1928 Chateau D'Yquem Sauterne $2,000 to $2,500

"perfect bouquet honeyed, fragrant, orange blossom, gushing forth an endless succession of scents from immeasurable depths. sweet, full-bodied, rich, concentrated, ambrosial barley-sugar, wonderful length, acidity, aftertaste",
"good colour with a harmonious nose, great depth and has a sweet glorious flavour with a lovely length and aftertaste singed raisiny tangy nose",
"rich and assertive with a short dry finish", "lemon, citrus fruit, evolving into honeyed pineapple, mango, with thick, unctuous finish, ringing with perpetual sweetness of tropical fruits. However... the splendid acidity kicks in almost at the very end, accentuating the huge botrytis sweetness of the wine. A desert in itself, it will easily dwarf the richest sticky toffee pudding ... oily but not overpoweringly so."


the experience

This wine seemed an almost impossible challenge, it sounded to have such a variety of sweet fruit that any attempt at recreation would be doomed to end its life as a summer punch. Many of the tasting notes I found withdrew from the unlikely but specific standards such as "elderflower", "apple", "aspirin" or "vanilla" and resorted to the kind of hyperbole a non-expert such I might use to describe a wine: "fantastic", "the best wine I have ever tasted" and so on. I was also wary of the "oil" reference. On a previous occasion I had attempted to disperse a tiny amount of extra virgin olive oil in some white wine using a homeopathic quantity of washing up liquid (lemon scented) and much agitation in a blender. The result had looked and smelt distinctly medicinal (but had tasted surprisingly similar to the original wine). However a bottle of the real Yquem would set me back fifteen hundred quid so even if I only made it half way it would be time well spent.

The obvious starting point was honey. I knew from previous experience and from keeping bees myself that there was honey and there was honey. Supermarket produce of more than one country or health shop organic tea tree honey. For this wine it was going to have to come from the tea tree end of the spectrum. I dallied a while with the more patriotic options of Yorkshire heather or English garden honey but in the end I opted for New Zealand Manuka which, as I understand it, is another name for tea tree. This honey has a distinctly creosote nose with overtones of sawmill and damp pine forest. On the palate it is mainly, well, honey but with a slightly bitter aftertaste possibly aligned with the smell but it would be misleading to say this, never having been driven to eat garden fence. It is expensive, as honey goes, but not much out of my £750 budget.

Next on the list was botrytis. I had seen several mentions of this in wine tasting notes and it seemed to be a significant element of the complex flavor I was attempting to create. It turned out to be mould, the kind that grows on strawberries when the summer rain sets in and the birds get fed up of soft fruit. I could imagine the kind of subtle, ever so slightly musty flavor the vintage Yquem must possess and, intuitively, I knew that a moldy strawberry would be the critical ingredient. This seriously narrowed the wine tasting window to a few weeks from mid May to mid July. However there was much work still to do; getting the right mixture of candied and fresh fruit as well as perfecting the art of raisin singeing. That was one description of the aftertaste that was helpfully explicit and which I knew first hand from toasting hot cross buns.

In the end I opted for the whole gamut of hot cross bun flavors by putting in.. some hot cross bun. There is something homely and comforting about them, buttered with a nice cup of tea, in front of the Aga and the north wind rattling the windows in their frames. These were all emotions that I felt went well with the Yquem. Besides, the buns I used were very fruity with a significant element of candied lemon and other baking spices which saved adding "complexity" by another route.

The final fruit salad mixture was given a flying start by the discovery of Julian Graves Sweet Celebration containing dates, candied ginger, pineapple, mango and papaya. Possibly the most significant fruit ingredient was lime and I invested some considerable time finding a particularly fragrant, almost buttery flavored example. Undoubtedly the lime helped the acid finish noted by various commentators but I found that I had to add a small amount of tartaric acid, as used in sherbet dips, and pomegranate. This latter fruit is famed for its tannins which may or may not give its juice antioxidant and health benefits but, certainly give some bite to the wine. Because of the reddening effect of pomegranate juice I had to use it rather sparingly so I crushed the pips slightly at the same time as I squashed the little sachets to make it more tannic.

And the basic "carrier" wine I started from? Well at a target experience of £750 a bottle I felt justified in moving from the plonk on the bottom shelf to at least knee high. In the end I chose an Italian wine of no specified grape at £5 a bottle mainly on the basis that it was rated at 14.0% ethanol (which is the most subtle flavour of a wine and completely impossible to reproduce, legally) and was being recommended by the supermarket as a good buy. It's a good idea to get at least one extra bottle to try beforehand to "benchmark" the carrier. Drink it at room temperature, this will make all the weaknesses apparent and as a sweeping generalization you should choose something that is as bland and as strong as possible.

The final tasting took place in our back garden on the second Sunday in June and all of us agreed that, although an improvement on the original, we wouldn't pay £1,500 for a bottle of it. Also, despite decanting through a coffee filter the wine had definitely lost its clarity. Just have to try again next strawberry season!