Rockstar Value from the Loire Valley

Today’s Story: Domaine des Roches Neuves

Domaine des Roches Neuves was founded in 1992 by Thierry Germain following his move to the Loire Valley from his native Bordeaux. At 23 years old, Thierry soon met Charly Foucault from Clos Rougeard who would become an inspiration behind some of his winemaking practices. Thierry converted his domaine to biodynamic viticulture, as well as being certified organic, in an effort to let his vines guide him rather than play a heavier hand that removes truth and transparency from terroir to bottle. This practice helps Thierry’s wines showcase vibrant ripe fruits (thanks in addition to relatively early harvesting) with incredible purity while avoiding rustic vegetal notes. Also, his red wines do not typically have high tannin but rather integrated, soft tannins conducive to drinkability.

When harvesting his fruit, Thierry practices very traditional methods such as hand harvesting and hand sorting at the winery. Further, all of his wines are fermented with natural yeasts in no new oak barrels or tanks. For the wine I am reviewing today, grapes are 100% de-stemmed and fermented in conical tanks. There is a great overview of Thierry’s history and practices here, as well as an overview of his wine portfolio. The domaine’s website also contains fact sheets and an overview of the history and people here.

Today’s Wine: 2015 Les Mémoires

100% Cabernet Franc; 13% ABV

I picked this up based on a recommendation from an employee at one of my local wine stores. He believes that Thierry Germain is making some of the best wine in Saumur Champigny, and while I need to explore more offerings from the region this already seems tough to beat. The wine is a deep ruby color, though I almost want to call it purple especially near the edges of the glass. The nose showcases aromas of crunchy blackberry, steel cut oats, chocolate, cigar box, damp forest floor, violets, slight bell pepper, and mineral. Once in the mouth, we get flavors of tart blueberry, blackberry, pomegranate, loamy earth, pepper, and limestone minerality. This is medium- to full-bodied with medium (+) acidity, medium tannins, and a long finish. Give this a few more years of bottle age, though if you can’t wait it is drinking well with some air.

Price: $70. This is a rockstar wine well worth the price tag, especially compared to some of their neighbors. The traditional style does a beautiful job portraying the “place,” and this wine comes from 110+ year old vines. Pair this with beef, pork, roast chicken, duck, or lamb.

Ethereal Chateauneuf-du-Pape

Today’s Story: Château de Beaucastel

Château de Beaucastel, as it exists today, traces its history back to 1549 when Pierre de Beaucastel purchased a barn and plot of land extending to Coudoulet. Chateauneuf-du-Pape (which translates to “the Pope’s new castle”), however, is a French AOC that traces its history back to the early 1300s. In 1321, Pope John XXII sent four barrels from the papal cellars to be filled with wine in the region and constructed a castle for his use. As the wine became a favorite of the Pope’s, it became known as “Vin du Pape” until eventually becoming Chateauneuf-du-Pape (CdP).

Though Beaucastel’s origins place the estate well within CdP’s winemaking history, there is no certain record of vines on the property until many years later in the early 1800s when ownership credits to Etienne Gontard. As some of you may know, however, phylloxera hit vineyards during the 19th century and, with the estate under new ownership yet again by Élie Dussaud, Dussaud decided not to replant vines and rather sold the estate.

With over 300 years of history at this point, Beaucastel’s true winemaking prowess did not come about until Pierre Tramier purchased the estate in 1909. Under his ownership, he led massive vineyard replanting efforts and eventually transferred responsibility to his son-in-law Pierre Perrin. Perrin dramatically expanded the vineyard holdings during his tutelage and the estate has been in the Perrin family since then, eventually passing to his son Jacques Perrin who managed the estate until 1978.

Today, Jacques’ sons Jean-Pierre and François Perrin continue to manage the estate with the help of Marc, Pierre, Thomas, Cécile, Charles, Matthieu, and César who make up the fifth generation. They continue to farm their vineyards organically, a practice since 1950 at the estate, and introduced biodynamic farming in 1974. Grapes are always picked exclusively by hand and carefully monitored to use only the best fruit.

Today’s Wine: 1994 Hommage a Jacques Perrin

60% Mourvèdre, 20% Grenache, 10% Syrah, 10% Counoise; 13.5% ABV

I am a big fan of Chateauneuf-du-Pape, and every bottle I’ve enjoyed from Beaucastel has been a wonderful representation. However, this is my first time trying the Hommage as they can be hard to find and come at a significantly higher price-point. The Hommage, as the name states, is made in honor of Jacques Perrin and comes from the best vines on the property.

Our wine today is opaque medium ruby in color with pale ruby variation toward the edges of the glass. Slightly tight on the nose, we let this decant while my friend and I enjoyed a different bottle. Once the wine opened, the nose offered aromas of dusty pomegranate, graphite, sous bois, wet gravel, mushroom, and cigar ash. This is another wine I could smell all day. Since that’s not the main point of wine, the palate showcases notes of chewy cherry, red licorice, tobacco, soggy earth, and green underbrush. A beautiful bottle with plenty of gas left in the tank, this is full-bodied with moderately high acidity, fully integrated mild tannins, and a long finish that really made me wish we had more with my last sip.

Price: $500. Certainly a rare experience and one made possible thanks to my good friend’s tendency for sharing. Pair this with beef, game, or lamb and add a mushroom sauce.

Up-and-Coming Chablis

Today’s Story: Garnier & Fils

Garnier & Fils is a family endeavor in Chablis, where the Garnier family has owned 57 acres of property for decades. The current patriarch of the family sold their grapes to other winemakers, however in 1996 his sons Xavier and Jérôme produced their own wine for the first time and began selling it to restaurants. The two brothers share an equal passion for great wine as well as an eagerness to produce high-quality wines from this cool and challenging region, with Jérôme working the vineyards and Xavier making the wines.

Like many small and “newer” wineries, Garnier & Fils practices traditional, environmentally friendly, and organic farming/winemaking. They harvest their grapes later than many other producers in Chablis, ferment only with native yeasts, and store their wine in large (used) wood barrels to not impart any woody notes into the wines. This dedication to their winemaking process afforded Xavier and Jérôme the ability to make very deep-flavored and profound wines with their entry level all the way to the Grand Cru, also making them somewhat “rising stars.”

With top producers in Chablis such as Domaine François Raveneau and Vincent Dauvissat, it can be very hard for vintners to make a name for themselves and it comes over time. However, with the rising quality from Garnier & Fils I am eager to try more of their wines and believe that one day we will be much more familiar with them than we are now. I also speculate the incredibly reasonable price-point on their wines will creep up with that fame.

https://www.chablis-garnier.com/en/

Today’s Wine: 2017 Chablis

100% Chardonnay; 12.5% ABV

When asked to pick a bottle of Chardonnay for our group’s evening wine tasting, I was very glad to find this Chablis for its value and fact that many of my friends are not familiar with the wines of Burgundy. Our wine today is pale gold/straw yellow in color, almost water white toward the edges of the glass. The nose is very delicate and inviting with notes of green apple, pear, white florals, and mineral. Simple and classic. On the palate are notes of pear, green apple skins, citrus zest, white pepper, and chalk with a slight salinity to it. This Chablis is medium- to full-bodied with juicy acidity and a rounded, full finish.

Price: $30, a good price-point for entry Chablis. Pair this with an assortment of goat cheese or shellfish.