Emmanuel Tresmontant - 2008-07-09
Jean-François and Philippe Chaigneau of Château Massereau in Barsac are two enthusiastic, mouthy young winegrowers... Their exceptional Sauternes are toppling many an “untouchable” glory of the Sauternes region from their pedestals. To get to the bottom of it, we paid them a visit.
25 miles southeast of Bordeaux, Château Massereau is an old 16th-century hunting lodge whose three towers dominate one of the smallest and most attractive vineyards of Barsac: 1.20 hectares planted just above the Ciron river. This waterway plays an essential role in the whole of this part of Aquitaine since, from the beginning of autumn, the mists that form here in the morning make it possible for the famous botrytis to appear! This curious fungus, also nicknamed “noble rot”, has the effect of drying the grape before covering it with a sort of ash concentrating sugars and acids. Despite its hideous appearance, botrytis is like gold dust because, thanks to it, the Sauternes acquires virtual immortality and an aromatic richness without equal.
Jean-François and Philippe Chaigneau belong to the new generation of French winegrowers who have decided to sacrifice everything to “create an extraordinary wine”, the kind of nectar that you leave to rest in your cellar for years before bringing it out for your daughter’s wedding. Utopian? Perhaps. But the fact is that luxury is selling increasingly well today, and their first-rate Sauternes are already a resounding success.
Their secret? Harvesting grape by grape, with successive selections (8 to 12 selections) according to the degree of ripeness (and therefore of rot) of the grapes… “Only the grapes that are 100% botrytised are taken,” explains Philippe. “Then they are pressed very slowly in an old hand-operated wooden ratchet press. Fermentation and maturing take place in new barrels for each vintage.” Unlike many liqueur-like wines, the Château Massereau Sauternes are not chaptalised (no sugar is added), acidified, or filtered, so they naturally express the characteristics of the vintage: 2001, 2002, 2003 and 2004 each have their own personality and even the 2003 – the heat wave vintage – is amazing for its finesse.
On tasting, these Sauternes are all fascinating for their freshness, floral bouquet and delicacy, when the current trend is more towards massive, exuberant Sauternes (which has, moreover, lost them a good many consumers, put off by so much power on the palate). Robert Vifian considers that these still underrated wines rival those of the legendary Château d’Yquem and is thinking of organising a vertical comparative analysis (connoisseurs take note!).
If you don’t have the means to treat yourself to these nectars, it is nevertheless worth knowing that the Chaigneau brothers also produce one of the nicest Clairets of the Bordeaux region: a natural rosé (50% Merlot, 50% Cabernet Sauvignon) fermented for 6 months in 3-year-old barrels, that is perfect for the holidays (€5 a bottle!).
Tel: + 33 (0)5 56 27 46 62
You can also find these wines at the Bigarrade restaurant in the Batignolles district of Paris.