Château de Malle
I’m not quite sure how I managed to overlook Château de Malle on my first ever visit to Sauternes, but overlook it I did. It is, I suppose, not an estate that enjoys the same level of press attention as the likes of, for example, Château Doisy-Daëne and Château Doisy-Védrines, although to be fair one of these estates has long benefited from being in the ownership of the accomplished Dubourdieu family, including until recently the late Denis Dubourdieu (1949 – 2016). Nor does it seem as well known as Château Filhot, which is perhaps understandable, Château Filhot’s production being rather large and its distribution therefore wide. Yet all are deuxièmes crus, and Château de Malle is certainly not the least impressive of this quartet.
Indeed, Château de Malle has a lot going for it. The wines are good, and appear to have improved considerably over the last couple of decades, under the direction of the current proprietors. It also has an impressive history; like Château Filhot, this property was once possessed by the Lur-Saluces family, influential local nobility who seemed to own at least half of Sauternes, including Château d’Yquem, at one point. And the château is visually stunning, comprising a central grand maison, with a mansard roof, flanked by two pavilions, each one terminating in a fat, rounded tower, the dramatic pointed roofs of which perhaps resemble the qubbat of a mosque more than anything you might expect to find on a building of the French Renaissance. It is only its rather isolated position (and maybe that is why I first missed it), tucked away in the northern part of the Sauternes appellation, squeezed between the autoroute on one side, and the railway on the other, that detracts from its overall impact.
Beginnings: The de Malle Family
The de Malle family’s presence in the region can be traced as far back as the 14th century, but it is not certain that there was viticulture ongoing at that time. The first suggestion of a vineyard and active winemaking on the de Malle estate dates from the 15th century, long before the château was erected. This building, a magnificent 17th-century edifice, and a registered historic monument, was built by Jacques de Malle (1590 – 1654) in 1650 (and is thus contemporaneous with Château d’Yquem, and yet the two present completely contrasting styles), a descendant of a prominent Preignac family, and also président of the Bordeaux parliament. Five centuries ago the Malle family were clearly successful, well-heeled and well-established.
Following the death of Jacques de Malle the property would come to his great-grandson Pierre de Malle (died 1710), an equally successful man, counsellor to Louis XIV (1638 – 1715), better known as the Roi-Soleil (the Sun King). Pierre had just one daughter, Jeanne, and in 1702 she was married to Alexandre-Eutrope de Lur-Saluces (1672 – 1754), Baron de Fargues, and thus ownership of Château de Malle passed to this most powerful of Sauternes families, who also owned at one time or another, Château d’Yquem, Château Coutet and Château Filhot. It was Alexandre-Eutrope who commissioned the construction of very fine Italianate gardens behind the château between 1717 and 1724, inspired by those he had seen in Florence on a grand tour of Europe several years previously. This explains the presence of numerous classical sculptures that grace the gardens, most of which are the work of Italian craftsmen drafted in for the very purpose.