The French #Winophiles is a group of wine writers that are fans of French wines and come together monthly to share their views on a certain aspect. The group is kicking off 2021 with a virtual visit to Bordeaux and we’ve chosen to shine a spotlight on a lesser-known area of the region: Fronsac. To see the other articles related to this month’s topic, please refer to the links at the end of this article.
Bordeaux might just be the most famous and talked about wine region in the world. The word conjures up pictures of fabulous castles that sit at the end of long, tree-lined drives and its wines are often thought of as out-of-reach, costly treasures that are enjoyed after decades of cellaring by Barons and Baronesses and other well-heeled connoisseurs. While that may be an accurate snapshot of the top growths of the Medoc, there is much more to Bordeaux than that.
There are actually 60 different appellations within the Bordeaux Region. Most of the attention gets focused on just 7 of those appellations: St. Estephe, St Julien, Paulliac, Margaux and Graves on the so-called “Left Bank” (the west side of the Gironde River) and St. Emillion and Pomerol on the Right Bank.
Perhaps not unfairly do these regions get the most attention; they are home to such storied names as Mouton Rothschild, Haut Brion, Petrus and Cheval Blanc. While these appellations have earned their fame, they have also probably earned their reputation for being inaccessible. Prices are stratospheric and one should really wait for at least a decade before opening to let bottle age work its magic to bring out the wines’ true full potential.
For the rest of us, looking into some of the lesser known “satellite” appellations can offer us wines that can be affordable and can be drank at a relatively young age. One such satellite appellation worth checking out is Fronsac.
Fronsac sits in Bordeaux’ Right Bank, about a 10-minute drive from the western boundaries of its two more famous neighbours, Pomerol and Saint-Emillion. Within the Fronsac Appellation is Canon-Fronsac, which sits at its southwestern tip. It is not terribly distinct from the larger Fronsac, slightly closer to the River and having somewhat sandier soils, several houses with vineyards in both appellations blend their harvests and call the resulting wines Fronsac. So it makes sense to just look at Fronsac as a whole rather than two distinct regions.
Fronsac is a small appellation, covering 1,065ha from 7 village communes. The Appellation has 147 producers of which 29 are growers only and sell their grapes to the local cooperative in Lugon producing less than 6 million cases per year, of only red wine.
Estates are small, the average being 7ha in size. The dominant grape variety of the appellation is Merlot at 78% of plantings with the rest divided between Cabernet Franc (13%), Cabernet Sauvignon (7%) and Malbec (2%). Soil composition is a combination of limestone, sand and clay, quite similar to that of neighbouring Saint-Emilion. The soils found on the slopes of Fronsac are referred to as “molasses de Fronsadais” which are ancient marine-based soils of a mix of clay, chalk (limestone) and sand that provide very good drainage. This mix is also found in many of Saint-Emillions top properties such as Pavie, Ausone, and Beausejour.
The wines of Fronsac are similar to the wines of their famous neighbours; not as rich and plush as Pomerol and not as refined as Saint-Emilion. Several decades ago, the wines of Fronsac received criticism from some corners for being a bit rustic. But Fronsac and its wines have come a long way since the 1970s when these criticisms held some weight. The improvement can be attributed in some measure to two men who took over vineyards there: Christian Mouiex and Michel Rolland.
Christian Moueix now presides over the firm his father started, Etablissements Jen-Pierre Moueix, the established powerhouse of the Right Bank.
Within the Moueix stable have been some of the world’s most acclaimed wineries: Petrus, Hosanna, and Trotanoy in Pomerol, and Magdelaine and Fonroque in Saint-Emillion. In Fronsac they have owned Canon-Moueix, Canon-de-Brem and La Croix Canon. In classic Moueix fashion they take over an estate, invest to bring the vineyards and winery up to the highest standards and correspondingly improve the wines produced.
Michel Rolland is the uber-consultant who counts many of the world’s top wineries as his clients.
His roster includes Ausone and Angelus in Saint-Emillion, Petit Village and L’Evangile in Pomerol as well as Harlan and Bryant Family in Napa. He owns several properties in Bordeaux including his home estate in Fronsac, Chateaux Fontenil. Like Moueix, Rolland is meticulous in his methods and ups the quality at all the wineries he is associated with. Having two superstars in a small satellite does two things: first, it speaks to the potential of the terroir and second it helps to bring up the game of everyone else in the appellation.
The wines of Fronsac are classic Right Bank wines: supple and round Merlot-dominant wines that have classic Bordeaux traits of complexity and elegance.
As earlier mentioned, they share a stylistic presence common to their neighbours. To us, we tend to find them a bit more Saint-Emilion than Pomerol. Elegance is a descriptor more commonly seen than power with the wines of Fronsac. While the better wines should be capable of ageing for 10 to 15 years, most of them are quite approachable 5 years from the vintage. Prices for the wines of Fronsac are reasonable, not dissimilar to other Cru Bourgeois Bordeaux, though in our view, the better wines take the quality level up to a higher level. Recommended names from Fronsac worth seeking out include: Château Canon-de-Brem, Château Fontenil, Château Moulin Haut Laroque, Château de la Rivière, Château Haut Carles, and Château de la Dauphine. Our friend Lynn Gowdy at Savor the Harvest recently discovered a new winery in Fronsac called Chateau George 7 which also sounds well worth seeking out.
2016 Chateau Moulin Haut Laroque
The roots at Chateau Moulin Haut Laroque go deep into the history of Bordeaux. They were the first winery in Fronsac and perhaps all of Bordeaux to bottle at their own estate (back then, wine was largely a negociant business). They have 45 acres of vineyards planted to 65% Merlot, 20% Cabernet Franc, 10% Cabernet Sauvignon and 5% Malbec. Their terroir is primarily clay and limestone soils found on the plateau of Fronsac and the adjacent slopes. Their famed neighbour, Michel Rolland, is their winemaking consultant.
This wine has a deep garnet colour. We get flavours of plum and black raspberry delivered with high intensity on a medium+ body. Smooth, ripe tannins are present and give the wine structure and backbone. The texture is thick and push and the fruit is ripe, in some ways evoking a garagiste Saint-Emillion. Floral and herbal notes add complexity. The finish is long and has subtle forest notes in it. Ready now and will easily last another decade in your cellar. (This is very good value, given the cost of comparable wines from Saint-Emillion and Pomerol.)
Excellent (CAD$ 50 +plus taxes at BC Liquor Stores)
More articles on Bordeaux from the #Winophiles:
- Susannah at Avvinare shares “Cru Bourgeois – A Closer Look At Chateau Labadie”
- Wendy at A Day in the Life on the Farm shares “Chateau Haut-Pougnon with Mediterranean Stew”
- Terri at Our Good Life shares “Hearty Seafood Chowder with a Special Bottling from Chateau Tour de Bonnet”
- Linda at My Full Wine Glass shares “This Francs Côtes de Bordeaux lets the fruit shine through”
- Camilla at Culinary Adventures with Camilla shares “Croissants aux Framboises + Chateau Sabliere Beausejour 2016”
- Gwendolyn at Wine Predator shares “For a Special Evening at Home: Bordeaux’s Sweet, Sparkling, Savory Surprises”
- Lynn at Savor the Harvest shares “Sustainability, Adaptation and Oenotourism Evolve in Bordeaux”
- Lauren at The Swirling Dervish shares “Are Dry Wines the New Sweet Spot for Sauternes?”
- Nicole at Somms Table shares “Faux Fancy Bordeaux”
- Lisa at The Wine Chef shares “Learn About Cru Bourgeois Wines: What’s New and Why You Should be Drinking Them”
- Jeff at Food Wine Click! shares “What’s New? Natural Bordeaux!”