Geoffrey Dean attends a pre-Christmas tasting held by Sheldon’s to showcase two reds and a stickie produced by Château Biac, a property that has ex-Mouton Patrick Leon as a consultant and a stunning aspect in Cadillac, 20k south of Bordeaux.
The past decade has seen Château Biac transformed under the hands of the Lebanese family headed up by Tony Asseily.
Tony Asseily, owner of Château Biac in Bordeaux tells a lovely story of a dinner party conversation he had in France soon after he and his wife Youmna bought the estate in 2006.
“That evening, I met the celebrated oenologist Patrick Leon, and by chance he was talking about wineries in the Cadillac Côtes de Bordeaux appellation,” Asseily recalled.
“And Patrick said: ‘There’s just one property there with the terroir and aspect to make truly great wine, and that’s a place called Biac.’
When I chipped in ‘I’ve just bought it,’ we fell about laughing.”
Leon had just retired after two decades as managing director of Château Mouton-Rothschild, where he oversaw technical operations, but Asseily used all his powers of persuasion to lure him into becoming a consultant for Biac.
The rest, as they say, is history, for the winery, which Asseily admits was in ‘terrible shape’ when he bought it, has had a massive facelift and is back to producing wines of outstanding quality.
They showed beautifully at a pre-Christmas dinner organised by Biac’s UK importers, Sheldon’s, in their 1840s cellars in Shipston-on-Stour, south Warwickshire.
Where exactly is Château Biac?
It lies some 20km south of the city of Bordeaux, on the hills above the pretty village of Langoiran. With wonderful views from the 1755 château over the Garonne River, the 9.8 hectares of vineyards lie in one of the most stunning spots in the region.
More importantly, the estate has both a superb terroir, with a richly varied soil make-up, as well as ideal topography.
The steep incline of the slopes provides not just excellent drainage but also optimises south/south-west sun exposure. Good ventilation and humidity, provided by the Garonne below, protect the vines from spring frost and excessive summer heat.
The predominantly gravel upper slopes are perfect for Cabernet Sauvignon, while the clay-limestone soil further down suits Cabernet Franc and Merlot very well. Adjoining silt and sand plots are also ideal for Merlot, Semillon and Sauvignon Blanc.
Biac’s range features three reds and a sweet white
The Grand Vin, the Château Biac 2010 was very dark, a dollop of Petit Verdot adding colour to the other three traditional Bordeaux varietals. Black fruit, together with liquorice and chocolate notes, was apparent.
Hugely concentrated, this is a complex wine with good balance and a very long finish. 40% new oak gave it added structure. The 2009 was very perfumed, with less overt tannins, and another stunning offering. It retails at £38.
Around half the price is the ‘B de Biac’ 2011 (81% Merlot, 16% Cabernet Franc and 3% Cabernet Sauvignon). Interestingly, the 2012 had 57% Merlot with 43% Cabernet Sauvignon.
The soft tannins, juicy red fruit and lively acidity of 2011 made this very appealing, and enough to persuade both The Shard Restaurant and 67, Pall Mall in London to list it. Andy Murray’s hotel near Dunblane, the Cromlix, also has it. Sheldons took 100 cases.
The ‘Cuvée Felix de Biac’, the chateau’s third wine, was not available for tasting, but the botrytised ‘Secret de Château de Biac’ underlined how good sweet Cadillac can be.
The 2009 was 100% Semillon (although more recent vintages contain some Sauvignon Blanc after that was replanted) with residual sugar of 86 g/l. Apricot notes and a gorgeous texture, allied to vibrant acidity and a lovely long, lingering finish, make this an absolute delight to drink.
Biac currently exports 90% of their production to seven countries, with Asseily’s daughter, Yasmina, leading the sales and marketing drive.
The Asseily family once lived in London, where Yasmina’s sister, Antonia, and brother, Gabriel, can still be found.
Like so many of their Lebanese forbears, they have made a major impact elsewhere in the world, and their success with Château Biac is a splendid case in point.
They make you most welcome when staying in their estate cottages, which are proving very popular.