Sauternes Hidden Gem
It was an exciting day when I took delivery of Alessandro Masnaghetti’s latest vineyard map – the Cru Classes of Sauternes and Barsac (as well as the Sangiovese vineyards of Romagna, but that’s another story).
Looking at this beautifully produced map, I couldn’t help but notice that among the designated vineyard plots of Ch. d’Yquem, there were a few blank spaces. I wondered why? Showing it to Christophe Mangeart, the winemaker at Ch. Cinc-Hilhs, he mentioned that the owner (or manager, as it turned out to be) was a friend of his.
I was curious about this paradox – Bordeaux vineyards are usually pretty contiguous – so I asked Christophe if we could go and visit.
The wine from these vineyards are bottled under the name of Ch. Lafon. Not an unknown name in Sauternes as Ch. Raymond-Lafon is a 1er cru, highly sought-after wine, but this domaine takes its name from other members of the Lafon family, who held the vineyards until they sold it to the grandfather of the current owner, M. Dufour in the 1920s.
These vineyards are completely surrounded by vineyards belonging to Ch. d’Yquem – a little enclave of quality terroir sporting vines which are now around 50 years old. Ch. Lafon’s holdings are not just confined to these particular vineyards, they have other vineyard holdings scattered around Sauternes in the communes of Fargues, Bommes, Preignac and Sauternes (12 hectares in total) and were traditionally blended together so they never ever really got to the Cru Classe stage, although since 2006 the wines produced from the “Yquem” vineyards have been separately vinified (in the most suitable vintages) as their “Cuvee Desir”.
It does cross one’s mind to ask why the hell didn’t Yquem buy these odd vineyards in the middle of their patch from Lafon when they were put up for sale? Well, the answer is, so they say, that in the depression days of the 1920s, the Lur Saluces family, whilst being of the highest nobility, were strapped for cash – plus fours and no breakfast, as my mother used to describe the toffs – so it was that M. Dufour’s grand-dad stepped in with the moolah.
The estate is now run by M.Dufour’s son-in-law, Olivier Fauthoux, and I had a chance to taste some of the latest offerings in situ.
Of course, the 2012 vintage was a real dog in Sauternes and this is reflected by the fact that the wine we sampled was not very sweet. Olivier said that it took an exceptionally long time to get ANY botrytis going and as a result the wine lacks grip and is going to be fairly wishy-washy. But, it could turn out that it would suit accompanying foie gras and Roquefort which doesn’t require the wines to be over sweet to make a splendid combination.
The 2010, not long bottled, has depth and a nice balance of fruit and acidity with honey and citrus tones combining well. The wood is still a little marked but this will surely integrate in time. The 2011, still in barriques, is unctuous with good weight and a fairly complex finish.
The fruit is 90% Semillon with the rest split between Sauvignon and Muscadelle.
The estate has a second label, Ch. Nauton. I sampled the 2010 which had a good amount of sweetness but without any great depth. No oak is used in the vinification of this wine which is perhaps why it gave the feeling of being a little hollow.
All in all, this is pretty good kit and with recent vintages retailing for under £20 a bottle, it represents excellent value for money. Cuvee Desir may be a little more expensive. You can get a list of stockists and prices from www.wine-searcher.com. Visitors are welcome at the estate (please reserve a visit in advance) and you can find out how to contact them and get there from their website, www.chateaulafon.fr.
Of course, (and this is where it all started) you can order Alessandro Masnaghetti’s splendid maps at http://www.winebehindthelabel.com/maps.html