Today we visited the vineyards of Sauternes and Barsac, where they grow Sauvignon, Muscadelle and Semillon grapes with a high sugar density. This creates the sweet white wine known as Sauterne.
Above them all reigns Château d’Yquem, home of the sole premier grand cru of the region, and the most prestigious Sauternes in the world, famous since the 16th century.
This is sacred ground for wine lovers, and easy to miss if you are just a casual tourist. Luckily, we were advised where the entrance was, which is critical information, as there is no sign announcing the Château. This is not a place where you pull up for a tasting and maybe take home a bottle or two.
No Château d’Yquem wines can be tasted or bought here. If you have the budget to spend at least 200 € per bottle – and that’s just for starters – then, you go to a high-end vintner and transact your business. But you can walk to the château and tour the gardens, which we were eager to do. It was a glorious day, and on our walk we did not see one other person, but we did suspect we were being watched carefully.
The problem with Château d’Yquem is that it absolutely spoils you for any other winery. What could compare to this perfection? If their grapes are not of the premier level in any given year, they do not even produce a vintage. However, a bottle of their wine is said to last for a century, given proper care.
Thomas Jefferson visited the château and later wrote, “Sauterne. This is the best white wine of France and the best of it is made by (then owner) Monsieur de Lur-Saluces.” Jefferson ordered 250 bottles of the 1784 vintage for himself, and additional bottles for George Washington. Wonder if he saw the views we saw. The rose garden was at its peak and the effect was exquisite.
Earlier in the day, we visited another castle, this one in Sainte-Croix-du-Monte. The Château de Tastes is now the city hall, and it has a view that purports to include things as far away as Lourdes and Pyrenees. We couldn’t quite see them, but what a glorious view to have.
In between all this beauty, we fitted in a little lunch, with an appropriate glass of Sauterne to start. I love it; Don is not a fan. Good thing we didn’t splurge on a bottle of Château d’Yquem…