These once obscure, northerly regions are fighting back and how – with verve, vitality and vision. Even better, individual vision, as each featured producers’ labels demonstrate, there is no shortage of creative juice here!
Domaine de Bellivière
Jasnières & Coteaux du Loir are among the Loire’s most exciting appellations, in no small measure, thanks to Eric and Christine Nicolas whose Chenin Blanc and Pineau d’Aunis wines are a shining beacon of quality. Like the other couples mentioned below, they settled in the region relatively recently (1994) and wine is a second career – a pursuit of passion. Eric has just added an “editorial” to his website (click here) which gives you an idea of what to expect:
“To write poems is a real act of giving of the self, in what one want to express and to share at the deepest level. In some ways winemaking is the same…grapes – with the wine following on – are born of great joy, but also deep suffering. The self giving is without reserve.”
And the 2008 wines are poetic! Pure, delicate, yet intense and mineral. As the labels intimate, precision is the name of the game here.
Jasnières Prémices 2008 – the maiden vintage of this new entry-level, young vine, organic cuvée shows an attractive purity of ripe citrus fruit and yellow plum. Lovely freshness is deflty balanced by 8g/l of residual sugar. Good. £13 at Artisan Wines
Jasnières Les Rosiers 2008 – a gorgeous, delicately honeyed nose and palate with lifted blossom and spicy orange peel hints. Pithily textured, this is tight, long and mineral. Has a long life ahead of it.
Coteaux du Loir Vieilles Vignes Éparses 2008 – 50-80 year old vines take us into chiselled mineral territory – sigh-inducing layers and length, fabulous structure and power. Wow.
Jasnières Calligram 2008 – a tight nose tells a story – this parcel’s shy-bearing 70 year old vines squeezed out just 20hl/ha in 2008. This is concentrated, really concentrated on the palate though, in contrast to the mineral Éparses, the focus in on ripe fruit, mirabelles. A powerful wine with around 46g of residual sugar. £28 at Artisan Wines
Incidentally, in 2008, Bellivière was certified organic. It is also the year that the Nicolas converted their entire estate to biodynamic cultivation. And finally, Christine told me that 2009 is another great vintage and, good news for them, with quantity as well as quality. Unsurprisingly, vintage matters in this, the northerly limit of vine cultivation. I immediately snapped up a case of each of 2002 Jasnières Les Rosiers and Coteaux du Loir Blanc L’Effraie, (see my notes here), still going very strong (in fact positively youthful) and turning others on to these obscure appellations. 2005 (especially), 2006 and 2007 are also excellent vintages, though 2001 and 2004 have not impressed as much, with less clarity/purity.
Domaine le Briseau
Christian and Nathalie Chaussard settled in the region in 2002 after chequered careers at home and abroad. Christian had, some years previous, ventured into winemaking in the altogether more “respectable” Vouvray. Though their wines are deadly serious, I get the impression he’s having much more fun playing his part in the reinvention of Jasnières & Coteaux du Loir. Creative labels and wines, on this showing, very fresh, though based on previous tastings, the wines can be edgy (volatile acidity/oxidation issues) because of a barely there sulphur regime. And it’s hands off the chemicals in the vineyard too, always cultivated organically and, since 2006, in conversion to biodynamic farming.
Jasnières Kharaktêr 2008 - 50-year-old Chenin vines and, as the name suggests, characterful, with great vitality and energy. There’s a tight crab apple core, fleshed out with cinnamon-edged ripe, bruised apples. Bright and long.
Coteaux-du-Loir Le Briseau 2008 – 15 to 30-year-old Chenin vines. Again good energy, this cracks along at a pace, with sparky, lively acidity and apple core flavours with that trace of bitterness/quinine – all good though. Long, tight finish. A cobweb clearer.
Coteaux-du-Loir Patapon 2008 – 80% Pineau d’Aunis, 20% Cot (Malbec) this is dry but vivid with white pepper-edged red fruits. Persistent and quite long, it has a subtly smoky quality. It’s not about oak, which isn’t in play here – I guess it’s a terroir/mineral quality? Whatever, this is a silly smile inducing wine – good stuff!
Coteaux-du-Loir Les Mortiers 2008 - 100% Pineau d’Aunis and I’m surprised at its depth and colour, for which I’m admonished by winemaker, Christian Chaussard for mentioning Pineau d’Aunis and rosé in the same breath (Pineau d’Aunis tends to be rosé pale – at 15-20hl/ha, this is not pale). Old vine (35-55 year old) fruit makes for an intense but delicately spicy nose and palate – white pepper and cassia bark wed to well-defined red fruits; I really like the pomegranate pithy tannins and bright fruit. Chaussard tells me 2004 is a cracking vintage for reds.
Robinot’s wines are well captured by his labels – like frenetic, intense, scribblings there’s plentiful energy and creativity and sometimes they work, sometimes they don’t. But when they do, they certainly capture the imagination. The ex-Parisian wine bar owner also eschews sulphur.
Jasnières L’Iris du Loir 2006 – a concentrated, tight nose though there’s good substance on the palate. Dry, with pronounced minerality, long and persistent. Good.
Jasnières Cuvée Juliette Robinot 2006 – 1 barrique for this wine, named after his daughter. Concentrated and quite calvados-like, though don’t smoke, I feel like a cigar is in order. Oxidation to the finish, but gets away with it, just.
Vin de Table Symphonie du Temps 2004 – quite wild Chenin, showing some volatile acidity, but there’s a good concentration of stone fruits giving nice length and the va is the right side of “interesting.”
L’Opera Vins Cuvee 4 Vents 2004 – very powerful, full on Chenin, dry, a bit wild, with great length. An experience.
Vin de Table Cuvée Nocturne’ 2006 – 80 year old vines produce a very intense, dark Pineau d’Aunis with a chocolate edge to its meaty, peppery fruit. Though dark, it’s vital, so not an unrelieved monolith, rather a wine with gravitas. Very good.
Vin de Table Cuvée Camille 2005 – a very different beast, made from ungrafted Pineau d’Aunis vines, it has lovely lift and a fine intensity of fresh, bright black and red cherry fruit. Long, persistent and lively. Very good.
Les Années Folles 2008 – a very good sparkling wines, dry and intense with cocoa-edged red cherry fruit. Fun.
Robinot wines are sold by St John Restaurant’s wine arm, HG Wines – click here for details.
Domaine les Maison Rouges
And we come a full circle. Elisabeth and Benoît Jardin of Maison Rouges have much in common with Eric and Christine Nicolas. Second careerists, they also came to the region in 1994, their estate is in biodynamic conversion and their style is very precise – quite different from Robinot and Briseau, though with perhaps a bit more flesh to the bones than Bellivière.
Coteaux-du-Loir Sec 2008 – a green apricot nose hails a bright, fresh palate, with ripe stone fruits. Clean, balanced finish. Very good.
Jasnières Clos des Molières 2008 – ripe and rich with a lovely depth of stone fruits. Long, subtly complex finish enhanced by a long fermentation (9-10 months) on the lies.
Jasnières Clos des Jasnières 2008 – a powerful, dry, old vine cuvée with ripe, bright but beautifully rich and concentrated fruit. 70 year old vines strut their stuff.
Alizari Pineau d’Aunis 2008 – vines aged over 100 years old produce a really lively, lifted and intense expression of Pineau d’Aunis. Lovely ripe red fruits animated by white pepper and fruit spice; great delicacy and freshness. Very good.
The Wine Detective
(Wines tasted 31 January and 2 February 2010)