Wednesday, April 25, 2012

Château Figeac, Saint-Émilion - A Profile, France

Picture: Christian G.E. Schiller and Dog Oscar at Château Figeac (Saint-Emilion - Premier Grand Cru Classé B)

Château Figeac is in the northwest of the Saint-Émilion appellation, neighboring Château Cheval Blanc. With 40 hectares of vineyards, it is the largest estate in Saint-Émilion. Its grand vin release price for the 2010 vintage was Euro 168 ex-negiciant.

Because of its fine gravel based soil (which is uncommon in the Right Bank), Merlot accounts only for 30 % of the plantings (which is very low by Saint Emilion standards).  The Château Figeac grand vin is dominated (70%) by Cabernet Sauvignon and Cabernet Franc in equal parts. Château Figeac is known as the most Médoc of the Ste Emilion chateaux.

Château Figeac is an old estate. It takes its name from a Roman called Figeacus who built a villa here. Today, one can still see a water-supply system dating from the Gallo-Roman period, foundations of buildings from the Middle Ages and defensive walls along with the remains of a Renaissance chateau incorporated into its structure.

Until the late 18th century, Chateau Figeac had been in the hands of one family for almost 500 years. With almost 200 hectares, Chateau Figeac was one of the largest wine estates at the time, but parts were sold and the estate was subdivided several times until 1892, when the Manoncourt family purchased Chateau Figeac. (A sizable chunk which was purchased by the Ducasse family in 1832 formed the nucleus of what would eventually become Cheval Blanc.)

Pictures: Chateau Figeac

For the past 60 years, Chateau Figeac was been associated with Thierry Manoncourt, who took over the management of the property in 1946, and his wife Marie-France; Thierry Manacourt passed away in 2010. It was under his leadership that Chateau Figeac rose to the front ranks of Saint-Émilion estates. His son-in-law Comte Eric d'Aramon took over the daily running of the estate in 1988.  In 1992, Thierry Manacourt  divided the business between his 4 daughters, bestowing the larger share on his eldest daughter, Laure.

Chateau Figeac tends to harvest early with a view of retaining freshness. After Haut Brion and Latour, Chateau Figeac was the third estate in Bordeaux to introduce stainless steel tanks; there are now 20 temperature controlled vats, 10 in oak and 10 stainless steel. Since the mid 1970s, Figeac has been aged in 100% new oak. Even Petrus has not used 100% new oak since 1990. The time spent in new oak varies according to the vintage character. The 1997 vintage was aged 12 months, while the 2009 vintage saw new oak for 18 months.

The following wines are produced: Château Figeac (Saint-Emilion - Premier Grand Cru Classé B), La Grange-Neuve de Figeac (second wine) and Chateau Petit-Figeac (bought in 2002 as most of the vineyard was in the middle of their Château Figeac vineyard. The wine is now made at Château Figeac). In total, the Figeac estate amounts to 54 hectares of which 40 are planted with vines. Annual production is 10 000 cases.

The family also owns two other wineries: the nearby Château La Fleur-Pourret (4,5 hectares, Chateau La Fleur Pourret was part of Chateau Figeac many years ago, also bought in 2002), and Château de Millery (just over 1 hectare), in the southern sector of St.-Emilion known as St.-Christophe des Bardes.

Owner: Madame Tierry Manancourt et ses enfants
DG: Comte Eric d'Aramon
Winemaking: Frederic Faye, Jean Albino

Some Chateau Figeac Prices

En Primeur release prices (ex-negiciant): 2009 Euro 160 (Latour: 600), 2010 Euro 168 (Latour: 780).

Current trading prices (average price searcher): 2005 Euro 127, 2006 Euro 88, 2007 Euro 74, 2008 Euro 76, 2009 Euro 204, 2010 Euro 184.

Vintage 2007 Prices: Château Figeac (Saint-Emilion - Premier Grand Cru Classé B) Euro 74, La Grange-Neuve de Figeac Euro 21, Chateau Petit-Figeac Euro 41, Château La Fleur-Pourret Euro 11, Château de Millery Euro 37 (2006)

Freshness Over Power - Panos Kakaviatos on the Figeac Wines

I am copying here tasting notes of Panos Kakaviatos. This is based on a tasting that took place in Washington DC in early 2012. For more see: 11 vintages of Chateau Figeac: freshness over power

2009. Oak still on the nose and palate, a very opulent wine, somewhat mammoth like at this stage but displaying ripe Medoc like cassis and primary fruit, more black than red. It tastes like a barrel sample and has much weight on the palate, with finely grained tannin, albeit just a bit monolithic now. Long finish. 92-95

Pictures: Impressions from Saint-Emilion

2006. Cooler nose. Red rather than black fruit, with a touch of violet aromas that are also offset by a bit of iron, lending a just slightly rustic aspect. But the palate is medium plus in body and packs quite a punch, balancing both richness and verve. Do not touch for a few years… 91+

2005. A lovely nose of ripe cassis and cooler blueberry like fruit, this wine exudes a warmer profile on the palate than the 2006. It also has greater volume and depth, nicely balanced with brisk acidity, with a touch of oak derivation slowly receding. I like the very pure cassis aspect to this wine on the palate, which seems more focused than the 2006 and more nuanced than the 2009, although rather tightly wound for now. Potential for a higher score. 95

2004. A mix of graphite and lightly sweet red fruits, plum and cassis. A very smooth medium-bodied palate, just a touch of vanilla flavored with cedar and brambly red and ripe fruit. An appealingly fresh lingering finish with mint. I can understand why so many people liked the 2004 at the dinner. 93+

2001. Pleasing red cherry, more mineral than mentholated freshness here mingle with a certain olive like flavor on the palate. If I had to choose between 2001 and 2004, I would pick the former because it seems to show a touch more depth, a touch more substance on the mid palate especially. Although the finish is similar, the 2001 adds an extra dimension of toffee-like sweetness. 94

Pictures: Christian G.E. Schiller and Panos Kakaviatos in Washington DC. See: A Glass of Bordeaux – What Else? – With Wine Journalist Panos Kakaviatos

2000. Amazing how this wine has transformed from being a super star in 2005 when I tasted it twice (once in a vertical in Germany in February, once in a blind tasting with most of the other premier grand cru classés) to a bit of a question mark in 2012. Eric d’Aramon admits to having picked perhaps too early to preserve freshness, his greatest concern in general. How will this evolve. Some, like critic John Gilman, sees this as a “positive herbaciousness” while others, notably Robert Parker, say he “blew it” when he graded this highly early on and downgraded the wine more recently. My feeling is that it will develop into a better wine, and taste like some of the more appealing 1970s Bordeaux. But there is not guarantee here… 89 for now.

1999. When I first opened this with sommelier Maria Denton, we both marveled at its floral aspects, but there was a bit of VA that showed itself later à table. Whatever the case may be, it exuded a certain freshness and minerality that pleased my palate. Medium bodied, and perhaps somewhat hollow in the middle, this may have been the weakest of the evening. 88

1998. This had to be one of the two or three best wines of the dinner. It certainly wins as the most sumptuous. Whoever thinks Figeac is thin in the 80s and 90s needs to drink this, or has been drinking too many fruit bombs…. Sorry but that is my subjective opinion. This wine reflects a natural concentration due to a hailstorm, d’Aramon explained. Whatever the cause, the result is magnificent, with focused flavors of red and black fruit, nuanced richness and a fine underlying freshness. A great wine indeed. 95

1995. My how this has improved. When I last tried it with Ben Giliberti in Washington DC two or three years ago, a certain green aspect annoyed me. But that was pretty much gone at this dinner, where I noticed a mélange of stony mineral notes, baked plum and hint of cardamom spice. The tannins were not completely melted, displaying a 1995 “solidity” that one encounters in wines of quality on both sides of the Gironde, indicating yet again that 1995 is a vintage to be reckoned with in Bordeaux. 92

1990. The nose seemed like it needed dusting… but then came a mixture of forest floor, tobacco,  light leather and blackberry and plum flavors. The palate was rich, but not as exciting as the 1998. There was a dusty tannin aspect to the palate as well, that was even worse in one bottle. Later however, some tasters drank from that bottle and thought that that dusty aspect had gone. I am not so sure. Even d’Aramon felt that the 1990 was not showing its best from at least two of the three bottles he brought over ex-chateau. 92, but could have been higher.

1986. Here was perhaps my wine of the night, because I just absolutely adored a certain crushed mint leaf flavor on the nose and on the palate, coupled with faded flowers and pencil shavings. Fully tertiary and yet of high intensity and precision chiseled by brisk acidity that kept this wine quite youthful in fact. This is not a wine for people who want evident fruit or low acidity… In an eloquent address to dinner participants, Burgundy lover Maureen Nelson compared Figeac to fine Burgundy, and I think that the 1986 certainly illustrates that comparison. For me, a beautiful wine. 96

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