Château Tirecul la Gravière

France, South West

Monbazillac is well-known in French history. The vineyard is planted with a high percentage of Muscadelle (50%), along with Semillon (45%), and Sauvignon (5%). These grapes are picked grape by grape (as they develop the noble rot), not by bunch. The proprietors, Claudia and Bruno Bilancini, actually pass through the vineyard a minimum of four to five times a day. It is an understatement to say these are the greatest wines I have ever tasted from Monbazillac; in fact, they are among the greatest sweet wines I have tasted ... from anywhere! "Robert Parker"

I tasted these wines with importer Eric Solomon, and I have to say, they’re unquestionably some of the most impressive sweet wines I’ve ever tasted. The wines come from the Monbazillac AOC which is located on the left bank of the Dordogne River, across from the town of Bergerac in South West France, roughly 60 miles east of Bordeaux. This AOC was created in 1936 (one of the first) and is only for sweet wines (the dry wines are labeled as Bergerac Sec). The primary grapes are Sémillon, Sauvignon Blanc and Muscadelle. The estate was created in 1992 by Claudie and Bruno Bilancini, who were able to obtain a lease on one of the top Premier Cru sites in the region, the Cru de Tirecul. They subsequently purchased the vineyard in 1997, and today the estate consists of 10 hectares of organically farmed vines and limestone and clay soils. They produce four wines: Andrea, Les Pins, Cuvee Chateau and Cuvee Madame. The Andrea cuvee is a dry white made from a blend of Sémillon and Muscadelle. It’s aged 18 months in 15% new French oak, and is kept in bottle for two years before release. The Les Pins is the entry level sweet wine and it’s made from the younger vines of the estate and is primarily Sémillon, with a smaller amount of Muscadelle. It’s also harvested earlier, with slightly less botrytis (which is the fungus/noble rot that helps condense the sugars in the grapes). Like all the wines, it’s hand harvested, native fermented and sees 18 months in French oak. The Cuvée Chateau is a late harvest blend of close to equal parts Sémillon and Muscadelle, from 40+-year-old vines, that see over two years in new French oak barrels. Lastly, the Cuvée Madame is a painstakingly, berry-by-berry selection of the best botrytised grapes in the vintage. Like the Cuvée Chateau, it’s fermented and aged over two years in new French oak. All three of the late harvest wines are dense, concentrated, unctuous beauties that have surprising acidity and depth. As I hope these reviews show, these are sensational wines. Jeb Dunnuck,  (Jul 2017)

France has another sweet white wine producing region dependent on ultra-ripe Sémillon, Sauvignon Blanc and Muscadelle grapes just inland and north of Sauternes and Barsac. For years the Dordogne languished, making rather ordinary, sticky and often sickly wines because standards were set too low. But today in the sweet white wine vineyards south of Bergerac there are some truly ambitious producers who are slowly dragging their neighbours uphill with them, making great sweet wine that matures rather faster than top-quality sweet white bordeaux. Most notable among these are Bruno and Claudie Balancini at Château Tirecul La Gravière in Monbazillac. On green slopes in the lee of the woods that separate them from the famous old Château de Monbazillac, they farm just over 20 carefully tended acres which they may pick through as many as 11 times in a single harvest in order to have every grape at optimal ripeness and concentration. Unusually, their predominant grape variety is Muscadelle. Their average yield is often below 10 hectolitres per hectare (less than a fifth the average in Bordeaux's great red wine district the Médoc, for example). It is hardly surprising therefore that their top wine, the liquid gold Cuvée Madame made only in seriously successful vintages (so no 2000), costs 80 euros for half a litre at the cellar door, when there is some to sell. Jancis Robinson OBE MW -  (May 2002)