We first tasted Château Franc Mayne in 1988 amongst company that could only be called legendary. Gathered in the elegant tasting room at Château Pichon-Longueville Baron were, to our right, Robert Parker; to our left, Jean-Michel Cazes, owner of Château Lynch-Bages and president of AXA-Millésimes; and across the table, Daniel Llose, Cazes’ technical director. That afternoon, we did our best to keep our mouths shut and soak up as much as we could.
As we were seated, Cazes poured the 1987 Château Franc Mayne, shining brilliant ruby/purple in the glass. We waited, watching. Parker was meticulous in his approach. Swirling, smelling, tasting, spitting. Then, an odd look. Parker cocked his head, paused, and tasted again. “I think one of your tanks may be damaged,” he said. “This sample has a slight taste of cement.”
The next day, we drove 46 miles to Franc Mayne, for a tour of the estate. When we got to the tank room we held our breath. Sure enough, upon close inspection, there was a TINY crack in the inner lining of one of the vats, exposing the wine to the cement. “WOW!” we blurted. Parker was right.
At the time, Franc Mayne was owned by AXA-Millésimes, the subsidiary of the French insurance giant headed up by Cazes. The château was purchased four years prior by AXA’s former president, Claude Bébéar, who had been captivated by its beauty. Despite its incredible potential, Franc Mayne was not AXA’s top priority and they soon sold the estate in order to focus on Château Petit-Village in Pomerol. Current owners Griet Van Malderen-Laviale and Hervé Laviale purchased the estate in 2005. Also owners of Château de Lussac in Lussac Saint-Émilion and Château Vieux Maillet in Pomerol, the couple spearheaded Franc Mayne’s modern renaissance, upgrading the winery facilities — including a complete renovation of the vat room — and initiating a new era of unprecedented quality. Suffice it to say, when Robert Parker revisited Franc Mayne in 2010, he found no traces of cement.
The Grand Vin is drawn from the estate’s Grand Cru vineyards covering seven hillside hectares near the village of Saint-Émilion. Planted to 90% Merlot and 10% Cabernet Franc, the vineyard’s calcareous soils — rich in clay, sand, and limestone — provide excellent drainage for the vines, resulting in small, HIGHLY concentrated berries, loaded with complex flavors and aromas. In 2010, a SUPERB Right Bank vintage rated at 98 points by Wine Spectator, dry conditions allowed Merlot and Cabernet Franc to ripen beautifully without the threat of rot, while cool nights kept acidities in check.
Parker was the first to chime in, calling the 2010 Château Franc Mayne “rich and long.” He noted “dense black currant and black cherry fruit as well as hints of cedar wood, vanillin and loamy, earthy notes.” Wine Spectator added a 92-point score, and James Suckling capped it all off with a 94-point rating, praising the “fabulous aromas of crushed blueberries and minerals with flowers.”
The 2010 Château Franc Mayne is dazzling ruby/purple to the rim, showing spice-infused raspberry, boysenberry, and blackberry fruit, followed by well-delineated anise and spice notes. The rich fruit core is buttressed by a racy graphite spine and firm tannins all the way into the long, long finish. Rock-solid and nicely balanced, it has the stuffing to age gracefully for another 12-15 years.
Compared to $50 on release. $35 today, before the bright lights and critical acclaim double the price. We can’t remember the last time we used “bargain” and “Grand Cru Bordeaux” in the same sentence, but that’s what it boils down to today. 360 bottles up for grabs this morning, ONLY on WineAccess.
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