Sunday, November 14, 2010

Cellar Tour and Dinner at Château d'Yquem with M. Pierre Lurton, GM: Decanter d'Yquem Weekend

We made our way back to Les Sources de Caudalie after the Château Cheval Blanc visit and, after stopping to take pictures at Petrus and a few other château, what had originally been billed as an afternoon free quickly became a mad dash to be ready in time for our transit to Château d'Yquem.

When we started out, the light was failing and it was fully dark by the time we got to our destination.  Based on the vehicles' climb up the slope to the château, and the orientation of the lights in the distance, one got the sense that the daytime view would be dramatic.  There was some disappointment that we would not experience that view on this visit (a feeling that was enhanced when M. Lurton mentioned, during the introductions, that the daytime view was spectacular).  We turned into a gravel driveway and pulled into a darkened courtyard that was surrounded on all sides by buildings and/or walls.

There was a commotion to our left and three people came crunching towards us in the dark.  One of the two males gave Sarah Kemp a welcoming peck on the cheek and then proceeded to shake everyone's hand.  This was Pierre Lurton, General Manager of both Château dYquem and Château Cheval Blanc.  He was accompanied by Valérie Lailheugue, who was introduced as being responsible for Corporate Communications but, as the evening wore on, it became evident that she was the institutional memory of the Château.

After these "in-the-dark" introductions, M. Lurton indicated that we would go visit the cellar.  He said that  he was not going to spend a lot of time on the workings of the Château as we would probably find it boring after two days of listening to similar material.  The cellar was fronted by a brightly lit foyer whose walls were decorated with framed pictures of vines and bunches of grapes. M. Lurton stopped in front of these pictures and began to speak.

He begun by informing us as to his responsibilities at both Yquem and Cheval Blanc and indicated that he was also making wine in Argentina.  He referred to d'Yquem as possessing "sensual terroir" and said that its 105 hectares (the Yquem website says 188 hectares of which 113 is under vine) sits in the middle of the 2000-hectare Sauternes appellation.  He briefly explained the botrytis-formation process and told us that the traditional Yquem blend is 80% Semillon and 20% Sauvignon Blanc.  The grapes are picked beginning in the middle of September and continues through an average of six waves.

As we walked through the cellar, M. Lurton continued his discourse.  Wines from individual plots are stored separately in the fermentation room.  The wines are stored in 100% new oak and are in barrel for 34-40 months.  Annual production is between 500 and 1000 barrels.  The Chinese market has been good for the company but the biggest consumer of d'Yquem continues to be Italians.

After leaving the cellar we repaired to the tasting room.  Glasses were already set up in anticipation of our arrival and M. Lurton and Valérie went behind the bar and began pouring the 2007 d'Yquem for us to taste.  M. Lurton indicated that the 2007 vintage was a good one in Sauternes.  The grapes were late-picked because of an Indian summer with the earliest picking on September 10th and the last of six waves occurring on November 6th.  The wine has 125 g/l of residual sugar and 14% alcohol.  It has a golden color and, on the nose, botrytis, rust, intense pure fruit, light honey, peach, pineapple, and a sense of the complexity that is embodied in the wine.  The wine exhibits a little spiciness and a very long finish.  It was bottled 8 months ago.

Upon completing the tasting we decamped to the courtyard and made our way over to the Reception and Dining rooms.  We entered a small foyer and to the right was a cream-colored room with white trim and furnished with stunning period pieces.  On the walls were ancient-looking tapestries and paintings and, covering a part of the polished wood floor, a beautiful Parisian rug.  This was the room in which the champagne reception was being held.  I gingerly stepped into the room so as not to break anything.  My wife stepped right in and sat in one of the chairs to change from her cellar shoes to her dinner togs.  I held my breath waiting for the antique chair to break and bring her crashing to the ground and me a bill from Château d'Yquem for damage to their property.  But the chair held up and I started breathing again.  In my relief I hastily downed a glass of the Veuve Clicquot which had appeared as if out of thin air.

The reception lasted for about 30 minutes before we were summoned to the Dining Room, the setting of which is shown in the picture below.  A seating chart on an easel showed where everyone would be sitting and individual name tags stood at attention on a sideboard.

The first course was a Medley de Saint-Jacques aux Truffes (Scallops with truffles).  The presentation was excellent and a member of the wait staff circulated with a bowl of brown truffle sauce as an accompaniment.  Some diners poured the sauce directly over the course while others placed it on the side.  This course was paired with the 2007 vintage of Y, the Château's dry white wine.  The wine had a botrytized nose to go along with nuttiness, rusty nails, lemon zest, grassiness, tropical notes and white fruits.  This wine paired very well with this course.

The second course was Noix de Veau (round filet of Veal), Girolles (chanterelle mushrooms) et Tombée d'Epinards (cooked-down spinach).  This course did have an optional rust-colored sauce as an accompaniment and was paired with a 1996 d'Yquem.  The wine was delicate and fresh and less rich than the 2007 tasted earlier.  I found this pairing to be a little rocky as my palate kept asking "where's the red?"

For our next course we had a selection of cheeses (Comté, Roche baron, Bleu d'Aurergne).  The final course was a Gratin de Pamplemousse (crusted grapefruit) and was paired with a 1988 d'Yquem.  This wine had an excellent bronze color and was rich but balanced.  This wine paired excellently with this course.

This was a truly excellent meal both in terms of the gustatory items as well as the environment that was created for us that evening.  The setting was fabulous and will be imprinted on my memory for a very long time.  M. Lurton was a gracious host and was ably assisted in that endeavor by Valérie.  M. Lurton regaled us with story after story drawn from his personal experiences and Sarah matched him tale for tale.  It was a pleasure to be sitting next to her, and diagonally across from him, so that I could absorb both the words and facial expressions of these two as they bantered back and forth.

We did not want to leave. But, alas, we had to.

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