011 versus 2004

On Monday, an email arrived from K. who invited to a quick delivery check of the newly arrived 2011 Château d’Yquem on Thursday directly after work, in company with a few other people who also like this type of wines. Naturally, I’m available when such delivery checks are needed, and I would even have considered cancelling my laundry booking if I’d had one. 😉

Since it is very difficult to evaluate a wine completely on its own, I brought a demi of the 2004 Château d’Yquem 2004 for comparison.

Château d'Yquem 2011 och 2004

2011 Château d’Yquem
From a half bottle.

Light golden colour. Nose with tropical fruit, some apricot, honey, some saffron, and classical botrytis notes. The oak note is very well hidden and the pure botrytis notes dominate. The nose is elegant and rather discrete. The palate is very full-bodied with an enormous concentration of aromas, loads of honey, dried apricots, spice, quite good acidity, and a long and fruity aftertaste that goes on lite an Yquem should. The palate is approachable, the nose is young and a bit discrete. Overall the wine is definitely top class! Young, but drinks well now, 96 p.

Since the nose was rather discrete with surprisingly well hidden oak and dominating botrytis together with tropical fruit, the nose wasn’t spot-on Sauternes at the first sniff. It could actually have been some other top-class botrytised wine. The palate on the other hand, is definitely more classical Sauternes, with those spice notes that are created by the combination of botrytised grapes and the new oak barrels.

2011 is counted as yet another excellent Sauternes vintage. All vintages 2005-2011 have thus been good or great, with 2007 and 2010 being the shining stars on the acid-driven side, and 2005 and 2009 as the shining stars on the ripe and powerful side. However, this was the first 2011 Sauternes I have tasted, so it’s a bit early to give a verdict on the vintage in general, in terms of quality or style. Interesting enough, Château d’Yquem chose not to sell their 2011 en primeur in 2012 (article in Decanter), since the market was not judged as particularly good, and since the red wines that influence the market sentiment wasn’t considered too stellar in 2011. Instead, they started to sell the 2011 vintage in September 2013 (article in Decanter). Actually, I don’t fully agree with their own comparison to the 2001 and 2007 vintages. 2011 is a top-notch vintage that combines a lot of weight and concentration with a fine balance and isn’t lacking in terms of elegance, but it is not as acid dominated as the 2001 or 2007, where in particular the 2001 is “built for eternity”. (If that really is a good thing for vintages that aren’t too old?)

I suppose one could say that those who need to worry about the price might consider avoiding Château d’Yquem completely and use their limited funds to buy from the circle of excellent premier crus that are just behind Yquem. This said, I can’t avoid commenting that the market price is just slightly higher than for 2008, and noticeably lower than for 2007, 2009, and 2010. If we accept the general price level of Yquem, the 2011 must be considered as reasonably priced in relation to its quality. 2011 also proves the excellent drinkability of a young Yquem, and it should continue to be drinkable in this way for at least another couple of years. After that, it’s probably advisable to let the remaining bottles rest in the cellar to about 15 years of ago (about 2026), or perhaps 10-12 years for half bottles (about 2021-2023).

2004 Château d’Yquem
From a half bottle.

Golden colour. The nose is dominated by honey and saffron, and we also find pronounced spice notes, dried apricot and classical developed Sauternes notes. The palate is full-bodied and very spicy with dried apricot, honey, a tiny hint of fiery notes, balancing acidity, and a long aftertaste. A lot of power, classical nose and a long aftertaste, but after all not the perfectly balanced palate an Yquem should have. Drinks well now (regular bottles could perhaps develop for some more time), 92 p.

The 2004 wouldn’t need more concentration or spice, but it would have benefited from a little more acidity to get more freshness and balance. It is still a great Sauternes, but the hint of alcoholic fire I can detect shouldn’t really come through in an Yquem.

2004 isn’t considered a particularly good vintage in Sauternes in general, but I know that Château d’Yquem was very pleased with their wine given the conditions of the vintage. The 2004 does clearly demonstrate how much better Yquem achieves in difficult vintages, compared to the situation up until the early 1990s. Nowadays, there are no bad vintage of Yquem, and the most extreme expression of that quality policy is that they didn’t produce any Château d’Yquem in the 2012 vintage! (They did produce their dry wine Y, though.) But while the 2004 Yquem is a really good Sauternes, it is not a top-notch Yquem.

In terms of pricing, 2004 and 2002 have been the least expensive vintage of Yquem in the 2000s, but today 2002, 2004, and 2008 sell at about the same price at the “second hand” market. I consider 2008, with its notes of tropical fruit and its excellent concentration, as they best buy among these three.

My blog posts on the two Château d’Yquem tastings I held last year can be found here and here.

Swedish version of this blog post here.

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