Thursday, January 21, 2010

Château Falfas: Glorifying Elegance in Bordeaux

The unassuming couple who owns Château Falfas in the Côtes de Bourg area of Bordeaux visited me several years ago. I've never had the pleasure of knowing or tasting their wines before, but after our meeting I became a fan.

Côtes de Bourg is on the right bank of the Gironde River, a fringe appellation as opposed to the big-time communes of the Medoc, where the great, pricey classed growths come from. Yet, Côtes de Bourg wines are not only unpretentiously priced, the quality can be very good as well. Its hilly terrain with gravel and clay-limestone soils suit not just Merlot, which is the prevalent grape varietal on the right bank, but also the late-ripening Cabernet Sauvignon.

Humble appellations like Côtes de Bourg are where small family vignerons still thrive in Bordeaux. Many still make wines in the older style claret--more rustic, leaner, and lighter, exhibiting less of the dense, dark, gobs of fruit prevalent in the hyped-up Bordeaux today.

With limited finances, small family vignerons can't afford to make international style wines anyway. What with the costs of hiring a renowned consulting oenologist, pruning and sorting heavily to lower yields, operating concentrating machines, and purchasing new barrels. Yet, a few ambitious ones, like Château Falfas, go native rather than international.

Château Falfas is a 17th century estate situated on the favorable hills of Côtes de Bourg, with clay over limestone soils. John and Veronique Cochran took over the property in 1988 after Veronique's father, an expert on biodynamic farming, scouted the place for them. They converted the vineyards to biodynamic viticulture from the outset, one of the earliest Bordeaux estates to do so. Winemaking is totally natural--indigenous yeast, no concentrators, no chaptalization, and no filtration. The resulting wines are light, upright, juicy, and particular.

Amidst the backlash hurled at Bordeaux by serious wine geeks these days, I bring up Château Falfas not only because it reminded me of Bordeaux of yore--even geeky wines of the Loire, Jura, and the upper reaches of northern Italy--but I also thought about Eric Asimov's New York Times article on Bordeaux under $20 this week.

Château Falfas makes a second wine, Les Demoiselles, that doesn't even break $15. It's made from the estate's younger vines, and is fermented and aged in stainless steel tank. I like the light, austere flavors of this wine; the acidity is not hidden and the juiciness of the fruit keeps me coming back. I don't need a big steak with this wine, a simple roast chicken or banh mi sandwich would do; or if I want something grander, a roast quail or duck.

Gems like Château Falfas keep me interested in Bordeaux.

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