The Making of a 100-Point Wine: Return to Greatness in Saint-Émilion


To taste the wines of Saint-Émilion is to meet two series of sensations. One is the richness, the concentration, and sometimes the alcohol, provided by Merlot.

The other is the more nuanced, perfumed, structured character from Cabernet Franc. The proportion of each in the blend determines the stylistic character of the wine and its balance.

And then there’s Château Figeac. A Premier Grand Cru Classé, one of the top wines of Saint-Émilion, this estate brings another grape into play: Cabernet Sauvignon, which can form one-third of the blend.

Chateau Figeac vineyard Bordeaux
Chateau-Figeac vineyard / Photo by Alain Benoit

When you blind-taste wines from top Saint-Émilion estates, it’s sometimes easy to spot Figeac for its extra dimension of structure or its initial austerity. Other times, it’s not possible.

When I tasted along a line of 2018 Saint-Émilion Premier Grand Cru Classé, Figeac did stand out, but for once not just because of the Cabernet Sauvignon. It was because there was such extraordinary harmony shining through the wine’s tannins and still-young fruit.

It did have the richness of the 2018 vintage, and it did have the alcohol, thanks to the ripeness of the Merlot. But it was what I described as its “density and immense structure” that set it apart from the other wines.

Chateau Figeac wine bottle
Courtesy Chateau-Figeac

Figeac is an estate that has always made great Saint-Émilion. But it was in a traditional style, one that appealed to a faithful clientele. The château seemed to be marking time.

In 2012, the shock of not being reclassified from Premier Grand Cru Classé B to the exalted level of Premier Grand Cru Classé A energized owner Marie-France Manoncourt to change direction. This seemingly arcane distinction is of major importance in Saint-Émilion.

Manoncourt called in consultant Michel Rolland and appointed Frédéric Faye as managing director. This decision paid off in the quality, precision and intensity of the last several vintages, all without sacrificing the style that makes Figeac so special.

It’s not as if the vineyard has changed. The gravel ridges that make it so advantageous for Cabernet Sauvignon are still there. But the viticultural tweaks, and the definition and vinification of separate parcels, made the difference between very good and superlative.

Château-Figeac 2018 Saint-Émilion; $245, 100 points. With its rich swathe of Cabernet Sauvignon, this wine has density and immense structure balanced by stunning black fruits that give impressive promise. This powerful wine is probably the greatest ever produced from this estate. Drink from 2027. Buy Now. Cellar Selection.

So we come to 2018, the most recent vintage released. With a blend of 37% Merlot, 33% Cabernet Sauvignon and 30% Cabernet Franc, it’s “one of the great vintages of Figeac,” says winemaker Frédéric Faye. He describes the challenge of “finding the individual characteristics of each variety and integrating them together.”

Why is it such a great wine? Because of the integration of the three grape varieties in a way where none stands out, but everyone contributes. Because of the way that the wine is already integrated, but that also promises so much for the future. It’s a wine that perfectly encapsulates the character and the greatness of Figeac. This is a 100-point wine.

Published on July 2, 2021