Tasting Reviews

Chateau d’Yquem at the Hippopotamus at the QT Hotel

When the Hippopotamus Restaurant at the QT Museum Hotel in Wellington gave notice it was to host a wine and food matched dinner with Chateau d’Yquem Sauternes, the world’s greatest sweet wine, it was a no-brainer to attend. Representing Ch. d’Yquem was Jean-Philippe Lemoine, the marketing director; the menu was to be designed by executive chef Laurent Loudeac, and the proceedings were orchestrated by head sommelier Florent Souche. Florent curates one of the largest and most comprehensive wine lists of a hotel in the country, which includes several vintages of Ch. d’Yquem There were to be six wines in total served, the ‘Y’ 2016, Ch. d’Yquem vintages 2011, 2005, 2003, 1997 and 1990, these with four courses of food. The event was held in ‘The Billiards Room’ on the ground floor of the QT Hotel. Also in attendance was Will Brunel-Morvan of Maison Vauron, distributors, who supported the Ch. d’Yquem dinners and tastings held during Jean-Philippe’s time in New Zealand. www.yquem.fr

Jean-Philippe Lemoine - Ch. d'Yquem

Chris and Cheryl Staynes
My experience with Ch. d’Yquem has been a little more extensive than most in New Zealand, thanks to Chris and Cheryl Staynes of Dunedin. They are wine lovers extraordinaire and their generosity is unmatched by anyone I know. Chris and Cheryl started collecting Ch. d’Yquem (along with other fine wines) in the 1980s. To celebrate Chris’ 40th birthday in 1990, they held a vertical tasting of Ch. d’Yquem from 1985 – 1946, with 20 different vintages. For Chris’ 50th birthday in 2000, they held a vertical tasting of the wine from 1994 – 1921, with 36 different vintages. Then in 2010 to celebrate Chris’ 60th birthday, they held a tasting of wines from 2006 – 1946, with 34 different vintages (click here to see my report). Chris was diagnosed with cancer in 2015, and following treatment that year, he and Cheryl put on another tasting in 2016, with 34 different vintages covering 2013 – 1950. This was a belated 65th celebration of Chris’ birthday, a combined celebration of Cheryl’s birthday, and a wedding anniversary event (click here to see my notes). I should point out that the Staynes have not asked for payment to attend these tastings, and only friends have been invited. I feel very privileged to have attended all these, and my brother Norman and my partner Sue most of them.

Ch. d’Yquem – The Greatest Sweet Wine
There is no doubt that Ch. d’Yquem is the planet’s greatest sweet wine. It is always a pleasure to drink and it is one of the easiest wines to enjoy. Please refer to my report on the 2016 Staynes tasting (click here) to get a full background of the wines, its prominence in the district, and its method of production. Having been in the ownership of the Lur Saluces family for generations, it was acquired by LVMH in 1999, and I believe the quality has actually improved since then! As with any wine sealed with cork, it suffers the vagaries that cork proffers, so the saying that there are never great wines, but only great bottles is a truism that tasters must be aware of. My personal taste is for Ch. d’Yquem from 30 years to 50 years of age, though great vintages look more youthful, and lesser years look more forward. As Ch.d’Yquem is on its own level, superior to any other Sauternes, one can make relative judgements of one vintage fairly only with other vintages of Yquem.

The Menu and the Wines
Following is the menu prepared by Laurent Loudeac, and the wines served with each course. I offer my notes on the wines. As wine and food match can be a very subjective affair, I’ll just say that I found the matches generally worked well, and there were no matches that worked against each other. I was seated next to food reviewer David Burton and he appeared pretty pleased with the pairings. There were 20 diners and with two bottles of each opened, there was plenty of wine to accompany the substantial food course servings. The service under the direction of Florent Souche was faultless.

Florent Souche - Hippopotamus, QT Hotel

A selection of canapés
Victoire Champagne ‘Fut de Chene’ 2008
Moderately fine and persistent bubbles, well-balanced expression of yellow stonefruits with autolysis, and hints of nuts. Plenty of character and flavour with excellent stylish richness. A 50% Chardonnay and 50% Pinot Noir blend, the wine spending a year in oak. (Not rated, due to the conviviality of the situation.) RRP $125.00

Seared Atlantic scallops, pickled Shitake and leek fondue, pork crackling dust, bouillabaisse foam
Y de Ch. d’Yquem Bordeaux Blanc 2016
Bright, pale straw-colour, very pale. The nose is very fresh and intense, quite tightly bound with both passionfruit and gooseberry fruit aromas. A little Semillon waxiness and richness shows. Dry to taste and medium-full bodied, this has plenty of weight and presence on the palate. The fruit is bright and lively, with gooseberry and passionfruit, unfolding some fresh herbs, and nutty, spicy oak, with waxy Semillon emerging. The power and weight incorporates the phenolics, but the mouthwatering acidity is prevalent. This has delicacy with underlying power, freshness, clarity and precision. A blend of 75% Sauvignon Blanc and 25% Semillon, the fruit picked after the sweet wine pick, with 7 g/L RS, the wine aged 12 months in 20% new oak, undergoing batonnage, but avoiding MLF. In comparison with our more sophisticated Sauvignon Blanc wines, this fits in well, but with clearer fruit, while the best New Zealand examples may be riper with more layered complexing inputs. 18.5+/20 Aug 2018 RRP $395.00

Duck confit tortellini, mushrooms duxelles, duck liver parfait, wilted Savoy cabbage served with Peking duck consomme
Ch. d’Yquem Sauternes 2011
Brilliant, full, golden-yellow colour, lighter on the rim. The nose is elegant ant taut, but concentrated with deep and dense aromas, with aromas of ripe yellow stonefruits, apricots and tropical fruits, attractive marmalade and honied botrytis unfolding some waxy, lanolin Semillon primary fruit. This has a sleek and youthful elegance, revealing the beginnings of savoury interest, then new oak. Very sweet on palate, the palate is taut and slender in proportion, but there is no shortage of power, weight and intensity. Ripe citrus fruit, apricots, tropical fruits all sit at the core. The wine possesses unctuousness with refreshing acid cut. Some alcohol drive adds to the power. This is still in a young state and yet to show its potential richness. 25-30 years to come together. 18.5/20 Aug 2018 RRP $1,050.00
Ch. d’Yquem Sauternes 2005
Bright, deep golden-yellow colour. This has a full, broad and voluminous nose, the aromatics still bound at the core and yet to open up fully. Rich yellow stonefruits, apricots, tropical fruits and wild honey with orange marmalade, harmoniously entwined with fine musky botrytis, beeswax and nectar. Lovely aromatic integration and quite complete and balanced. Very rich and sweet, with great depth and intensity, this has stylish weight and plush density on the palate. Ripe tropical fruits, apricots with complexing savouriness. A touch of caramel, with the musky botrytis. This is wonderfully integrated with unctuousness and fine acidity in the background. This is just coming into its own, but will continue to develop another 2+ decades. 19.0/20 Aug 2018 $950.00

Poached Waitoa free range chicken roulade with New Zealand Perigord black truffle cream sauce and crispy skin
Ch. d’Yquem Sauternes 2003
Full, deep golden colour. The nose is full and rounded with accessible and voluminous aromas of ripe tropical fruits and apricots, subtly intermixed with wild honey and nectar, nuances of raisins and a layering of orange marmalade botrytis with crystallised fruits. Some volatility is noticeable. Notes of caramel emerge, and the bouquet is wonderfully developed with a completeness. Very sweet, the flavours of very ripe tropical fruits, marmalade, honey and nectar unfold caramel with barley-sugar and toffee elements. The mouthfeel is very soft and smooth, quite unctuous, with the acidity soft in expression. The breadth and richness have sufficient cut and drive to prevent any flabbiness. This has come to maturity, but will still hold another 10+ years. 19.0-/20 Aug 2018 RRP $875.00
Ch. d’Yquem Sauternes 1997
Very dark, deep orange-gold colour. The bouquet is very refined, tightly bound and deeply concentrated with detailed aromatic features. Very ripe tropical fruits, apricots, savoury orange marmalade wild honey, with caramel and toffee unfolds. The beginnings of secondary savouriness and tertiary earthiness are now showing. Truffles and a touch of undergrowth, but in line with the crystallised fruits and figs. Very sweet, and the unctuousness in check with a little phenolic texture, but plenty of tightly bound and intense flavours of ripe tropical fruits, caramel, barley sugar and toffee. This has layers of richness and detail, with good acidity energy lending a slipperiness to the flow. Lovely complexity, lovely cut and now developing some savoury evolutionary interest. This will develop another 10-20 years. 19.0+/20 Aug 2018 RRP $875.00

Sherry mousse cinnamon streusel, dried fruit, pine nuts with manuka ice cream
Ch. d’Yquem Sauternes 1990
Dark, golden-orange colour. This has full complex layered aromas of savoury tropical fruits, orange marmalade, wild honey, nutty and earthy elements, now showing secondary and tertiary detail. This has very good intensity, but the bouquet shows some restraint in the richness; this just has an edge off the opulence it might have. Very sweet and rich, the unctuousness countered by some phenolic drying and textures. The flavours are complex, with savoury marmalade, caramel, barley sugar and toffee. Some earthiness and fungal detail. But essentially somewhat dried-out. This is a lesser bottle in comparison to the other. I did not get to taste the other. I’ve had better bottles of the 1990 which is seen as a very good year for Yquem. This is a typical example of bottle variation. Nevertheless, one could drink and find much joy in the wine. 17.5+/20 Aug 2018 RRP $N/A


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