Château Franc-Maillet Pomerol 2000
Pomerol on the Bordeaux right bank represents the glory of Merlot, without any of the usual
baggage the once-popular grape carries in other growing regions. Home to one of the world's
finest and consequently most expensive wines, Château Pétrus, Pomerol nevertheless
maintains a certain democracy; the appellation has no classed growth system; instead, the
market decides. Estates—those with market power and those without—tend to be small, or even
minuscule, in the case of the recent and wildly successful microchâteaux, like Le Pin.
Few viticultural areas have the range of soils of Pomerol: sand, gravel, clay, and myriad
combinations. A difference of a few yards can mean the difference of a few hundred
dollars—a glass. That said, Pomerol is a singularly serious area for winemaking. If the dirt you
farm falls short of Château Pétrus by a wider margin than you would like, you take your
winemaking just as seriously.
Château Franc-Maillet is located in the extreme eastern end of Pomerol, hard by St. Émilion. Its $30 vintage from 2000, an excellent year in Pomerol, whose wines generally do not demand the aging times of the left bank masterpieces, is certainly ready to drink now; all the pieces come together in an excellent mainstream effort.
I could not find hard data on this wine in either English or French, but it doesn't take numbers to tell me that is at least three quarters Merlot; the remainder is undoubtedly Cabernet Franc. The plum center of the wine shows how Merlot is supposed to taste, with absolutely none of the vegetal notes characteristic of so many California Merlots. Be not in doubt, Merlot is one noble grape.
This wine is true to type, with plum, cassis, a little spice, and a taste of licorice. The tannins are firm. Combined with a forward acidity, the wine has excellent grip and a well-defined finish. If I were to retro-engineer the wine, however, I would smooth the acidity just a bit and keep the fruit. Somehow the acidity seems a little too forceful for the Merlot grape. The arc of the wine has a few fits and starts. In exchange for something of a ride from this little bit of Bordeaux, however, I got plenty of really honest Merlot flavor. And oh how I would love to see the stars and stripes associated with that.
The bottom line, you can do much better if you add a decimal place, or two, to the price, but
the Château Franc-Maillet is indeed the real thing if you want to experience the true nobility
of the Merlot grape. They only make a few hundred cases and hence it has to cost you
Verdict: True to Type
It only took one influential—and in my mind overrated—movie to put Merlot in the doghouse in the United States. The truth will out, at least as to grapes, though I think the American public will continue to plunk down their dollars for mediocre movies.
James Beard Award Nominee Elliot Essman