Yquem and Latour

As promised photos from Bordeaux as we approach the harvest. First up, rotting grapes at Yquem…

The first signs of botrytis infection on the Sémillon grapes at Chateau d'Yquem. Monday August 31st 2009
The first signs of botrytis infection on the Sémillon grapes at Chateau d'Yquem. Monday August 31st 2009

“When Botrytis develops as it should, it succeeds in ‘contaminating’ the grapes, turning them brown, invading the pulp, and utterly transforming the flavours. Botrytis also makes the skins porous, enabling water to evaporate from the inside as the juice becomes increasingly concentrated. This juice reaches sugar levels far greater than those found at the end of normal ripening: 18 -30° potential alcohol, ie 300-600 grams of sugar per litre! Only sufficiently concentrated, botrytised grapes are harvested.” (Taken from Yquem’s visitors brochure).

The same brochure postulates that the early morning mists that help bring the onset of botrytis “are due to the humidity of thousands of hectares of pine trees to the south and west, as well as the proximity of the Cerons River”. This may be so but the pine forests are a relatively new feature of the landscape,

“Less than two centuries ago, most of the Landes was a two million hectare heath, five days long and three days wide. Almost nothing grew there but gorse, broom, heather, moor grass, helianthemums and lichens” (The Discovery Of France, Graham Robb p269).

A law of 1857 galvanised the draining of the area and the planting of pines. By 1889 the afforestation was complete. Yet before this mighty forest was grown there were vintages of Yquem where the benefits of botrytis are all too obvious, most notably the 1847 which, in the words of Michael Broadbent, is “unquestionably the greatest-ever Sauternes vintage” and, infamously, the 1784, of which Thomas Jefferson was so keen he wanted 250 bottles for personal use during his residency in France.

A legend!
A legend!

On display in the cellars at Yquem were bottles of the legendary vintages including this 1893 about which Broadbent writes

“Tasted on three occasions, all memorable. First, in 1995 at Peter Ziegler’s outstanding rare wine tasting at the Schlosshotel Erbach: warm orange-amber; deep, rich, honeyed bouquet reminiscent of ripe apricots, peaches and overripe grapes; very rich, powerful, fairly high volatile acidity, alcoholic, impressive. Nest, in 1996, served with foie gras at a great wine dinner in Oslo hosted by a major collector of wine, Christian Sveaas: a similar description to the bottle tasted in 1995: incredible power, almost pungent, in perfect condition (I gave it 6 stars!) Most recently, on the fourth day of Hardy Rodenstock’s Yquem marathon in Munich, a bottle recorked at the Chateau in 1996 and, frankly, not as good, more mahogany in the colour, whiff of ‘varnish’ on the nose and with bitter caramelised orange in the aftertaste”

Fancy a bottle? Have a look here

Musuem stock at Chateau Latour
Only 11 bottles of the 1865 left!

Some pretty poor wartime vintages of Latour here, though the 1863 and 1865 are apparently rather good. To my shame I’ve only tried Latour once; the 1998 in 2001. It was swingeingly tannic but had a core of jet black fruit underneath. I had the great pleasure of selling a couple of bottles of the 1934 to a rather grumpy Belgravian gentleman. He reported them to be fine but a bit old. Very much like himself.

Apologies for the blurring
Apologies for the blurring

Chateau Latour have the smallest production of Grand Vin label wine of any of  the 1855 first growths. Not that they’re exactly Burgundian in their scale of production though.

The weather in Bordeaux has been a bit dodgy the last couple of days but by all accounts some rain is needed and the forecast looks like brightening up towards the end of the week. Still looking very positive! More info here (anybody know how I can permanently embed woozor into the wordpress coding for this blog?)

On an entirely different note the wine I drank last night was the 2008 Assyrtiko from the Hatzidakis Winery in Santorini. Crisp and clean, slightly waxy nose, melon fresh palate, minerally finish. Went nicely with some spicy corn fritters I made from Saturday’s left over barbecued cobs too.


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