Apart from champagne, sweet wine is my next favorite in the wine category, perhaps the God of wine sees that too and leads me to something relevant, under a serendipitous circumstance I met Comte (‘Count’ in English) Philippe de Lur Saluces, who comes from one of the world-renowned sweet wine maker - Chateau de Fargues, over a wine pairing dinner which co-hosted by the Count himself earlier this year. His dedicated spirit of the profound family legacy in Sauternes, the confident yet charming outlook and speech on the selected fine vintages for that evening has made him a popular and busy French gent in the room surrounded by the sweet wine connoisseurs. In between the sweet and spicy Garoupa and a glass of precious vintage 2005, I finally got a chance to speak with Count Philippe, as expected, both of us click on really well while I appreciated his valuable savoir-faire on great sweet wine and his youthful regal-like flair, he was impressed with my passion on sweet wine and French culture. Until recently when the French gentleman dropped me a note on his upcoming visit in December, that suddenly recalls me the amazing moment that he shared with me earlier this year about the legendary Chateau de Fargues and their successful story.
It all starts from the ancestor of Count Philippe, the Lur Saluces family that dominates the greatest wine estates in Sauternes during 18th & 19th centuries, the first vintage that produced by the Chateau was in 1943 under the management of Marquis de Lur Saluces, then succeeded by Count Alexandre de Lur Saluces (father of Count Philippe) in late 60s, who used to managed the prestigious Chateau d’Yquem for 36 years, with his expertise on producing excellent quality sweet wine and wine estate management, the effort of the Count made the name of Chateau de Fargues into a high-acclaimed sweet wine maker worldwide from the neighbor countries such as Italy, Switzerland and Spain to Australia, Canada to Asia also rising demands of this exquisite Sauternes produced by the Chateau.
Situated near the Landes pine forest, on top of a hill overlooking the Garonne river valley, the 170-hectares wine estate produces the finest Semillon Blanc (80%) & Sauvignon Blanc (20%) with vines on average at 35 years old in their 15ha vineyard. The principal of the Chateau is always about respecting their historical consistency: the quest of quality comes first, with productivity as second. Of course, the grape itself plays the most important part of the wine, the harvesting and botrytis (or ‘noble rot’) factors are extremely crucial in order to maintain the ‘golden rule’ of the Chateau.
Speaking of botrytis, which is inseparable for sweet wine making, Count Philippe points out the significance of this fungus is, while it perceived as a disease but on contrary, this miracle fungus has done a ‘noble’ work in the water evaporation process of the grapes, adding the climate and geographical factors, this traditional technique dated back from 17th century is still employed even nowadays. Noble rot has considered as one of the key of determining the concentration, complexity, also the lovely fruity and floral aroma that a discerning connoisseur will look into, especially those who knows how to appreciate a fine glass of sweet wine.
The aging process also makes this wine maker so distinctive, in particular the (grape) juice handling, which they must be put directly into the oak barrel to ferment once the grapes are pressed with each lot is fermented separately and discreetly monitored, the wine will then aged in the same barrel for 3 years, in order to maintain the certain authenticity of aroma and flavor, the wine only be lightly fined for perfect clarification but never filtered, that makes each of the vintage has a powerful and clearer character for each connoisseur to have a visual and tasteful enjoyment of every single sip of this precious sweet wine in the goblet. With this refined wine making techniques, the Chateau does not produce any second wine, in such a way, it literally shows their devotion and efforts entirely to the single label that makes them such precious and high-acclaimed.
Among that many vintages, Count Philippe shared with me some of his favorites that makes him so memorable: vintage 2001 with the challenging weather that produces the concentrated and complex grapes in pure and delicious flavors, brilliant straw-yellow palette with wonderful bouquet of ripe fruit, apricot jam, vanilla and a hint of honey with a touch of mineral freshness which is the typical wine style of the Chateau; a drought year of 2005 leads to a well-balance of sugar and acidity of this vintage, in particular the harvesting period in early Oct that year, the juice quality is extremely delighted and concentrate compare with vintage 2001; vintage 2009 has gone through another dry summer (which is the 6th warmest summer since 1921) that expedites the maturity of the grapes, yet, thanks to the excellent water reservations in the soils, that gives an unique complexity and variety of concentration, as Comte Alexandre appraised, vintage 2009 is “so honeyed and delicious that makes the taster feel as though he is turning into a bee!”. All these vintages are perfectly recommended to pair with strong-flavored or spicy dishes such as curry and Thai food.
While I am looking forward to meet Count Philippe again very soon, for my dearest readers, you can share the same kind of ‘sweetness’ over a glass of Chateau de Fargues to experience their wonderful legacy of Sauternes, just like the moment of Keanu Reeves in ‘A walk in the clouds’ having a harmonious and joyful time in the vineyard.