Classy Château de Tracy

Arriving at Ch. de TracyOur visit to the beautiful Château de Tracy concentrated on a brilliant tasting of recent vintages of the grape which locally was called Blanc Fumé.   But we did have the privilege of meeting Nathalie de Sey and her brother and the winemaker, Henri d’Estutt d’Assay.  It is difficult not to be impressed with the family history – as another wine webbist says with Anglo-Saxon understatement: ‘Chateau de Tracy dates back to the late 14th Century, but it only came into the hands of the current owners, the d’Estutt d’Assay family, in 1586’ (Wine Doctor). I like that ‘only’.  But the key point has been the complete reappraisal of their approach to wine making since 1950 with the focus on quality, on what they do well.  Furthermore, they bring humanity, charm and wit to welcoming their guests.

They do have some natural advantages here, both in the fine chateau, the parkland and the fine view of Sancerre on its hill in the distance.

Only three wines are made here, all 100% Sauvignon Blanc, but the vintage differences lead to marked contrasts.  The main line of Château de Tracy is made from vines which are around 24 years old and blend the grapes from Kimmeridgean soil (for complexity and length) and from  flint (for energy or vivacity).  Working backwards we tasted:

2009: marked by great freshness, a strong initial attack, then very good fruit (grapefruit is the major flavour here), and good length. Perfectly and attractively drinkable now but capable of ageing.  The potential subtlety of the wine is yet to emerge.

2008: more powerful fruit evident and flint notes, rich grapefruit and lime palate, excellent mouth feel.  Quite a difficult year in which hail storms in June performed a sort of natural ‘green harvest’ reducing the yield and allowing the remaining grapes to ripen fully.

2007: the fruit seemed quite linear, higher acidity, some floral notes and minerals developing – the first step in ageing.  A good year. As usual no malolactic fermentation here; rather they choose to deal with naturally high acidity by increasing the height of the canopy and looking for more sun and maturity.

2006: rounder, more glycerol, primary fruit fading, creamy note, acidity beginning to be tamed.  Described as a difficult year but not impossible.

Sooner or later most wineries want to try something new and add a premium wine to build on their success.  Here at Château de Tracy, in addition to special cuvees, they have gone for a high density vineyard. The usual density here is 7-8,000 plants per hectare, the high density is 17,000 – high density by anyone’s standard.  The result is extremely low yields, just one glass of wine per plant.   This wine is partially fermented in oak barrels.

Haut Densité 2006 – still very young, a tightly knit palate, creamy character from the limestone soil, then good fruit character (grapefruit, melon), a slight caramel note on the finish.  Will develop in time but has great potential.

Haut Densité 2004 – the first ever vintage of this wine in a very difficult year.  Too much rain in the spring meant too many grapes on the vines. The brave cut out a lot of fruit early on and were rewarded with wines of character.  The results are good with development in the bottle resulting in aromas of pepper, game, mushrooms and, of course, the trademark minerality.  A serious wine capable of long ageing especially in the best years.

Our the penultimate part of the tour was by contrast, with very young wines – the 2010s in their tanks, which had finished fermenting in the preceding weeks, soupy to look at but bursting with flavour.  It is likely to be another very good year, following the excellent 2009.

By tank:

  • young (10 year old) vines on flint:  vivacious pressed grapefruit juice, then minerality, then a great zip of young acid
  • 15 year old vines on chalk: slightly more floral, rounder on the palate, less dynamic, less nervosité as the French say
  • 45 year old vines on chalk: attractive dense fruit, plus the accompaniment of minerality and acidity.

We will look forward to drinking these in years, perhaps many years, to come.  All in all, this was a very memorable visit, with thanks to all at Château de Tracy.

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