If you’ve seen the film A Good Year, you might recall that the Russell Crowe character, a financial wizard, inherits a winery in France and promptly sets off to sell it until he falls in love with the region.
In real life, Silvio Denz, a dynamic individual who developed Switzerland’s largest chain of perfume stores, purposefully set out to buy a vineyard, Chateau Faugeres, which he acquired in March of 2005. The vineyards cover 80 hectares and are divided between two appellations: Saint-Emilion (the Bordeaux region famed for Grand Cru Classe wines of Chateau Figeac and Cheval Blanc) and Cotes de Castillion. Before its acquisition, the chateau had been owned by the Pierre-Bernard (Peby) Guisez family since 1823.
Silvio Denz’s goal is to create wine with the “taste of the terroir” with freshness and fruit. Robert Parker must believe he has achieved his mission, for he gave Chateau Faugeres “Cuvee Peby” in the top 50 Bordeaux wines of the 2005 vintage (awarding it 93 – 96 points out of 100). Of course, Denz isn’t stopping there; he has purchased new plots, is planning a new winery designed by world-famous Swiss architect Mario Botta (if you have been to the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art you will recognize his work), and the chateau’s consulting enologist is world-famous Michel Rolland and equally well known Stephan von Neipperg.
At a recent press event in Manhattan to showcase the wines of Chateau Faugeres, I met Alain Dourthe, the estate’s technical manager, and discussed all the seemingly small details that make for a good wine, including how to decide the best time to pick, the weather conditions that can ruin a vintage, and how long the wines are left to macerate after fermentation. The grapes are hand-picked and twice sorted so that only the ripest, healthiest grapes are used for the wine. The cellar contains stainless steel vats designed so that the tannins, anthocyans, and constituents of the grape are extracted from the grape skins slowly. Temperature can be controlled with coils that encircle each tank, through which warm and cold water can be sent. The Cuvee Speciale Peby is fermented in wood, which allows for a slower fermentation and controlled oxygenation of the must and the wine. The wines are then aged in French oak and bottled on the estate.
In addition to giving Cuvee Speciale Peby 2005 exalted status, Parker described the 2005 Chateau Faugeres as rich and full bodied, with black raspberries, cassis, and minerals and the 2005 Cap de Faugeres was pronounced full-bodied, opulent, and rich with sweet scents of black tea, licorice, and subtle oak. Since this particular wine is available at my local wine shop – and represents such a delicious bargain – it is the wine I purchase most often.
In terms of food pairing, these deep, dark, and delicious wines, with their richly extracted flavors of ripe fruit and chewy tannins, are great with steak or even a selection of creamy cheese. With the state-of-the-art improvements Mr. Denz has planned for the winery, I’m curious to see what new delights the future holds.