Sauternes Yquem for 60 euros per bottle: Bernard Arnaud’s revolution

Non-vintage wines, blends numbered between 1 and 6: the democratic change of the Château king of dessert wines

by Cinzia Benzi

Château d’Yquem, an extraordinary dessert wine, one of the most famous in the world, an emblem of the Sauternes region, an area of 2,200 hectares of vineyards, 40 km south-west of Bordeaux, in Gironde, Aquitaine. Château d’Yquem spreads over 100 hectares of vineyards, planted on the varied soil of a unique terroir.

In 1855, on the occasion of the Paris Exposition, a classification of Bordeaux wines was made. It was Napoleone III who requested a system that would pick the best Bordeaux wines. At the time, wine traders established a real ranking, which is valid to this day: it considers the reputation of the châteaux and the production costs, which at the time were directly proportional to the quality. The only Premier Cru Supérieur was (and still is) Château d’Yquem in Sauternes, an extraordinary product.

The excellence of this great dessert wine was the result of a woman, Françoise Josèphine Sauvage de Lur Saluces. When she married Louis-Amèdèe de Lur Saluces in 1785, she brought the castle of Yquem in dowry. The Lur Saluces family stayed in Yquem until the end of the 1990s, when the LVMH group became the majority shareholder and then the sole owner of the estate.

Bernard Arnaud did not profane the history of Yquem: in 2004 he called the great Bordelaise vigneron Pierre Lurton and asked him to direct the maison with oenologist Sandrine Garbay, who had been working at the Château since 1994. In all these years there have been renovations, new cellars, a the introduction of a shorter ageing and, since last year, a beautiful boutique where you can buy the great vintages of Yquem.

The real new change now is called “Sauternes”, strange but true. It’s a non-vintage wine which, for now, will only be sold at the castle, with this simple name. Since 2014 it’s made only with the remaining plots that will not be used to make the iconic dessert wine; however, they come from the same terroir. Every wine is made of different vintages: the maturity and complexity of the older ones is perfectly blended with the freshness and the fruity character of the younger ones.

Sandrine Garbay declared: «We decided to create a wine from blends of different vintages, like my colleagues in Champagne do. In the past this wine was offered, exclusively, to visitors and could be bought by our employees». It was common to taste it with ice, as an aperitif.

Hence the decision of selling bottles called simply 1, 2, 3, 4, 5 and 6 from the boutique inside Yquem and, soon, from the e-commerce section of the website. 60 euros per bottle, 1,000 boxes with six 0.75 bottles and 1,000 with twelve 0.5 bottles, all numbered and in limited edition, in wood cases.

Here is how the 6 blends are made:

Sauternes 1: bottled in 2014 and made of four batches chosen from the 2010 to 2013 vintages

Sauternes 2: bottled in 2016 and made of five batches chosen from the 2010 to 2014 vintages

Sauternes 3: bottled in 2017 and made of four batches chosen from the 2011 to 2016 vintages

Sauternes 4: bottled in 2017 and made of three batches chosen from the 2011 to 2016 vintages

Sauternes 5: bottled in 2019 and made of three batches chose from the 2014 to 2016 vintages

Sauternes 6: bottled in 2020 and made of four batches chosen from the 2014 to 2019 vintages

A real revolution imagined for a younger audience who can taste these great wines by adding some ice and some zest of lemon, lime or orange. Opening a bottle of Yquem without prejudgements, but only for the pleasure of drinking Sauternes.

Translated into English by Slawka G. Scarso