Château Fonréaud Bordeaux Blanc Le Cygne 2020
The level of experimentation with white varieties on the Médoc is easily underestimated. While white wines have long had a place in the portfolio of some châteaux – Château Mouton-Rothschild and Château Margaux spring immediately to mind – others are still quietly feeling their way. Nicolas Glumineau at Château Pichon-Lalande, for example, has dedicated a hectare to white varieties including Sauvignon Blanc and Chardonnay, and he is still toying with the notion of planting Chenin Blanc and other less commonly encountered cultivars. And he is just one of many contemplating a potential new addition to his portfolio of wines.
This all sounds very experimental, but there is at least one corner of the Médoc which can boast a long tradition of planting white varieties and making white wines. The corner in question is Listrac-Médoc where, recognising the suitability of the clay-limestone soils, some proprietors were planting white alongside their red as long ago as the 19th century. The prime example is Château Clarke where proprietor Georges Merman first planted white varieties during the 1880s. The wine, which was first released during the 1890s, he christened Merle Blanc, an early example of what seems to have evolved into a local tradition which is the naming of your white cuvée after a local bird (merle translates as blackbird, in case you were wondering).
Likewise, white vines were first planted at Château Fonréaud during the early years of the 20th century. This was carried out under the direction of the then proprietor, Vicomtesse de Coulonge de la Tremblaye. in keeping with the local tradition the wine was named Le Cygne (cygne translates as swan), a natural choice as the cygne was also the emblem of the Mauvesin family (yes, as in Château Mauvesin Barton), who had built the château just a few decades earlier.
The cultivation of the white vines at Château Fonréaud continued uninterrupted for several decades, but during the mid-20th century the estate went into decline, and this impacted the white vineyard just as much as the red. The final few vines – white and red – were pulled up at the end of the 1950s. It was not until the era of the Chanfreau family, after Léo Chanfreau (1930 – 1970) acquired the property in 1962, that the red vineyard would be replanted. The white vineyard was eventually also brought back to life, in 1989.
Today the white vineyard at Château Fonréaud accounts for 3 hectares, and is planted to 60% Sauvignon Blanc, 15% Muscadelle and 25% Semillon. The first two are planted on beds of Pyrenean gravel, the latter on the clay-limestone soils for which the region has gained some renown. The cultivation follows the Terra Vitis charter, the fruit hand-picked in tries, pressed and the juice fermented in barrels including 30% to 40% new oak. The wine ages in barrel on the lees with bâtonnage for a few months, before it is bottled.
The 2020 Le Cygne from Château Fonréaud is sealed using a DIAM-10 closure which says something about how the Chanfreau family see this developing. It displays a very pale hue in the glass, but the nose feels more intriguing. It opens with the scents of crushed chalk, freesia, pear, lemon peel and verbena, all overlaid with a little cigar-box oak which slowly recedes with time, its eventual subtlety allowing the chalky fruit to shine through. The palate is perfumed and elegant yet texturally sweet, caressing with its sinewy intent and delicately bitter grip. It carries notes of lightly waxed pear, verbena and citrus pith, with appropriate grip, much of which I expect is derived from the oak rather than the fruit, with a finely balanced acid freshness too. This shows good quality, but I can’t help feeling this deserves some time in the cellar, maybe four or five years, which should help the fruit overcome the current dominance of the wood. I would be fascinated to revisit it then; I suspect it would be a drinker’s delight. The alcohol on the label is 13.5%. 91/100 (15/8/22)
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