“I am a lover of Yquem after my 10 years in Paris at La Tour d’Argent. It still has the largest wine cellar in the world for a restaurant, so at that time I developed an appetite for some of these fine wines, including Château d'Yquem. My own modest cellar always had some Yquem – including when I was in the United States, where I was able to get my hands on a few vintages.
In November 2010, we wanted to buy something very old, especially a Yquem, to signal that our second restaurant in Bali – Sip Sunset Grill – would be a heaven for wine aficionados. I was looking at many old vintages from the 19th century, and two bottles of Yquem 1811 – which was an exceptional vintage – became available at that time.
I investigated the two prominent London wine merchants involved; one could not produce adequate proof of authenticity, but the Antique Wine Company could provide a record of inspection showing the bottle was reconditioned at the château in 2007. So this vital document and the condition of the bottle and the reputation of the merchant made me satisfied to do the transaction, which was done on January 18, 2011.
I went to London in July to pick up the bottle and bring it back for the opening of the restaurant on August 1. It was a bit worrisome because, as you know, any liquid has to be carried in the cargo hold. But that bottle was very carefully and securely stored in my luggage. I was worried about breakage, but the bottle was insured from London to Bali by an English company as part of the purchase agreement.
Since then, the bottle has been displayed in the Sip Sunset Grill in Bali. It’s presented in a bullet-proof, temperature- and humidity-controlled glass showcase with the bottle lying down in a bronze hand [by French artist Pierre Sicre]. It’s a bit like Fort Knox.
At the end of last September, a Chinese man came to the restaurant. He claimed to be a collector of fine wines – Bordeaux – living in Shanghai. He knew about the bottle and, after discussing it, he handed me his black American Express card and offered me $300,000 if he could take the bottle and leave right away. I said, “It’s not for sale.” He had dinner with friends in the restaurant and when he left, he said again, “$300,000.” I said no, but he handed me his business card and said, “If you change your mind, get in touch.”
I plan to open this bottle in August 2017 at La Tour d’Argent during dinner with my wife, Agnès, my brother Daniel and my best friend, George – who are both ex-sommeliers at La Tour d’Argent – and Stephen Williams from the Antique Wine Company. It will mark the 50th anniversary since I began working at La Tour d’Argent.
I already have the menu in mind. The Yquem will be served at the start with one of the famous dishes from La Tour d’Argent, the Foie Gras des Trois Empereurs*, and after the main course, we will come back to the Yquem, which will be served with a Roquefort Fermier et Affiné cheese.
What do I expect it to taste like? I can only refer to the tasting notes of two of the finest palates in the business. In 1995, Robert Parker tasted a Yquem 1811 in the United States. He rated it with 100 points and his notes were quite amazing. He said it was “liquefied crème brûlée,” which was a funny thing that I loved. In 1999, the Wine Spectator’s Per-Henrick Mansson stated that it offered “an exotic combination of whipped cream and fresh crushed raspberry.” So that’s what we can expect.
I met the cellar master at Château d'Yquem, Sandrine Garbay, at a dinner in Singapore and I asked her if at Yquem they had such an old vintage. She said their certified oldest wine dates from 1863 and I was extremely fortunate to have this bottle, which she remembered reconditioning at the château. So there are only two left in the world today: the one I had the chance to purchase and the one I did not purchase, which I understand is still in the hands of a collector in Austria.
For me, the Bali connection is that my brother Daniel moved here back in 1993 to open a restaurant and follow a lady, whom he married. When my own life changed, meaning I divorced, in 2001, I simply decided, with no children, to join my brother and spend the second half of my life with him here in Bali.
Personally, aside from the fine wines, what I thoroughly enjoy drinking are wines from southern and northern Rhône: Châteauneuf-du-Pape, Cornas, Hermitage and also Côte-Rôtie or Gigondas. Also, Loire, if it’s white; Sancerre, specifically, and Pouilly-Fumé – these are the two we have access to here. And from the Napa Valley I am partial to a great wine that was part of the Judgment of Paris tasting – Stags' Leap Cabernet Sauvignon – and I love Chateau Montelena for the white chardonnay. We have access to these wines in Singapore and I sometimes bring a few bottles from there.”
As told to Diana Goodman
* The Foie Gras Des Trois Empereurs dish was made by chef Claudius Burdel to commemorate a dinner at La Tour d’Argent on June 7, 1867, attended by three world leaders: Alexander II, Czar of All the Russias (accompanied by his son, the future Czar Alexander III); King Wilhelm I of Prussia; and Otto, Prince of Bismarck (the legendary “Iron Chancellor” of the unified German Empire). The foie gras is mixed with Périgord truffles, marinated in spices and Port and then baked for several hours. It is served with a brioche and salted butter and is accompanied by two jellies, one made with Sauternes and the other with white Burgundy.
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Château d'Yquem (statistics for all vintages)