The sweet new success of sauternes
Roula Khalaf, Editor of the FT, selects her favourite stories in this weekly newsletter.
Vines are everywhere in the Lalique Hotel at Château Lafaurie-Peyraguey – engraved on the bejewelled taps, embroidered on the bedlinen, cast in Lalique crystal and set into furniture, mirrors and bed frames. There are gold crystal vine leaves on the ceiling of the Michelin-starred restaurant and vinous chandeliers on the stairs. Even the petits fours come in a little box gilded with an art nouveau woman in a state of Bacchic bliss.
As far as The Goblet is concerned, however, the real artistry at this imposing 13th-century château – which was acquired by Lalique CEO Silvio Denz in 2014, and relaunched as a five-star hotel and winery last year – is going on in the vineyards, because it occupies a prime spot right in the heart of Sauternes.
Sweet wine is out of fashion these days, alas. But it used to be the drink of kings. In the great classification of 1855, Château d’Yquem was rated so highly it was awarded a status all of its own – “superior first growth” – a feat that no red wine has ever achieved. Château Lafaurie-Peyraguey ranked highly too – and in the hands of Denz’s viticultural director David Bolzan, this first growth is showing an impressive return to form.
Silvio Denz has a track record of investing in wine country – his portfolio includes prestigious estates in St Emilion, Tuscany and Girona – and it’s clear he hopes to galvanise Sauternes. Together with Bolzan, he pulled off a bit of a coup when he convinced four neighbours to contribute to a limited-edition £450 case of sauternes (available at the Château Lafaurie-Peyraguey shop). Meanwhile, the hotel’s high-octane wine list champions more than 30 different sauternes producers, with vintages reaching back to 1895.
Sauternes itself is a pretty, sleepy place – the village is so small it doesn’t even have a boulangerie. But behind the scenes, this part of Bordeaux bristles with money. LVMH boss Bernard Arnault, the Rothschilds, the Peugeots and wine magnate Bernard Magrez all own first growths in the vicinity of Château Lafaurie-Peyraguey.
Arnault’s prize, the astonishingly beautiful Château d’Yquem, lies about a mile up the hill. In the other direction is the tiny, family-owned Château Sigalas Rabaud. History is all around at this 17th-century farm, but the approach to winemaking is fresh – the sauternes is elegant and juicy, with a touch of appetising saltiness. “Sauternes is just at the beginning of a transformation,” says Bolzan, pouring me a glass of deep gold Château Lafaurie-Peyraguey 1999. “Come back in three years, and I think you will be amazed!”
Alice Lascelles is Fortnum & Mason Drinks Writer of the Year 2019. @alicelascelles
Château Lafaurie-Peyraguey, chateau-lafaurie-peyraguey.com