Wine in Context #10: Return to Thieuley
A few years ago (well, maybe more than a few) December would always feature my Wine in Context reports. It was meant to be an antidote to the usual festive ‘top ten wines of the year’ lists. These lists always featured 18th-century Madeira, numerous first growths, Rousseau Chambertin and at least one vintage but maybe more of Petrus. Sometimes, and I have no problem with admitting jealousy here, they included old vintages from Domaine Huet from the 1920s, 1930s or 1940s. Then there was another list of “the next best ninety wines that didn’t quite make it”. Such lists never really spoke to me, with my cellar full of Saumur-Champigny and middling Bordeaux. Do they speak to anyone?
Wine is much more than a list of impressive vintages as long as your arm, necked back at dinners hosted by the wine trade, for the wine trade. Wine in Context is more about circumstances than scores; sometimes what’s outside the glass is more important than what’s in it. Sometimes wine teaches us something, and the lesson is more significant than whether the wine itself was a Savennières or a Sancerre (shocking thought, I know). And so, in a mad rush between here and the end of the year, here is the return of Wine in Context, and a rapid countdown starting today of my best wine moments of 2015.
Starting us off at number ten is a recent visit to Château Thieuley, a name which only the value-conscious buyer will be aware of. If you spend all your spare time posting shots of the Le Pin, Lafite-Rothschild and the like you drink at home on a Tuesday evening to Instagram, then this estate might not be familiar to you. Indeed, it wasn’t familiar to me when I visited it many many years ago on one of my first ever press trips to Bordeaux. So unfamiliar, in fact, that I couldn’t place it in the context of what I understood about the region. It wasn’t in a famous appellation, those through which I had learnt about Bordeaux, and yet here we were visiting it. This was of course long before I learnt that beyond the top cru classé châteaux there are actually a lot of domaines worth knowing about in Bordeaux. Most of its production was white wine, and yet this wasn’t Graves or Pessac-Léognan, this was the Entre-Deux-Mers. Again, I have since realised that the gravelly-sandy soils here can be great for white varieties. And was the domaine important? Don’t people just want to read about the aforementioned Le Pin and Lafite-Rothschild? I have since come round to the notion that these smaller domaines, in lesser appellations, are just as significant for the region as all the famous names (even if they don’t generate as many ‘likes’ on social media).
As a result of my doubts (and self-doubt, perhaps?) I never wrote about that first visit, and in more recent times I came to rue that decision. With more experience I understood the context for this domaine, and where it sits in a region that has so much more to offer than just cru classé bottles. I came to appreciate the little guys in Bordeaux, those turning out lovely wines that are great value, and which overturn the idea that Bordeaux is just for the super-wealthy now. And revisiting the estate I understood more clearly the work they do here, on a large vineyard, to a tight budget, turning out significant volumes of tasty wine. And of course I understood how that needed to be publicised, because the Courselle family at Château Thieuley need their moment in the spotlight just as much as more famous estates in Pauillac and Pomerol.
This more recent visit in October 2015 was, in a way, me closing the loop. It was a little like returning to a school you once attended, long after you have moved on. It wasn’t so much what I learned during the visit that was important (although it was interesting enough, and the profile has been written, and is set for publication in the next couple of weeks), it was more the realisation about what I have learned in the intervening years that made this visit significant. I have changed a lot in the interim. And that is, I think, a very good thing.
More Wine in Context moments over the next few days. If you want to contribute, feel free to add your favourite moment in the comments below – or if you have a longer report from a great wine dinner, wine trip, wine tasting or other wine moment during 2015 you can email it to me, and I can host it on the blog for you.