Château de Francs 2011
After some famous names and famous appellations from the Loire Valley over the last few weeks, Pouilly-Fumé from Jonathan Pabiot, Sancerre from Alphonse Mellot and Chinon from Matthieu Baudry, this week I return to Bordeaux. And not to a particularly exalted appellation, nor to one of the region’s best known châteaux either, although there is something really quite familiar about the name of the proprietor. This week I am looking off the beaten track to Francs Côtes de Bordeaux, with the 2011 Château de Francs.
The four Côtes de Bordeaux appellations (Castillon, Cadillac, Blaye and Francs) came together under this joint banner back in 2009. Other than Castillon, which I thought was doing rather well in establishing itself as an alternative to St Emilion, being right next-door and rich in prestigious limestone terroirs, the one thing that seemed to unite the appellations was their relative anonymity. It is not as if they shared the same locale, geography, terroir, grape variety or style. Anonymity can go hand-in-hand with good value though, so these are appellations worthy of exploration. Of the four, the Côte de Francs (to use the old appellation) is the most discreet and defined, and perhaps after Castillon the most interesting. Indeed, the two regions sit right next to one another, in the shadow of the more famous right-bank appellations.
Only three communes are eligible for the Francs Côtes de Bordeaux appellation, these being Francs, Saint-Cibard and Tayac. Their vineyards enjoy a lofty altitude, being 110 metres above sea level, in Bordeaux (which is remarkably flat) the equivalent of a climb up Mount Everest, which makes for a slightly cooler climate. It is the smallest of all Bordeaux’s appellations at about 500 hectares. The village of Francs is the heart of the appellation, the communes of Tayac and Saint-Cibard lying to the north-west and south-east. Unsurprisingly the terroir here is similar to that of St Emilion and Castillon, being rich in Calcaire de Castillon and Molasses du Fronsadais, and in reds Merlot dominates, although together Cabernet Sauvignon and Cabernet Franc account for perhaps half the vineyard. And there are white wines too, made under the same appellation, using the traditional Bordeaux varieties and often barrel-fermented, and these can be surprisingly drinkable.
So I mentioned we could find some familar names here. Number one is surely the Thienpont family, who own Château Puygueraud, Château Les Charmes-Godard and Château La Prade. But the Boüard de Laforest family (as in Hubert, as in Château Angélus) also have a presence in the region at Château de Francs, ownership of which Hubert shares with Dominique Hébrard, once co-proprietor of Château Cheval Blanc (well, I did say the names would be familiar). Their wine is typically 90% Merlot, 10% Cabernet Sauvignon, vinified in stainless steel cuves before élevage which is half in cuve, half in second- or third-use barrels. The 2011 Château de Francs has a fine and glossy hue in the glass, dare I say hinting at a slick and modern style? The aromatics are really convincing, being led by an enticing array of crushed summer berries, blackcurrants and mulberries, but underneath there are also more savoury and reserved tones, slightly dusty but not at all dry or dull, with touches of black pepper and toasted almond. This is couched within a gently textured palate, supple, rather soft and approachable through the middle, with a little open laxity to it which detracts a little. There is a nice grip underneath it though, leading into a gently tannic, peppery finish. There is plenty of approachable appeal here for drinking now, but I suspect this would also age rather well, over five to ten years perhaps. Maybe I will put that to the test for myself. 16/20 (10/10/16)