Supreme sauternes

Why Chateau d'Yquem is incomparable
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Indy Lifestyle Online
The secret of sauternes is that its fruit must be affected by the right amount of decay- the famed "noble rot" - Botrytis cinerea. This allows the natural sugar and flavour in the grape to concentrate. Misty autumn days in the Graves area of Bordeaux followed by sun sets the perfect weather pattern for this condition which gives Chateau d'Yquem, the supreme sauternes, its honeyed, exquisite wonder.

But the onset of winter brings the risk of hail, rain and frost, all of which can wipe out the crop,so not a drop of d'Yquem will necessarily be made. As it is, a whole vine of these shrivelled grapes - only individual berries are selected after inspection by expert eyes - produces just one glass of wine.

At best, the new owners, the scent-to-champagne conglomerate LMVH, can expect to squeeze 5,500 cases a year of the precious liquid - which goes nowhere near meeting demand for the only sauternes with the rank of Grand Premier Cru.

It does not make economic sense, of course, which is why the aristocratic Lur-Saluces family, who have grown grapes on the same site for 211 years, have sold a controlling share in their 270 acres of pebbly soil. But for those fortunate enough to afford it, this is a wine to win a lover, a wine to soothe the savage heart, a taste to be forever stashed away in the palate memory.

Berry Bros & Rudd sells a bottle of the 1986 for pounds 205 (0171-396 9669), and Harrods has the 1955, a snip at pounds 495. Another option might be to bid at Sotheby's, where, last month, a bottle of the ready-for-drinking 1921 went for pounds l,078 (pounds 179 a glass) or for the less well-off a bottle of 1949 was knocked down for pounds 440.

Naturally, the experts rave about Chateau d'Yquem, saying it is stuffed full of tropical fruit flavours, and has profound depth, whereas some find smoky aromas, others coconut and an orange/honeyed richness. America's most influential wine critic, Robert Parker, gave the 1988 and 1986 vintages 98 points out of 100 - which is, more or less, perfection.

I have tried it only once: at a celebration lunch given by Albert Roux at Le Gavroche at which were served vintage champagne, Madeira dating from 1905, two grand Burgundy reds and a 1955 Taylor's port.

The 1975 Chateau d'Yquem outshone them all and still lingers in the memory as the most rich, complex, incomparable wine I have ever tasted. It is also a day I shall never forget for another, infinitely sad reason. I was told after the lunch that my father had just died.I know he would have been thrilled that his son was tasting one of the world's greatest wines on the day that he took his leave of it

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