Specialist Charles Foley selects 5 standout vintages from the Saint Emilion estate — one of the oldest in Bordeaux — offered in our Fine and Rare Wine auction in London on 16 March
Nestled amid three hillocks sits Château Figeac, an 18th-century neo-classical mansion built on the site of a 2nd-century Gallo-Roman villa named after its original owner — a certain Figeacus. It is home to the Manoncourt family, which has owned the château since 1892. In 2017 the family is celebrating 125 years of ownership, as well as marking 100 years since the birth of Thierry Manoncourt, who ran the estate from 1947 until his passing in 2010.
Thierry was a pioneer, returning from captivity during the Second World to assist his mother with the vineyards, and gradually introducing new viticultural and wine-making practices which increased the reputation of the estate. He began château bottling, installed stainless-steel vats, extended plantings of Cabernet Sauvignon and introduced a second wine, Château La Grange Neuve.
Thierry and his wife Marie-France were international ambassadors for Bordeaux, travelling to America with the Prime Minister and to Japan to establish the import of the wines of Bordeaux into that new market. This selection of superb Château-Figeac vintages comes directly from the cellars of the château and the Manoncourt family. The vintages date back many decades, and encompass the whole period during which Thierry Manoncourt held the reins of the property.
Thierry was released from a German PoW camp in 1943, and this became his first vintage at the helm of the estate. It was the magnificent 1947 vintage, however, that revealed his wine-making mastery. The weather was exceedingly hot, and Thierry worried that the wine would cook in the vats unless he cooled the fermentation down. Every day he queued up with fishmongers and butchers to acquire a 20-kg block of ice from the ice-distributor, with which he soothed this great vintage bubbling away in his cellars. Described by Michael Broadbent MW as ‘at its opulent best’, the wine (offered here in magnum) is a ‘big wine’ of ‘very, very rich’ character with ‘exotic’ notes, according to Clive Coates MW.
The third of the great post-war vintages, following on from the 1945 and the 1947, the 1949 is marked by a freshness and acidity which give the wine a glorious lifted fragrance and an extravagance of fruit. Broadbent waxes lyrical about raspberries and cream, before suggesting that it combines the charm of Marie-France with the characterful energy of Thierry. Coates finds youth, body and complexity in a glass of the 49, and concludes that it is a wine of ‘real breeding’. It is offered here in jeroboam, which is a stunning rarity, sure to add further complexity and evolution to this great wine.
A vintage par excellence. Ideal growing conditions led to wonderful, ripe and luxurious wines. Broadbent has sipped this vintage in the vaulted halls of Caius College in Cambridge, where he found it to be rich, sweet and distinctive. His second lush and aromatic glass was on the terrace of the château, accompanied by freshly picked asparagus and piquant French cheeses. Robert Parker adds black olive, Asian spices and cracked black pepper to the potent mix.
‘A profound effort,’ according to Robert Parker, the 2000 is a wine in which ‘camphor, graphite, black currants, liquorice, and smoked herbs’ abound. Offered here in bottle sizes running the full gamut from standard to imperial, this beautiful turn-of-the-century liquid was opened by the Christie’s team when they visited the cellars before Christmas. A dinner of foie gras and duck breast was served to accompany the wine, a creamy-textured, full-bodied and powerful drop singing with blackberry and blueberry notes.
The 2009 was the last vintage crafted by Thierry, who, over the course of his 64 years on the estate, drove it forward from the days when oxen ploughed the land to becoming the forward-thinking estate it is today, producing superb wines of charm, delicacy and personality. In the 2009 concentrated fruitiness and fine structure harmonise with elegant perfume, freshness on the finish, the gentlest of tannins and exceptional length. It is a wine that expresses that unique terroir of the estate: the fast-draining gravels and iron-rich subsoil that provide a home for the Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc and Merlot grapes which contribute in turn structure, aromatics and opulence.