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Five to watch
Published: 5th May 2023
Hundreds of châteaux release their wines En Primeur, so where should you even start? Here, Bordeaux Buyer Max Lalondrelle singles out five estates that should be on your wish-list for the 2022 vintage
The appellation of Moulis-en-Médoc is not as well known today as it once was. But one estate that bucks that trend is Château Chasse-Spleen – long the commune’s most famous winery and consistently one of its finest wines. It is also the largest estate here, with 125 hectares under vine; it has recently grown to include the vines of Château Brillette. The vineyard sits at the highest point in the appellation, around 34 metres’ elevation, atop the Grand Poujeaux plateau.
The name “Chasse-Spleen” is derived from a work by the French poet Charles Baudelaire, says owner Céline Villars-Foubet (pictured). It loosely translates to “chasing the blues away”. There is an alternative theory involving Lord Byron, too. An artistic, poetic motif runs through the estate: Céline and her husband Jean-Pierre Foubet are keen art collectors, and the property is home to to a collection of contemporary art — most striking, perhaps, is the huge pair of Wellington boots in front of the château.
Céline and Jean-Pierre work with consultant Eric Boissenot, who advises most of the Left Bank’s top estates including all four First Growths of the Médoc. This is not a Classified Growth and doesn’t need to be, but it is absolutely one to follow.
The name “Chasse-Spleen” loosely translates to “chasing the blues away”
Château de Ferrand
Château de Ferrand sits in one single block at one of St Emilion’s highest points, a clay and limestone plateau in the commune of St Hippolyte. Until recently, the wines were not offered En Primeur; the property is perhaps lesser known than it should be as a result. But that is changing.
The estate belongs to the Bich family, makers of the four-colour Bic pens that every French schoolchild knows all too well. Today, Pauline Bich and her husband Philippe Chandon-Moët (a Champagne native, evidently), run the estate. Under their watch, it became a Grand Cru Classé in 2012. The talented Gonzague de Lambert (pictured), formerly of Viña Vik in Chile and whose family own Château de Sales in Pomerol, is the general manager and winemaker. Axel Marchal, one of Bordeaux’s leading young consultants, advises here. There is an ever-greater focus on Cabernet Franc, representing almost 30% of the vineyard today.
The 2022 vintage marks the estate’s second in its three-year conversion to organic certification. This is a smart château with a sophisticated hospitality setup, including qualified sommeliers on staff, an in-house chef and an enviable (pen-themed) art collection. Ferrand might be a relative newcomer to En Primeur, but it is an estate on the rise and worth seeking out.
Until recently, these wines were not offered En Primeur; the property is perhaps lesser known than it should be as a result
Château de Fieuzal
The Bartons aren’t the only Irish château-owners in Bordeaux. Lochlann and Brenda Quinn bought Château de Fieuzal in 2001; the estate had a long and quite decorated history, but it was in need of investment. The Quinns did just that, and things have improved considerably here since – in the vines and the winery. Their son Daragh has recently come on board as the managing director, following a career in investment banking.
The property, which includes 75 hectares of vines and 30 hectares of woodland, is located in the southern reaches of Léognan, not far from Domaine de Chevalier. It is teeming with wildlife: chickens, sheep and, notably, bees. (The latter gives its name and likeness to the second wine here, L’Abeille de Fieuzal.)
Winemaker Stephen Carrier (pictured) is originally from Champagne and worked with the Cazes family at Château Lynch-Bages before arriving here in 2007. Today, he is advised by consultant Thomas Duclos – whose work at châteaux including Troplong Mondot and Beau-Séjour Bécot has been transformative. Fieuzal was recognised as a Cru Classé de Graves for its red wine in 1959, though its white wines are also excellent; neither should be overlooked.
Fieuzal was recognised as a Cru Classé de Graves for its red wine in 1959, though its white wines are also excellent
Château Grand-Puy Ducasse
Unusually, Château Grand-Puy Ducasse is located within the town of Pauillac; most other châteaux are situated within the vineyard areas surrounding it. The château is currently a construction site, part of an ambitious project known as “Renaissance”. Construction has faced considerable starts and stops – not least because of a family of house martins that forced workers to down tools for six months. Winemaker and director Anne Le Naour (pictured) hopes to be finished in time for the 2023 vintage.
The vineyard is broken up into different plots scattered throughout the appellation, making the estate “the most representative of the diversity of Pauillac’s soils”, Anne believes. There is a new label here since the 2020 vintage, part of a concerted effort to signify a new era, and perhaps to shake off old associations. Much of the production was once sold to French supermarkets. “The focus was on quantity, not quality,” Anne says.
To turn things around, she focused first on restoring and improving the vineyard. It took her almost a decade to convince the shareholders to make the necessary investment in the winery, but the work is now well underway. This is something of an untouched Pauillac property, still flying under the radar – for now.
This is something of an untouched Pauillac property, still flying under the radar
Château La Lagune
Only five Médoc Classified Growths are located outside the boundaries of Margaux, St Julien, Pauillac and St Estèphe. Of them, Château La Lagune is the highest ranked – a Third Growth in 1855 – and located the furthest south, in the commune of Ludon-Médoc. Since 1999, the property has belonged to the Frey family, also the owners of Paul Jaboulet Aîné in the Rhône Valley.
The impressive Caroline Frey (pictured) has run the estate since 2004, following a period of working closely with the late Denis Dubourdieu. Caroline now splits her time between Bordeaux and the Rhône – not to mention a steep terraced vineyard near Lausanne in Switzerland. The property itself is a haven for biodiversity, including sheep (pictured below), bees and birds.
With 120 hectares under vine, this is a large estate – all the more impressive when you consider it is certified both organic and biodynamic. It being a little removed from the action of the big-name communes means that La Lagune is sometimes overlooked and underrated. But this is a beautiful estate with serious, passionate people behind it, making some of its best-ever wines.
With 120 hectares under vine, this is a large estate – all the more impressive when you consider it is certified both organic and biodynamic