Château Filhot was, for me, an early Sauternes discovery. A little less than two decades ago I recall the market was awash with 1990 Château Filhot, and the bottles seemed to linger on the shelves for a very long time. For many years, every wine merchant, wine bar and even the occasional rough-and-ready corner-shop off-licence seemed to have its own stock of this vintage. It soon became what I referred to as ‘the ubiquitous Sauternes‘.
In fact, Château Filhot is rather more ubiquitous than you might think. At 350 hectares this is the largest estate in the region, and even though only a small part of this is dedicated to viticulture the volumes produced here are still a lot greater than at many other estates. In addition, the significant proportion of Sauvignon Blanc in the vineyard has always tended to yield a less rich style of wine, and during the 1980s the then-proprietor Henri de Vaucelles used no wood, preferring to age his wines in fibreglass cuves. In summary, quality was not the highest, and selling such a huge quantity of less-than-stellar Sauternes, especially when such sweet wines were already out of vogue, was (and still is) naturally something of a challenge. No wonder there were bottles everywhere I turned. And no wonder that – and I have this on good authority – for many years the own-label Sauternes from one of Bordeaux’s more famous négociants was sourced entirely from the Filhot cellars. There was a lot of wine to go round, it seems.
So what exactly is Filhot’s story? Why is this such a grand and expansive estate? And why does the label bear such a remarkable similarity to that of Château Coutet? To answer these questions, we need to look at the history of Château Filhot, a history which begins – for our purposes at least – in the opening years of the 18th century.