Tag Archives: Premier Grand Cru Classe’

Saint Emilion Chronicles #7, Part II: A Wine Tasting of Chateau Figeac 1988

Chateau Figeac 1988

Following our previous post about the history, estate, terroir and winemaking process at Chateau Figeac in Bordeaux’s Saint Emilion region, let’s now focus on my review of a bottle of their Grand Vin that I had an opportunity to taste: Chateau Figeac, Saint Emilion Grand Cru AOC, 1988 ($200).

The Bottom Line

Overall, the Chateau Figeac 1988 that I had was an outstanding, elegant wine: after 26 years of aging, it still performed flawlessly, offering a broad aromatic palette that unsurprisingly underscored tertiary aromas, but still presented fruity, secondary aromas to complement them. It still had enough acidity to keep it alive (although I would not wait much longer to drink it) and noticeable but gentle tannins, along with great smoothness – attaining a nice balance. It had pleasant and vivid mouth flavors of fruit and spices and a long finish. Outstanding!

Rating: Outstanding and Recommended Outstanding – $$$$$

(Explanation of our Rating and Pricing Systems)

About the Grapes, the Producer and the Estate

For plenty of information about Chateau Figeac, its history, estate, terroir and winemaking process, please refer to our previous post about it.

As to the grapes, Chateau Figeac’s quite unique Bordeaux blend is made up of 35% Cabernet Sauvignon, 35% Cabernet Franc and 30% Merlot. For detailed information about each of those grape varieties, check out our Grape Variety Archive or simply click on the hyperlinks of each of the three grape varieties above.

FRANCE, Saint Emilion
 – The stunning tasting room at Chateau Figeac (Premier Grand Cru Classé B)

Our Detailed Review

The wine that we are going to review today is Chateau Figeac, Saint Emilion Grand Cru AOC, 1988.

As mentioned in our previous post, Chateau Figeac is a Premier Grand Cru Classé “B” wine according to the 1955 classification of the wines of Saint Emilion (for more information about it, see our previous post providing a general overview of the Saint Emilion wine region and its wine classification system).

You can find very detailed information about how this wine is made in our previous post about Chateau Figeac.

The wine was 12.5% ABV and the proportions of the blend were 35% Cabernet Sauvignon, 35% Cabernet Franc and 30% Merlot (for more information about those grape varieties, check out our Grape Variety Archive). In the U.S. available 1988 bottles retail for about $200, while in France they retailed for about €160. I decanted it for an hour before enjoying it.

As always, for my review I will use a simplified version of the ISA wine tasting protocol that we described in a previous post: should you have doubts as to any of the terms used below please refer to that post for a refresher. For your own structured wine tastings, consider downloading our FsT Wine Tasting Chart!

In the glass, the wine was garnet red and moderately viscous.

On the nose, its bouquet was intense, complex and fine, presenting a kaleidoscope of aromas: cherry, raspberry, tobacco, underbrush, wet soil, dried leaves, potpourri, herbs (sage, rosemary), cocoa, vanilla and black pepper.

In the mouth, the wine was dry, had medium ABV, and was smooth; it was still moderately acidic, tannic and tasty. It was medium bodied and wonderfully balanced, with intense and fine mouth flavors of cherry, dark chocolate, tobacco and rhubarb. It had a long finish and its evolutionary state was mature, meaning to be enjoyed now as it will decline if left to age much longer.

Saint Emilion Chronicles #7, Part I: A Visit to Chateau Figeac

FRANCE, Saint Emilion
 – Chateau Figeac (Premier Grand Cru Classé B)

For those of you who remember our Saint Emilion series, this is its next installment: after our post on Chateau de Ferrand, today we will talk about another Chateau that we visited – Chateau Figeac.

On a previous post, I have provided a general overview of the Saint Emilion wine region and its wine classification system: if necessary, take a look at it for a refresher.

History

Chateau Figeac’s origins date back to the II century AD, when it comprised a Gallo-Roman villa and a large estate which were owned by the Figeacus family after whom it has been named.

By the XV century, Figeac became one of five noble houses in Saint Emilion and there is evidence that in the XVI century (when Chateau Figeac was rebuilt in a Renaissance architectural style) grapevines were grown and wine was made at the estate. Documents dating back to the XVIII century confirm that Figeac wines were already being shipped overseas.

However, it was not until the late XIX century/early XX century that Chateau Figeac primarily became a wine estate and marketed its wine under the “Chateau Figeac” label. The turning point was the acquisition of the estate in 1892 by the Manoncourt family, who hired a preeminent agricultural engineer by the name of Albert Macquin, who brought a scientific approach to the vineyard and winemaking process and equipped the cellars with oak vats.

In 1955, Chateau Figeac was ranked as a “Premier Grand Cru Classé B” in the 1955 Saint Emilion classification (for more information about the 1955 classification, see our previous post about Saint Emilion and its wine appellations). It was also around that time that, in Merlot-dominated Saint Emilion, Chateau Figeac settled for a wine with quite a unique Bordeaux blend of grapes (approximately, 30% Merlot, 35% Cabernet Franc and 35% Cabernet Sauvignon) which became known as “Figeac style”.

For more information about the grape varieties making up Figeac’s blend, please check out our Grape Variety Archive

FRANCE, Saint Emilion
 – The stunning tasting room at Chateau Figeac (Premier Grand Cru Classé B)

The Estate and Its Terroir

With almost 100 acres (40 hectares) where over 240,000 vines are grown, Chateau Figeac is the largest property in Saint-Emilion. It is located to the west of Saint-Emilion, bordering Pomerol.

Its soils are mostly composed of sand and gravel, with some relatively deep clay layer. Gravel in particular is the typical feature of Figeac’s topsoil, which favors the retention of heat creating a favorable environment for the ripening of the grapes.

As previously mentioned, three main grape varieties are grown in nearly equal proportions at Chateau Figeac’s estate which form the blend for its wine: Merlot, Cabernet Franc, and Cabernet Sauvignon, which is something fairly unique in the Bordeaux area.

Lately, massal selection has been implemented at Chateau Figeac, resulting in the selection of the best of the estate’s oldest vines (some of which are almost 100 years old) for grafting newly planted vines so as to preserve the distinctive features of the Figeac vineyards.

FRANCE, Saint Emilion 
- The vineyards at Chateau Figeac (Premier Grand Cru Classé B)

Winemaking Process

The winemaking process at Chateau Figeac combines traditional methods with modern techniques: during the visit of the winery, I have had the pleasure to speak with an extremely competent employee of the Chateau with whom I had an opportunity to discuss many aspects of their production process.

This is a summary of the main steps in Chateau Figeac’s winemaking process:

FRANCE, Saint Emilion 
- The barrique cellar at Chateau Figeac

1. Harvesting. Given the three varieties that are grown at the estate and make up Chateau Figeac’s blend, unsurprisingly the harvesting of the grapes is staggered based on the desired ripening point of each variety.

2. Destemming and Sorting. The harvested grapes of each variety are separately destemmed and sorted using an optical scanner capable of sorting 5 tons of grapes per hour! For more information about destemmers and optical grape sorting machines, go back to our post about Chateau de Ferrand which has an image and a video about such prodigious piece of equipment.

3. Crushing and Treatments. The sorted grapes are then crushed and pumped into small-sized fermentation vats along with their juice, skins and seeds, and sulfur dioxide (AKA SO2) is applied to the must. This enological treatment is essentially an antiseptic, an antioxidant and it facilitates the dissolution of the pigments (AKA anthocyanins) from the skins of the berries. For more information about sulphur dioxide, refer to our previous post on sulfites and wine.

4. Cold Maceration. The must then undergoes a cold maceration phase (i.e., a short, low-temperature, pre-fermentation maceration) of about three days in order to maximize the extraction of the primary aromas that reside in the skins of the grapes and therefore enhance the wine’s bouquet.

FRANCE, Saint Emilion 
- Oak Fermenters at Chateau Figeac (Premier Grand Cru Classé B)

5. Fermentation and Maceration. Chateau Figeac utilizes both ten open-topped oak vats and twelve stainless steel vats to ferment its wine. Here the must ferments for about one week at controlled temperature using the grapes’ natural yeast (i.e., without adding selected yeasts) and macerates for about three weeks with regular pump-overs and rackings.

6. Malolactic Fermentation. The wine then undergoes full malolactic fermentation that is started by means of the addition of lactic acid bacteria to the wine.

7. Pressing. After the malolactic fermentation, the free run wine (the one that flows freely out of the fermentation vat) is transferred to the aging barrels, while the cap gets pressed and the resulting press wine is reblended with the free run wine.

FRANCE, Saint Emilion
 – Automated basket grape press at Chateau Figeac (Premier Grand Cru Classé B)

8. Aging. The Grand Vin then ages for 15 to 18 months in 100% new French oak, medium-charred barrique casks, while the Second Vin is aged 80% in second-fill French oak barriques and 20% in new French oak barriques.

9. Fining and Bottling. After appropriate aging, the wine is fined for clarity, stability and reduced astringency by using egg whites and finally bottled, capsuled and labeled.

FRANCE, Saint Emilion -
 Capsuling and labeling machine at Chateau Figeac (Premier Grand Cru Classé B)

Chateau Figeac has an average annual production of about 100,000 bottles of the Grand Vin (“Chateau Figeac“) and 40,000 bottles of the Second Vin (“Petit Figeac“).

This is it for today: I hope you enjoyed this virtual visit to Chateau Figeac. The next post will focus on a wine tasting of a bottle of Chateau Figeac’s Grand Vin, vintage… 1988! Stay tuned! 🙂

Wine Spectator’s Top 100 Wines of 2013

StefanoA few days ago, Wine Spectator magazine has published the entire list of their Top 100 Wines of 2013… according to them, of course! :-)

Like last year, these are in a nutshell a few comments about their 2013 top 10 wines:

  • CVNE‘s Rioja Imperial Gran Reserva 2004 is Wine Spectator’s Wine of the Year 2013 (rated 95 points) as well as the first Spanish wine to date to earn top ranking in Wine Spectator’s Top 100 list: congratulations!
  • Five U.S. wines made it to the Top 10 (3 from California, 1 from Oregon and 1 from Washington State), up from three last year
  • Only one Italian wine made it to the Top 10 scoring sixth place and 95 points (Giuseppe Mascarello‘s Barolo “Monprivato” 2008 DOCG), same number as last year but better placement, up three spots
  • France put three of their wines in the Top 10, down from four last year
  • A wine from Bordeaux’s Right Bank was awarded second place (and 96 points) in the Top 10: Chateau Canon-La Gaffeliere 2010, a Saint Emilion Premier Grand Cru Classé B (for more information and a photograph of the Chateau, check out our previous post on the Saint Emilion appellations and wine classification)
  • For the presumable happiness of The Drunken Cyclist 😉 a Pinot Noir from Oregon scored third place in the Top 10: Domaine Serene‘s Pinot Noir Willamette Valley, Evenstad Reserve, 2010 (rated 95 points)
  • Just like in 2011 and 2012, 9 of the top 10 wines are red and only one is white, Kongsgaard‘s Chardonnay Napa Valley 2010 (fifth place, rated 95 points)
  • Four out of the top five wines are below the $100 price mark, with the Wine of the Year 2013 being the least expensive at $63 and confirming how much good value for money can be found in a Rioja, even a top of the line one like CVNE’s; on the other hand, all wines in sixth to tenth place are above $100

For more detailed information and access to the full Top 100 list, please refer to Wine Spectator’s Website.

Saint Emilion Chronicles #5: Saint Emilion and its Wine Appellations

Saint Emilion: 
Clos La Madeleine and its vineyards

Now, on previous posts we have talked about the town of Saint Emilion; one of its churchesSaint Emilion sweet treats (macarons and cannelés); and the place we stayed at during our Saint Emilion visit – it is about time that we start talking about wine. This post will provide a general overview of the area from a wine standpoint, while future posts will focus on a few chateaux.

Saint Emilion: old grape press and vineyards of Chateau Canon

As we said in the introductory post of this series, Saint Emilion is a town that is located in the Libournais area, on the right bank of the Dordogne River, not far from Bordeaux. From a wine standpoint, the area surrounding the town of Saint Emilion is divided into several different appellations (known as “AOC” – in French, “Appelation d’Origine Controléè“).

One slightly confusing thing to bear in mind is that Saint Emilion AOC and Saint Emilion Grand Cru AOC are two different appellations that for the most part comprise the same territory. However, the regulations of the latter are stricter than the former as they require lower production yields and a 12-month minimum aging period.

Map of the Libournais Area and Main Appellations - Courtesy of Janoueix Clos du Roy (click on map to visit website)

Map of the Libournais Area and Main Appellations – Courtesy of Janoueix Clos du Roy (click on map to visit website)

So, a bottle that is labeled “Saint Emilion Grand Cru” only indicates that it has been produced under the rules of that AOC, but not necessarily that it is one of the Grands Crus that are part of the Saint Emilion wine classification (more on this later), which instead are identified as Grands Crus Classés or Premiers Grands Crus Classés, depending on their ranking.

Saint Emilion: Chateau La Gaffeliere and its vineyards

The two largely overlapping appellations of Saint Emilion AOC and Saint Emilion Grand Cru AOC encompass a territory of, respectively, 5,600 and over 4,000 HA where the dominating grape variety is Merlot, beside Cabernet Franc and Cabernet Sauvignon. The average annual production is in the ballpark of 235,000 HL for Saint Emilion AOC and 150,000 HL for Saint Emilion Grand Cru AOC.

Saint Emilion
: Chateau Lassegue and its vineyards

As we alluded to above, in 1954 the  Winemaking Syndicate of Saint Emilion decided to compile a classification of the best estates (or Chateaux) in the Saint Emilion Grand Cru AOC based on criteria such as quality, sales and renown: this classification was published in 1955 (which is why it is often referred to as the “1955 Classification“) and is supposed to be revised and updated every 10 years, although in fact the updates have been more frequent (since inception, it has been updated in 1959, 1969, 1986, 1996 and 2012).

Saint Emilion: 
Chateau Cheval Blanc and its vineyards

The 1955 Classification divided the estates that made the cut into the following three tiers (in parentheses you can find the number of chateaux in each tier, based on the 2012 revision of the 1955 Classification):

  1. Premier Grand Cru Classé A (4)
  2. Premier Grand Cru Classé B (14)
  3. Grand Cru Classé (64)

Originally, there were only two Chateaux in the first tier of the 1955 Classification: Chateau Ausone and Chateau Cheval Blanc, while two more estates have been promoted to the Olympus of the Saint Emilion wines in the context of the 2012 revision of the 1955 Classification: Chateau Angelus and Chateau Pavie.

Saint Emilion: Chateau Pavie and its vineyards

If you are interested in finding out more about the 1955 Classification, on this Website you can find the complete list of the estates comprised in each of the three tiers of the classification.

For completeness, bear in mind that in the Saint Emilion area there are also four satellite appellations, as follows: Saint-Georges-Saint-Emilion AOCMontagne-Saint-Emilion AOCPuisseguin-Saint-Emilion AOC and Lussac-Saint-Emilion AOC.

Saint Emilion: church emerging from the vineyards in Pomerol

Another famous appellation in the greater Saint Emilion area is the adjacent Pomerol AOC, a small 770 HA Merlot-centric appellation which is home (among other premium estates) of the world-famous, super-exclusive, very rare and über-pricey Petrus. The estates in the Pomerol AOC were not considered for the purposes of the 1955 Classification (which, as we said, was limited to those in the Saint Emilion Grand Cru AOC): this explains why Petrus is not part of it.

Chateau de Ferrand (Grand Cru Classé)

"Tasting Chateau Margaux 16 Ways": An Excellent Post on Dr Vino's Blog

StefanoJust a very quick note to give heads up to our wine enthusiast readers as to an in my view excellent post that got published yesterday in Tyler Colman’s wonderful wine blog, Dr Vino.

In the post, Tyler gives a full account of a one-of-a-kind wine tasting experience he had the good fortune to attend where Paul Pontallier (the man who has been the managing director and winemaker at Chateau Margaux for the last 30 years) led selected few to taste the base wines of the various grape varieties (Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Cabernet Franc and Petit Verdot) that will create Chateau Margaux’s 2012 Grand Vin, pre-blending, as well as samples from the Chateau’s organic, biodynamic, and conventional test vineyards and more samples illustrating the Chateau’s experimentation with, and position on, wine fining, filtration and closure (with a very interesting perspective about the debate among cork, screwcaps and synthetic closures, especially from a Premier Cru maker’s standpoint).

As you may know, Chateau Margaux is one of the five Premiers Grands Crus Classés wines that rank at the top of the 1855 classification of the best Bordeaux wines from the West Bank that was ordered by Emperor Napoleon III of France in view of the then forthcoming Second Universal Exhibition in Paris, which still stands almost unmodified as of today (the only change in the top ranking being the addition of Chateau Mouton-Rothschild in 1973 as the fifth Premier Cru).

By the way, if you are interested and want to know more about the fascinating history behind the 1855 classification of the Grands Crus Classés of the West Bank region of Bordeaux, I suggest you check out the excellent Official Web site of the Grands Crus Classés in 1855 and download their “History of the Classification” PDF file: it is definitely worth reading!

I found the post extremely interesting, educational and enriching, and I wholeheartedly recommend that you check out the full account on Dr Vino’s blog.

Enjoy the read!