What is it about the unclassifiable that intrigues us? Why do we find the unusual alluring? Perhaps it is because we are rooting for the rebels. In my book rebellion can lead to innovation – and we all enjoy new discoveries. . .
There are a few wine makers in Bordeaux who create unusual wines, I have heard of a wine actually named L’Insolite (The Unusual) which was made by Laurent Mallard who owns 3 chateaux in Saint Emilion, Sauternes and the Entre Deux Mers. Sadly this wine seems to have disappeared.
However Rémy Fauchey has gone one step further. His chateau in Prignac (the Medoc) was known as Chateau Lafon for 2 centuries and was the star of the commune, being classified a Cru Bourgeois. However when the Cru Bourgeois classification was revised and later annulled (only to be later reinstalled in 2010) he rebelled. It seems that he felt that to lose the status of Cru Bourgeois was disrespectful to his ancestors and that if Lafon could not display it on its label then he would rename his estate. He chose a name that the Bordelaise hierarchy would not forget in a hurry. He renamed his estate Chateau L’Inclassable (The Uncategorized). Despite qualifying for the new Cru Bourgeois rank Rémy has kept the name of L’Inclassable and is doing very well with his chateau’s new name.
Chateau du Retout in Lamarque (Haut Medoc) is also a Cru Bourgeois and it too produces an unclassifiable wine. This chateau has 3 other small estates as part of its domaine: Chateaux Retou Rousset, Salva de Camino and Moulina. All of them were very badly neglected a century ago – the vineyards were affected by phylloxera and inheritance disputes lead to the estate being abandoned. It was rescued and restored by the Kopp family in the 1950s. The second generation of the Kopp family is now at the helm of Chateau du Retout, Helen and Frederick Soual. Unfortunately thanks to an INAO inspection they discovered that the old Merlot vines on a 4.5 acre plot named Retout could not be included in the Haut Medoc appellation as the vines fell outside the boundary.
The Souals decided to do something different and as they had long wished to produce a white wine they planted something unique. They chose 4 unusual white grape varieties: Sauvignon Gris (which is fairly uncommon in Bordeaux), Gros Manseng, Savagnin and Mondeuse Blanche.
This was a rebellious move – and a daring one – Gros Manseng, Savagnin and Mondeuse Blanche are not included in the permitted Bordeaux blends for white wines and any wine produced from them can not be classified under a Bordeaux appellation.
Gros Manseng comes from the Jurançon and Bearn regions (it’s grown in Gascony and in the Pyrenees). The grape produces intensely flavoured wines with a high acidity, apricot and quince flavours along with spicy and floral notes. It’s believed that its name comes from the Latin ‘Mansus’ meaning ‘Manor’ and ‘Gros’ means ‘big’ (there is a smaller variety Petit Manseng) so perhaps this was a popular grape grown in the important houses and estates of the past.
Monduese Blanche is the mother of the red Syrah grape and comes from the Savoie region in France. It’s rare there too – in 1999 there were only 12 acres of Mondeuse Blanche left.
Savagnin comes from the Jura in France where it is used to make the famous Vin Jaune and Vin de Paille. It’s thought to be related to the ancient Traminer grape (Gewurztraminer) and Viognier. It makes an aromatic wine with notes of green apple, honey, flowers, walnuts, hazlenuts and almonds
The Soual’s first harvest was in 2010 and their white wine is simply called Le Retout Blanc. Yohan Castaing of The French Wine Report gave it a glowing review which you can read here, as did Chris Kissack, The Wine Doctor, which you can read here.