St.-Emilion's Chateau Fonroque: A Story of Soil (Grab the last of the '15s, Stock up on the Delicious '16s - two amazing vintages)

3/1/21 -

"The twists and turns and different [soil] compositions make St.-Emilion, small as it is, a patchwork quilt of varying terrior," explains Karen MacNeil in an early edition of The Wine Bible. "Unlike the long, flat stretch of the Medoc or the long, gently rolling landscape of Grave, St.-Emilion has hillsides (the cotes) - limestone outcroppings and plateaus, plus gravelly terraces. Over centuries of geologic upheaval, clay, sand, quartz, and chalk have been intermixed."

Chateau Fonroque isn't located on the southern slopes that support many of the renowned producers of the AOC, nor towards the northern limits, where St.-Emilion borders Pomerol, a land that boasts its own set of acclaimed estates. Chateau Fonroque is located on what some consider humbler ground, just a short drive northwest from the region's eponymous village, on a road named... Fonroque. Although long regarded as a reliable wine, it is nearly universally agreed upon that Alain Moueix tuned the estate into the excellent instrument of wine production that we know it as today. As the chateau owner from 2002 until 2017, and a pioneer of organic and biodynamic farming in Bordeaux, Moueix led Fonroque towards organic certification in 2006, then to biodynamic certification in 2008. And though he sold it, he remains a consultant. In her book, Inside Bordeaux, Jane Anson credits the winegrower writing that, through his work, the estate has "found its stride over recent years, with a far greater concentration of flavours and great aromatic expression." I can attest to the stunning form and character of the 2015 and the 2016 bottlings that we have on offer today.

The Chateau Fonroque 2015 shows a fragrant yet focused nose of mixed red fruits and plum. Accents of crushed stones, pepper, lavender, tobacco and mint contribute to the array of precise aromas. On the palate, this estate's classic stony vibrancy runs through the core, while savory flavors of orange oil, plum, and ripe dark cherries add to the wine's fullness. Soft tannic structure and fresh acidity for the mouthfeel. I drank this wine with homemade falafel, tzatziki, and hummus - and it had all the energy to brighten up a dense, spicy meal. Drink over the next 5-7 years. **These are the last available bottles of 2015 vintage - first come, first serve**

More brooding than the '15, the 2016 Chateau Fonroque displays a bouquet of cherry, raspberry syrup, black licorice, and a beautiful concoction of ripe violets and roses. On the palate, wild fruits of strawberry and blueberry, with plum, blackberry, and a rigorous zip of graphite come before a long finish of cracked black pepper. Acidity is high, with really compelling tannin, hitting the top of the gums and the center of the tongue. A very full, expressive wine, with the generous chew that I love. Drink over the next 7-10 years.

Unlike many producers in the area, all of Fonroque's plots of Merlot and Cabernet Franc (30 in total, divided amongst 17.5 hectares) are in a large continuous span of vines surrounding the chateau. This, however, does not mean the estate has a single soil type - it owns a piece of land that covers more than one square of the "patchwork quilt" MacNeil described in this article's opening quote. According to Fonroque's website, the holdings can be broken into three.

First, there is a portion on St.-Emilion's famous limestone plateau, "rich in marine fossils." The estate's website explains that this is where the wine gets its elegance, its fresh nose, and zippy core. On the slopes under the plateau, there is a mix of clay and limestone, which contributes to the resulting wine's "strong and broad presence." Lastly, on the bottom of the slope, the estate has "sandy-silty clay," with a dash of limestone that the rain brings down from the plateau. From this, "spherical and round wines" are produced. As the website generalizes: "So the lower plots bring very fruity dimensions and the higher you go, the more floral it becomes." With every vintage, wines derived from these three different soil types are blended in an effort to create a product of "refinement, complexity, [and] singularity..."

Moueix believes that Merlot benefits most from the prime spot on top of the plateau, the limestone able to "reveal the very particular crystalline effect that this grape variety produces in its association with this soil," so all of that area (25% of Fonroque's vines) is planted with it. The pattern is: The less limestone, the the more Cabernet Franc you'll find. In total, 80% of the combined plots is Merlot, and 20% is Cabernet Franc.

One of the most telling things I read during my research on Fonroque is a quote from their website: "If we were in Burgundy we would separate all this..." It is in reference to those three different soils to wich the vines are planted. In Burgundy, hillsides are scrutinized for differences in characteristics such as this, and producers are able to bottle wines from different parcels depending on where they exist on a slope - but in Bordeaux, the point is to find a marriage between these differences, combining them into something greater than themselves alone. Moueix has been able to do that at Chateau Fonroque. He has analyzed the land and planted accordingly. He has used his talent to enhance the wine from a conventional, "excellent value" into beautiful terroir-driven wines. The wines are delicious. They are layered and complex. How couldn't they be? They are three wines in one - or at least made that way. Let's think deeply about what we taste in the '15, as it won't be avaiable anymore, and let's celebrate the '16 and all it has to give. David Hatzopoulos

**Also on offer today is Chateau Fonroque's second label, Chateau Cartier. The wine is 100% Merlot, from the middle and lower plots of the estate. It is a wine of great texture, and has the classic mineral verve that all Fonroque wines do.**

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