Château de Bachen Tursan Blanc 2015
I am heading into one of the deepest corners of southwest France for this week’s Weekend Wine, and the little-known appellation of Tursan. If that one has you scratching your head, then I have two things to say. First, you are not alone. Second, read on, and in three or four minutes you will be a world authority on the wines of Tursan.
One of a number of appellative curiosities in France’s southwest, Tursan sits in the shadow of the Pyrenees, not far from Lourdes; sandwiched between the two is the somewhat better-known appellation of Madiran. Originally classified as a Vin Délimité de Qualité Supérieure in 1958, The Tursan vineyard was elevated to appellation status in 2011, as were many in France at that time, including (with my Loire hat on) the Fiefs-Vendéens and Coteaux d’Ancenis. The nationwide rush for promotion was the result of the phasing out of the VDQS category; growers working in these regions faced demotion to the Vin de Pays level (or IGP as it became), or they could apply for appellation status. Unsurprisingly, most (probably all) chose the latter. A major driving force behind the creation of the new Tursan appellation was Michel Guéraud, a Michelin-starred chef and vigneron who lived and worked in the region. More on him in a minute.
Today the appellation covers about 300 hectares and it is a hotbed of viticultural rarities that should have grape variety life-list tickers flocking here in droves. The rosé and red wines feature Tannat, alongside Cabernet Franc, Cabernet Sauvignon and Fer, to be fair nothing too unusual there. The whites, however, are somewhat more esoteric. The appellation is blessed with its own variety, the native Baroque, which can be blended with familiar names such as Gros Manseng, Petit Manseng and Sauvignon Blanc (the latter limited to a maximum 10% of the blend) and less widely appreciated varieties including Claverie, Cruchinet, Raffiat, Claret du Gers and Clairette. Baroque is the appellation’s unique selling point though. A century ago this variety was a popular choice for France’s vignerons, who valued it for its resistance to powdery mildew. By the 1950s there were more than 5,000 hectares planted across all France, but the availability of treatments against mildew has seen this contract to a little more than 100 hectares. Most (if not all) of these 100 hectares can be found in Tursan.
I would imagine a great proportion of the wines of Tursan are drunk locally, and perhaps unsurprisingly there are few estates here with any sort of international profile. One exception to this rule is Château de Bachen, which belongs to the aforementioned chef Michel Guéraud, widely regarded – alongside the likes of Paul Bocuse, Alain Chapel and the Troisgros family – as one of France’s top restaurateurs, and a pioneer of both nouvelle cuisine and cuisine minceur. He started out in the 1960s in a Paris kitchen, where he picked up two Michelin stars, but by 1974 he had relocated to the spa resort of Eugenie-les-Bains, 45 kilometres west of Tursan. Three years later, in 1977, he had his third star.
Having claimed every accolade possible for his work in the kitchen Michel then branched out into wine, buying Château de Tursan in 1983. He and his wife Catherine replanted the vineyards, and they released their first commercial vintage in 1987. Their white is a blend of three of the permitted varieties, including Baroque (of course) with Petit Manseng and Sauvignon Blanc. The wine has been well received in many quarters, Guéraud having long employed the services of the late Denis Dubourdieu, one factor among many which explain the good quality here, as well as having taken advice from Jean-Claude Berrouet, best known for his work over many years at Petrus, but who also a family vineyard (which is surprisingly under-the-radar) in nearby Irouléguy.
In the glass the 2015 Tursan Blanc from Château de Tursan displays a freshly polished golden hue, following up with a taut and smoky character on the nose, which has some reductive traits. These support a layer of melon and pear fruits, dressed with a little touch of fresh mint. While the fruit aromatics may be fresh and forward, the palate presents more interesting character, with a pithy and punchy style, and a lightly waxy texture. The fruit follows the lead of the nose, with pear, apple and melon at its heart, set with nuances of honeysuckle and acacia. There is some obvious oak still shining through, giving the wine a finely grained backbone of light tannins and consequently a rather firm grip, leading into a finish which has a delicious mouth-watering bitterness to it. A wine of interest as well as good quality, somewhat reminiscent of dry Jurançon (the Petit Manseng shining through), tense but rich and flavoursome, and carrying a grippy structure which will support it in the cellar for a few years yet. 91/100
That’s all I have to say on Tursan. If you have read this far, you are now an expert on this appellation. Applications for certificates confirming Tursan World Authority status must be made in writing, in triplicate, using ink made from the distilled juice of both Baroque and Fer, to the Tursan growers syndicat. (2/8/21)