This Week’s Wine Tasting
French Wines from the Loire Valley, Rhone Valley and Beaujolais
Francois Merieau– “Jean-François Merieau is as ambitious as they come. Before coming back to settle at his family’s property in the Touraine just east of Tours, he wandered the world tasting wine and spent time working at several wineries outside of France including an extended stay in South Africa. It was this exposure that drives his creativity today. Instead of blending his wines, Jean-François produces most of the varietals with which he works in single varietal bottlings, often from a single parcel. This terroir-specific approach allows us to taste singular wines of great expression. He is converting the entire production to organic viticulture. Without exception, all of the wines produced at this property offer tremendous value. The sparkling Touraine is aged for 3 years before release and it is still less than a third of the price of most Champagnes.
The area around the old French city of Tours in the Loire Valley is called the “Garden of France”, a fertile, verdant area which is home to vines and fruit trees alike. It is also the area that was liked so much by French royalty and aristocrats that they built many castles along the river (think Chambord and Chenonceau) to name a couple. While the geographic region of Touraine includes the famous vineyards of Vouvray, Montlouis, and Chinon, there is also an AOC Touraine which produces white, red, and sparkling wines.
Touraine is one of the few places in France that allows wine varietals to be placed on the front label. For white grapes, Chenin Blanc, Sauvignon Blanc, and Chardonnay are principally grown and are as often blended as they are vinified separately. For red wines, Cabernet Franc, Cabernet Sauvignon, Pinot Noir, Côt (the local name for Malbec) and Pineau d’Aunis (an indigenous varietal) are planted. The sparkling wine of the zone is often based around Chenin Blanc with Chardonnay and/or Sauvignon Blanc added to add complexity.” Imported by Jon David Headrick Selections.
Francois Merieau ‘Bulles’ Brut 2010
Touraine, Loire Valley, France. “80% Chenin, 20% Chardonnay. Aged for 18-20 months sur lees before release. 4 g/l dosage. “Bulles” means “bubbles”.” Jen’s note- Rich, toasty aromas combine with appealing scents of ripe golden apple. Persistent, crisp and long, with a long, brioche-filled finish. $16.99
Francois Merieau (Malbec) Côt de Touraine ‘Cent Visages’ 2011
Touraine, Loire Valley, France. “100% Côt (Malbec) from a single vineyard in St. Julien de Chedon. Fermented in tank and aged in French oak (older) for 12 months. “Cent visages” means “100 faces”. Jen’s note- Deep color. Very aromatic- deep, inviting scents of sweet blueberry/raspberry jam, crushed rocks/minerals. Medium-bodied, full-textured. Some sweet floral notes. Layers of flavors. Very tasty and different. $17.99
Domaine la Fruitiere– “The village of Chateau-Thébaud sits on a hill overlooking the Maine river as it winds through the soft, rolling hills of the Nantais, just south of Nantes. This fertile area of France is particularly blessed with extraordinary mineral deposits, and Chateau-Thébaud profits from this perhaps more than most. From its vantage point at the top of the hill, Domaine de la Fruitière overlooks its holdings of old vine Melon planted on soil filled with granite, mica, and schist. The granite forms the base of the soil, and as it has been eroded for centuries and centuries, small fissures have formed, allowing the roots of these vines to plunge deep into the rock, stealing precious minerals to send back up to the surface. Even without knowing this, you would certainly taste it in the wines.
Jean Douillard & Jean-Michel Boussonniere are obsessed with making sure that he extracts as much of this minerality from the soil as he can. As such, they use only natural vine treatments, leaving a final grain that is pure and ready for the crush. There is an aggressive de-leafing and a green harvest that is still a rarity in the region. At harvest, the team goes over every grain as it is destemmed, culling any under-ripe grapes and sending the rest on to press, ferment, and then sit quietly on their fine lees all through the cold Nantais winter. These wines are crisp, pure, mineral, and delicious. Someone pass the oysters!” Imported by Jon David Headrick Selections.
Fruitiere Muscadet ‘Gneiss de Bel Abord’ 2013
Muscadet, Loire Valley, France. “100% Melon de Bourgogne from 25-50 year old vines planted on mica and schist. Heavy triage before press and slow, controlled fermentation. Aged in stainless steel tanks for 7-9 months.” “Muscadet, although not as well known in the United States as it is in France, is the largest white wine appellation of the country. Several smaller appellations make up the general area of Muscadet including Muscadet Sèvre et Maine Sur Lie, Muscadet Coteaux de la Loire, and Muscadet Coteaux des Grands Lieux. The most famous is Muscadet Sèvre et Maine Sur Lie. One of the only appellations to require ageing on the lees and to name this requirement in the name of the appellation, Muscadet Sèvre et Maine Sur Lie only comes from the best parcels of the region and must follow strict guidelines. The Melon de Bourgogne grape, also called Muscadet, was brought to the region centuries ago from Burgundy. It flourished in this new environment and became famous in France for its ability to complement to saltiest of oysters and shellfish of the region.” Jen’s note- Minerally, stony, salty/saline scents with undertones of pear and apple/orchard fruits. Lean and dry on the palate with a good bit of minerality and gentle acid. Soft texture. Food wine. Good value. $11.99
La Craie– “Chenin Blanc is one of the most noble white wine varietals planted in France, rivaling Riesling for its complexity, ageability, and depth of soul. Chenin Blanc is noted for its flexibility. When exposed to the early morning fogs of Vouvray and the Anjou, and allowed to develop botrytis, it can be a lovely mix of candied apricots, spice, and wildflower honey with a firm acid backbone. When fully ripe, and grown on the limestone slopes of Vouvray and Montlouis, it can be lively, packed with aromas of fresh peaches and plums, and finishing crisp and high. When grown on the schist banks of Savennières, it is often powerful, chewy, dense, and filled with minerals.
The largest white wine appellation of the central Loire, Vouvray has been producing wine for centuries. Planted exclusively to Chenin Blanc, the region was formerly farmed by the church who helped to establish its reputation as one of the great “crus” of France. Chenin has been farmed in the zone since at least the 4th century. The appellation was created in 1936 and sits on the right bank (north side) of the Loire in the Touraine region of France. Montlouis (another Chenin Blanc AOC) lies just across the river to the south. The soils in Vouvray are primarily clay and limestone over a solid base of tuffeau, a soft white chalk with which the famous castles of the region were built. The vineyards are often white, littered with limestone rock that in some cases is so thick that it is difficult to see any soil. Although restricted to using only Chenin Blanc, winemakers can make dry, demi-sec, moelleux, or sparkling bottlings, and often benefit from botrytis which the fog off of the nearby Loire help to form. Vouvray wines, in great vintages, can last for decades and in some cases, for up to a century.” Imported by Jon David Headrick Selections.
La Craie Vouvray 2013
Vouvray, Loire Valley, France. “100% Chenin Blanc from hillside parcels just outside the village of Vouvray. Produced from young vines (15-25 years old), this bottling is almost always a light demi-sec (8-12 grams of residual sugar). A delicious introduction to Chenin Blanc! Vouvray “La Craie” is a custom cuvée of this amazing varietal, taken from some of the best parcels in the appellation. It is assembled in Vouvray, sees no wood, is bottled fresh and young, and is designed to offer the striking crispness that one expects from the Loire but with a very small amount of residual sugar for an added layer of complexity. “La Craie” (or “chalk” in French) refers to the abundance of white, soft rock in the area known locally as “Tuffeau.” High on the hills of Vouvray, one can tour the homes of locals who live in caves dug from this soft chalk. It is found in the vineyards as well, ensuring good drainage down the slopes and keeping the soil warm at night to help keep the roots from experiencing drastic temperature changes.” Jen’s note- Petrol notes blow off with swirling to reveal apple cider, fruit blossoms, and subtle honeysuckle/honey comb. Soft entry with pretty apple notes. Long and full. Mouthwatering acidity. Leesy finish. $14.99
La Framboisiere– “Stretching 150 miles from North to South, the Rhône Valley boasts power, elegance and ageability, not only in classic Châteauneuf-du-Pape and Côte-Rotie, but also in lesser-known appellations like Gigondas. Today, a new generation of hungry young winemakers has moved in, making Gamay in the Coteaux du Lyonnais and southern Rhône blends in the Ardèche.
Named for its beautiful aromas of fresh raspberries, this private-label Côtes du Rhône is sourced from a domaine in Rasteau. The wine has become a fan-favorite for its consistent deliciousness!”
Sourced from Domaine des Escaravailles- “In 1953, Jean-Louis Ferranpurchased several well-situated hillside parcels above the southern Rhône villages of Rasteau, Roaix and Cairanne. He dubbed his new domaine “Escaravailles,” the Occitan word for beetles (scarabs). This was a nickname for the black-robed monks of the area’s hill-perched Catholic monasteries in centuries past.
Jean-Louis’ grandson Gilles assumed control of the domaine in 1999 after working alongside his father, Daniel Ferran, for several vintages. Gilles graduated first in his class from the University of Montpellier’s prestigious enology school and now works closely at Escaravailles with his good friend and respected southern Rhône consultant, Philippe Cambie, who graduated number two in the class the same year.
The Ferran’s modern winery is built into a hillside in the heights of Rasteau, surrounded by terraced vineyards. It is the Grenache from these high altitude vineyards (average of 600 feet) that sets Escaravailles’ wines apart from many of the overripe and over-extracted reds from this sun-baked part of Provence. Calling them “Overdue Crus”, Decanter columnist Andrew Jefford calls for the elevation of Rasteau and Cairanne to independent AC status in his book The New France. Escaravailles’ Cuvée Heritage 1924 certainly helps make Mr. Jefford’s case, as their old-vine Rasteau rivals the best red wines of Châteauneuf-du-Pape and Gigondas. In 2010, the INAO promoted Rasteau, so now vignerons of this superior commune can omit the clumsy Côte du Rhône-Villages appendage from future labels.” Imported by Daniel Johnnes Selections.
La Framboisiere Cotes du Rhone 2012
Rhone Valley, France. “From around the village of Rasteau, this wine is made from 80% Grenache (80-years-old vines) and 20% Syrah (35 years old). Part of the wine is aged in barriques for about 12 months. 2010 was a terrific vintage in the Rhône, with abundant, mature, healthy grapes. This special label is made Daniel Johnnes with Philippe Cambie as the consulting oenologist.” “Fresh and forward, featuring cherry paste and lightly mulled currant notes backed by fruitcake and red licorice accents. Stays fresh, with a lightly floral hint on the finish.” Jen’s note- Tangy berry fruits and spice with floral undertones- very pretty scents. Juicy entry, gentle acid, easy drinking. Dried flowers and subtle spice. Approachable. $13.99
Domaine Marion Pral– “Upon hearing the word Beaujolais, many think of the large celebration for wine that comes out the 3rd week of November, that year’s vintage of Beaujolais Nouveau. But the region of Beaujolais, situated at the bottom of the Burgundy AOC, is more than just the nouveau. Some Beaujolais wines can be kept (gasp!) for up to 10 years! A 50 acre Family organic estate for several generations, located in the heart of the Pierres Dorees country, 10 miles from Villefranche, capital of the Beaujolais. The Domaine Pral vineyard is planted on granite soils with a South East exposition in the Beaujolais region. Once fully matured the grapes are hand-picked; selected and sorted with great care. The wines are stored with great care. They are aged over 8 to 12 months before bottling at the Estate (Domaine). Sustainable Farming Estate. Winemakers: Marion and Pascal Chatelus.” Impored by JP Bourgeois Wines.
Domaine Marion Pral Morgon Les Charmes 2013
Beaujolais, Burgundy, France. “100% Gamay from 30 to 40 year old vines growing on granite soils on hillside vineyards facing Southeast. Hand harvested and aged in older French oak barrels for 6 to 8 months. A true expression of Morgon! Wine Advocate 89 Pts (2009): Pral has followed the lead of other growers in the South by contracting for fruit from a northern cru, and her 2009 Morgon Charmes is a characteristic representative of its appellation, with aromas of black raspberry preserves, bacon, and game with hints of cardamom and black pepper. Stimulating on the palate by virtue of its peppery pungency, tart berry skin, and toasted hickory, what it might lack in polish it more than makes up for in complexity and invigoration.” Jen’s note- Very pretty, bright violet color. Sweet spice, aromatic nose, with lanolin qualities. Structured, bright, yet lean entry, with juicy fruits and rustic notes. Balanced and complex finish. $17.99