Château Thieuley Bordeaux Blanc Francis Courselle 2014
It was early Sunday evening, a few years ago now, and I had just arrived at Château Thieuley. I hadn’t come on the off-chance, obviously; not even in my ‘turn up and taste’ days would I have chanced my arm on a Sunday, especially at a time not uncommonly described as wine o’clock. Even so, despite having an appointment, things were not looking good; the château was locked up, and the offices next-door were in darkness. The grounds were deserted, and despite having scouted around all four walls of the cellars, these too appeared, at that moment, to be devoid of human activity.
Returning to the château, my hopes were suddenly raised when a little van appeared, crunching its way down the gravel drive. A curious semi-camoflaged mud-green-grey colour, at this twilight hour it melted into the dusky shadows cast by the cellars and trees. In my memory it was an old Renault Estafette, a 1950s model intended to compete with Citroen’s famous H van. The H van, just in case anybody reading is not thoroughly familiar with the commercial vehicles of post-war 20th-century France (a shocking thought, I know), is the one with the boxy nez de cochon and corrugated coachwork, as French as baguettes and brie. The Estafette, meanwhile, bore a passing resemblance to Volkswagen’s famous van, I suspect not an entirely coincidental likeness.
In truth it was probably a much more modern vehicle, but I prefer to stick with my slightly fantastical memory. More important, undoubtedly, was the identity of the chauffeur, one Francis Courselle, the proprietor of this estate. He had taken over the running of the domaine in 1972, subsequently developing an excellent reputation far beyond its humble situation and appellation. Part of the reason for his success, apart from years of hard graft, was a sensible decision to focus a large part of his energies on white wines, this particular corner of Bordeaux being suited to such things. Today he has handed control of his 80 hectares of vines to his two daughters, Sylvie and Marie, of whom the latter I had been searching for, but white wines – such as the one above – remain a significant feature of the domaine’s portfolio.
Although the domaine makes a very interesting and worthy range of wines, those that bear the name Cuvée or Réserve Francis Courselle are certainly the most interesting. Both red and white are noteworthy, although I have found the latter to be consistently more interesting. A blend of 50% Sauvignon Blanc (including some Sauvignon Gris) and 50% Semillon from 5.5 hectares of vines on clay and gravel, this cuvée is fermented in barrel, with élevage in same, for a period of eight or nine months, with some lees stirring during the first six. The 2014 Cuvée Francis Courselle from Château Thieuley follows this Bordeaux blueprint, using 50% new oak, and is bottled under a DIAM closure. It has a polished lemon-gold hue in the glass. There follows a really enticing nose of dried orchard fruits, dried peach and pear, with a little citrus lift, and a rather exotic twist of lime, as well as a hint of saline freshness. The palate has really charming fruit, with notes of dried peach, apricot, passion fruit and guava, with the polish and grip of the oak, but without any overt impact from the wood on the flavour. There is quite fine acidity, giving it a lovely freshness, a little saline vein mirroring the nose, and a pithy finish, with just a little grip here. This is really top quality, proof that Bordeaux Blanc can be interesting, and not all decent whites from Bordeaux bear the names of Graves or Pessac-Léognan. 17/20
After some helpful hints from Francis as to where she might be hiding, I eventually found Sylvie, and after a tour and tasting – during which I realised just how fine some of the wines of Château Thieuley are – I resolved to drink more wines from this estate. Especially the Cuvée Francis Courselle. This weekend, in the latest instalment of my continued hunt for value and quality in this region, I made good on my promise to myself. (13/3/17)