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Wine Legend: Château Figeac 1949

This vintage had a great intensity of flavour...

Wine Legend: Château Figeac 1949, St-Emilion 1GCC, Bordeaux, France

Bottles produced N/A

Composition 50% Cabernet Franc, 34% Merlot, 12% Cabernet Sauvignon, 4% Malbec

Yield 25hl/ha

Alcohol 12%

Release price N/A

Price today A jeroboam of the wine was sold at Christie’s in 2017 for £8,225

A legend because…

Long regarded as an archetypal Bordeaux, with a beguiling bouquet that has evolved over decades, plus remarkable distinction and length. 1945, 1947 and 1949 were all great vintages in Bordeaux – and in retrospect were great bargains at the time. It seems appropriate to focus on 1949, as this was the favourite wine of the late owner Thierry Manoncourt, and the first vintage under his sole control. He relished the wine’s freshness and perfectly ripe Cabernet Sauvignon fruit.

Looking back

After time in a prisoner of war camp followed by studies in agronomy, Manoncourt returned to the family property in 1947. His studies gave him a level of technical expertise that was relatively uncommon in St-Emilion after the difficult war years. Careful study of Figeac’s soils helped him to make the right choices about varietal balance in the vineyards, and he introduced a second wine in 1945 to improve quality of the grand vin further.

Over many decades, until his death in 2010, Manoncourt, with his wife Marie-France always at his side, guided Figeac through a succession of great vintages.

The vintage

January and February were exceptionally dry. However, by the time of flowering in June, the weather had turned cold and rainy, which reduced the crop. In July the temperature topped 40°C, which in those days was highly unusual in Bordeaux. Storms gave some relief for the parched vines. Harvest began on 30 September, but yields were very low as hydric stress kept the berries small. These conditions gave the wine great intensity of flavour.

The terroir

The 54ha estate is in a single parcel that has scarcely changed since 1892. The 40ha of vines spread over three gravel croupes that run from north to south. The soil has little clay and a good deal of sand, which probably accounts for the wine’s elegance and also for the unusual grape mix in the vineyards: about a third each of Merlot, Cabernet Franc and Cabernet Sauvignon. The latter often doesn’t ripen in St-Emilion, but usually does so here.

The wine

Thanks to his studies, Manoncourt understood the process of malolactic fermentation, as well as temperature control during alcoholic fermentation, and other winemaking techniques. The grapes were vinified in large wooden vats at about 28°C, using indigenous yeasts. Although today the wine is aged entirely in new oak barrels, this was only introduced in the 1970s.

The reaction

In 1991, James Suckling reviewed the wine for Wine Spectator: ‘Perhaps the greatest Figeac ever made… Ripe fruit and black liquorice aromas, a hint of violets. Full-bodied, with masses of bitter chocolate and ripe fruit flavours and a very long finish. Superb.’

The late Michael Broadbent adored this wine: ‘A particular feature is its extravagant fruitiness, glorious fragrance, and at [one] tasting, a taste I described as like raspberries and cream. [In 1998] it was sheer perfection: surprisingly deep in colour though a fully mature rim; a sweet, rich, totally delicious bouquet and flavour.’

Jeff Leve of The Wine Cellar Insider gave it a perfect score in 2018: ‘This was majestic… From an imperial, opened at the château, heartstopping is the best word to describe it. Layer after layer of perfectly ripe, silky, textured, viscous, elegant cherries and plums topped with flowers, Cuban cigar wrappers, smoke, truffle and kirsch. The finish stuck with you for 60 seconds, or more. The memory lasts a lifetime.’

Jane Anson tasted it in 2017 for Decanter Premium, noting it still had a ‘sweet, rich plum character’, as part of a Figeac vertical which she said demonstrated ‘the older vintages regularly showed how this is a wine worth the wait.’

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