Liquid Insights: Chateau Catalysts
Every ten years in the historic village of Saint-Emilion, judges gather to classify the region's finest vino. There are four levels of classification, Premier Cru Classe A, Premier Grand Cru Classe B, Grand Cru Classe Wines from St. Emilion, and Grand Cru. Any wine that falls below the top tier threshold still receives recognition as a Saint-Emilion wine but is not permitted to include Grand Cru in its labeling or advertising. The scoring is intense and features a combination of factors that stretch far beyond just the taste and composition of the wine. The Chateaux presented for classification must undergo a rigorous exam that includes a review of the estate, the reputation of the producer, and soil testing. The wine-making practices are also examined and can make up roughly 5-10% of the score.
The wines themselves see a boost in value immediately if they are selected as Classe A. The two wines that were upgraded in 2012, Chateau Angelus and Chateau Pavie both returned over 20% in the year after their recognition. For reference, the general Bordeaux wine market fell 20% during that span, representing a 40% outperformance by the newly anointed estates.
One of the favorites to gain a classification upgrade in 2012 was Chateau Figeac. Figeac is the largest estate in Saint-Emilion, stretching 99 acres throughout the scenic Bordeaux countryside. The soil on the estate is primarily gravel-based which supports a variety of classic Bordeaux blends including Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot. Chateau Figeac has consistently earned praise from wine critics around the world but stumbled in the early 2000s as several vintages received lower than usual ratings. Only two of the estate’s vintages from 2000-2011 received an average rating above 94. The timing of the shortcomings could not have come at a worse time as the decennial was scheduled for 2012. Once the proverbial dust settled and the results were tallied, the Figeac estate was deemed a top-tier wine worthy of Premier Grand Cru recognition- but Class B instead of the heralded Class A.
In response to the classification results which left the estate with much to be desired, Chateau Figeac started a large-scale renovation and modernization project. The estate completely revamped their cellars with new technology to improve production and quality in addition to adding key hires to consult on winemaking operations. The wine composition has also been updated since 2012 as the estate planted a higher density of Cabernet Sauvignon to better suit the gravel soil. Since 2015, the average critic score for Chateau Figeac wines has remained safely above 94 with the 2016 and 2018 vintages showcasing scores between 98-100.
With only one more vintage to harvest before the judges reconvene for the 2022 St-Emilion Classification, all eyes will be on Chateau Figeac and whether or not their updates will warrant an upgrade. The estate has taken significant steps to improve their score and a Class A result could provide a major boost the wines value and reputation.
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