1979 Figeac, St Emilion; the sum of its parts guessing game

Five glasses of mahogany brown-orange tinged wine but what are they? The colour alone indicates considerable evolution during the slow oxidation over the years of ageing in bottle. A slow changing of the colour as the purple and red hues of youth fade to browns and oranges. (Both red and white wines end up the same tawny orangy colour at the end of their lives).

This wine is now in the autumn years of its life. Its aromas and flavours have also evolved. Gone are the forward fruity ‘primary’ flavours replaced today with a ‘bouquet’ of more complex earthy aromas of leather and truffles (‘tertiary’) with some sweet blackcurranty sirop notes coming through on some of the samples.

These wines were infact the ‘unassembled’ wines of Figeac 1979 separated  into their different cepages (Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc, Merlot) when vinified and kept separate over 29 years – and the actual 1979 Figeac the assembled wine (35% Cabernet Sauvignon, 35% Cabernet Franc, 30% Merlot).

Chateau Figeac, Premier Cru Classe is to be found on the border of St Emilion and Pomerol, an area referred to as the ‘Graves’ of St Emilion. It is due to these gravelly soils that Figeac is to be able to grow Cabernet Sauvignon – which normally makes up thirty-five percent of its final blend. Unheard of elsewhere in this appellation. Figeac is said to be the most Medoc of St Emilions.  This is equalled by Cabernet Franc which makes up another 35% of the blend  – less than its famous neighbour, Cheval Blanc whose vineyards are grown on the same gravel outcrop. Cheval Blanc is normally made up of two-thirds Cabernet Franc. The rest of Figeac is Merlot.

Guess which of the four glasses is which? 100% Cabernet Sauvignon, 100% Cabernet Franc, 100% Merlot, The 1979 Figeac (‘assembled’ 35% Cabernet Sauvignon, 35% Cabernet Franc, 30% Merlot)

Wine 1: Green pepper (indicative of a wine being  ‘vegetale’ due to lack of ripeness) on the nose with sweet blackcurrant on the nose and on the palate. Good volume of fruit and a purity of flavour. Little one-dimensional but very pleasant.

Wine 2: Smokier nose with little fruit on the palate or via retro-olfaction. Good structure but lacking in freshness. It seemed that the fruit had dried out.

Wine 3: Attractive intense blackcurrant on the nose. Very soft and rounded on the palate. Good structure. Very soft and still fresh and juicy. Lacked something?

Wine 4: Medicinal nose of leather and humus (indicative of being ‘phenole’). Palate superior to the nose with some noticeable intensity of black fruit flavours. Sour finish.


Wine 1: Cabernet Sauvignon

Wine 2: The assemblage of 1979 Figeac  (35% Cabernet Sauvignon, 35% Cabernet Franc, 30% Merlot) *

Wine 3: Merlot

Wine 4: Cabernet Franc

Conclusion: * In my opinion the final blend which included 35%  of the Cabernet Franc had the effect of drying out the fruit that was apparent in the Cabernet Savignon and Merlot only samples.

Thank you to Raoul Salama (Revue de Vins de France) and Figeac owner Thierry Manoncourt for this opportunity to taste 1979 Figeac in its entirety and in its constituent parts – aged over 29 years.

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