Words: Kirsten Durward Photos: Monica Tindall
It is always good to have friends, but having friends with contacts in the wine business is surely second to none. It is mainly thanks to one of our favourite restauranteurs and wine importers in Kuala Lumpur, Yin-How Wong, that we were able to spend three nights at Chateau de Fieuzal close to the tiny village of Leognan, south of Bordeaux. As we are discovering, it is not that easy to stay at a Chateau, and we are lucky indeed to be offered accommodations reserved for industry visitors and journalists.
In keeping with other chateaux we have visited, Fieuzal has been recently renovated and modernized. The overall sensation is of space and light, with oversized rooms, and pale wood tables around which we imagine large groups congregate for tasting, dining and conversing. The bedrooms are named for the grapes of the region, and I find myself ensconced happily in Petit Verdot, while Monica relaxes in Semillon.
We use the chateau as a base for exploring the region, and following up on local recommendations on where to eat. More on that on this Leognan post.
Although Fieuzal has a grand history dating from the 16th Century, the estate was recently acquired by an Irish couple, the Quinns, who set about redeveloping this marvellous 70 hectare property. But despite having an eye for business potential, we are sure that this is a couple with a family mentality. Charmingly, the names inscribed on the traditional concrete vats are the names of the grandchildren.
Uniquely amongst the chateaux we have visited, Fieuzal uses three different styles of vats for vinification, the older traditional style concrete, the heavy oak, and that of the moment stainless steal. On asking why the diversity, I receive a typical Gallic shrug and a ‘it depends on the wine’. We are finding that although wine making is a very precise art, a lot also ‘depends’ on a whole range of possibilities.
Fieuzal is the first chateau where we come to appreciate the physicality of the work. The large, easily visible press, silent now but working for long hours in season, the description of the ‘pisage’ the hand stirring in the wooden vats, Burgundy style, and also our views of the workers in the field. Whether in the depths of wet winter or the sultry heat of summer, they are there tending to the vines and soil each and every day. The Fieuzal owners like to take care of their family of workers and have a small organic farm producing herbs, vegetables and eggs. That which is not used by the estate, is distributed freely amongst the workers. I love this friendly communal approach.
Red wines are usually matured in French oak, but Fieuzal has been experimenting with acacia wood in small amounts for their white wine to add a different flavour and change the character of the wine slightly. Most often the wine spends a year in the barrel, however it is regularly tasted and the timing is adjusted according to the acidity of the wine. The 2015, currently maturing in barrel, has been tasted regularly by a master blender who instructs on the turning of the barrels, the removing of the ‘lees’ or sediment, and the length of time in barrel. We are finding more and more how complex and subtle a process this is, and have completely changde our opinions of wine pricing: indeed we are in awe that after all the intensive work that it takes to develop a bottle, that we can buy any good wine for under RM100.
Like many Bordeaux chateaux, Fieuzal ‘mis en bouteille’ en chateau. What this means is that the wine is physically bottled directly from the vats on site. We learn that there are mobile ‘truck’ bottling installations that move around from chateau to chateau. Not only is this more economical but it means that the wine is moved less and is at less risk of being exposed to corrupting factors.
Happily, our time at Chateau de Fieuzal ends with a wine tasting. Here it is in the airy grand hall, with fireplace at both ends. Tasting we imagine the roaring fires bringing warmth in the colder month of the year. Our first sample is the Vin du Graves Chateau de Fieuzal 2012. Very clear in colour with slight green highlights, this typical sauvignon blanc Semillon blend has delicate aromas, and is well structured on tasting. Slightly aromatic with citrus notes, and a little tropical edge of passion fruit and pineapple, we pronounce this an elegant wine with a lasting finish.
The red is the Chateau de Fieuzal 2013. A Grand Cru Classe du Graves. This is a young wine still for a red, so the tannins are not fully integrated. A fairly recognizable Bordeaux blend of Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot with a little Cabernet Frank and Petit Verdot, it is quite fresh on the nose but develops well on tasting with a decent amount of black fruit, some pepper notes and a tinge of vanilla. Somewhat dry on exit, the wine does have a good long finish, the flavour resounds in the mouth.
Visits to Chateau de Fieuzal, like many of the chateaux in the region, are strictly by appointment, and in the case of this particular chateau visitors should have a particular interest in, or fondness for the chateau. We are happy to report that Vintry Group in Kuala Lumpur do stock Chateau de Fieuzal wines if you should like to try them without leaving the country. The chateau workers will have it that the wines have improved in quality and complexity over the last ten years without a rise in price. But you can take it from us that these are delicious wines for the price point and are definitively worth tasting.
Reason to try Fieuzal wines: extremely good quality wine for the price