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LOIRE VALLEY
Page 3  Vatan/Hureau  Vincent Ricard, Breton, Vieux Pruniers,  etc.


CHÂTEAU DU HUREAU
 
We had tasted some of this estate's wines and usually found them to be pretty good.  I confirmed this in a blind-tasting of Cabernet Franc wines from the Loire Valley when I had one of Monsieur Vatan's wines as my top selection in the tasting.  

Philippe Vatan runs the estate by himself, his brother having died in a tragic accident several years ago.  The estate comprises something like 20 hectares of vines these days.
 
The name of the estate, Hureau, refers to a wild boar.  We didn't see any on our brief visit to the estate, but we did taste some really lovely wines.  The cellar is immaculate.

The vineyards are planted on tuffeau, a sort of sedimentary limestone that retains the warmth of the sun.  It drains well, causing the vines to plunge their roots deep into the earth, another beneficial aspect of vines in this region.

 
A few wines are matured in wood, but oak is not a major component in most of Vatan's wines.  I inquired about all the information scribbled on the stainless steel fermentation tanks and Philippe explained they like to record the wine's progress during its fermentation.

We're big fans of the basic bottling of Saumur-Champigny, but even more these days, the Fours a Chaux.



This is made entirely of Cabernet Franc.  
 
Vatan was amused when a famous French sommelier tasted his entry-level  wine and told him "The oak is perfectly integrated with the fruit."  When you're a sommelier in France, you know everything about wine.  Of course.

Funny thing is, though, that Hureau Saumur-Champigny bottling the fellow had tasted was vinified in stainless steel and never saw the inside of an oak barrel.  
No wonder the wine had such good integration of the oak...it didn't have any!

 


 We currently have his 2018 Tuffe bottling of Saumur-Champigny. 

The wine comes from numerous parcels on the estate, typically limestone soils.  It has a fairly long time on the skins during and after the fermentation, maybe 4 to 5 weeks.  Yet it is not a harsh or astringent wine.  The fragrances are classically Cabernet Franc from the Loire.  It's a medium-bodied red and one we enjoy cooled to cellar temp (around 50-55 degrees).  You can pair this with roasted chicken, pork, lamb or beef.  



Vatan's white wine is periodically in stock...  It does  see a bit of wood and we have found the past few vintages to be exceptionally good.  The wine displays a lovely, intense, melon-like character of Chenin Blanc.  It's got a nice bit of oak, perhaps somewhat unusual for most white wines from the Loire.  This is a wonderful bottle of wine.
 

Currently in stock:  2018 Saumur-Champigny "Tuffe"  $19.99
Saumur Blanc Sold Out

 

 



 

 

 

DOMAINE DU HAUT BOURG  Loire Valley SAUVIGNON BLANC  $12.99

This small domaine is run by the Choblet brothers in the western Loire region where the wines of Muscadet are important.  Hervé and Nicolas Choblet farm some 38 hectares of vineyards in production presently.  Nine of those are devoted to Sauvignon Blanc and the 2019 we have from this estate is remarkably intense and quite aromatic.

They farm sustainably, near as we can tell.  They have certification from "Terra Vitis" which is not precisely organic, but it's far more environmentally aware than so-called conventional viticulture.

The vineyards for this wine are about 20 years of age.  The grapes are crushed and they leave the skins in contact with the juice for a day or two, as they allow the tank of must to settle.  Then it's fermented at low temperatures to capture as much fragrance and flavor as possible.  In fact the wine is beautifully intense and unmistakably Sauvignon.  In fact, it may be too intense for some people.  

We like that grassy, herbal, passion-fruit sort of character.  It's dry, light on the palate and crisp and has no oak influence.  

Haut Bourg's 2019 Sauvignon is a great buy and perfect as a cocktail white or seafood wine.
 
 
 


 

 

 

 

DOMAINE DU CARROU  (Dominique Roger)  2019 SANCERRE $29.99

The Roger family has been living in the Sancerre town of Bué for generations.  They say the family has been there since the 1600s!

Currently they have about ten or eleven hectares of vineyards and Dominique Roger is extremely attentive to the vineyards, first and foremost, noting that it is impossible to make exceptional wine without high quality fruit.

They spend a considerable amount of time working the vineyards and they do so in an environmentally-friendly fashion.  While many producers in Sancerre are now using a mechanical harvesting machine to pick grapes, this property still does it entirely by hand and then they further cull out any fruit that's not in tip-top condition by the use of a sorting table.

We have a particular bottling of Sancerre which combines two major soil types.  About 70% of the vineyards for this Sancerre are planted on Oxfordian limestone (they call it caillottes) and the remaining 30% is from Terres Blanches soils which is a clay and limestone mix which often has fossilized sea shells.  

The 2020 vintage is crisply acidic with citrusy, grapefruity notes on the nose and palate.  There's a hint of melon-like fruit here, too.  This is a good match for seafood, sushi, etc.  People in Sancerre suggest goat cheeses such as the Crottin de Chavignol.

Currently in stock:  2020 DOMAINE DU CARROU SANCERRE   $29.99

 

 

 

 

 

 

DOMAINE DE LA TAILLE AUX LOUPS

This domaine was founded by a fellow from Bordeaux, Christian Prudhomme, who had been affiliated with Mouton-Rothschild and Opus One.  He found that Chenin Blanc was less "in demand" than the trophy wines with which he'd been familiar.

As people didn't pay much attention to his wine, the domaine was sold in 1989, or so.  The new owner is a dynamic guy named Jacky Blot.

Blot helped put Montlouis on the map.  Francois Chidiane certainly pushed the Montlouis appellation to the fore and with Blot's efforts, the area is now highly regarded in many wine circles.

The wines have been very good across the board and Blot now makes not only good Montlouis and Sparkling wine, but terrific Vouvray, as well.

The general philosophy at Taille aux Loups has been to cultivate small production in terms of tonnage in the vineyard.  Blot has even purchased more vineyards so the holdings of Chenin Blanc tally to about 60 hectares and his other domaine (Domaine de la Butte in Bourgueil)  comprises 15 hectares.

Another "secret" of Blot's is to pick in stages.  He'll send a crew through a vineyard and demand they pick only 'ripe' grapes.  This takes more time than if you simply harvest everything in one pass.  

Indigenous yeast fermentations are the rule and Blot ferments and ages his wines in various size wood cooperage, from barriques to demi-muids (600 liters) to foudres (maybe 4500 liter capacity).  


The 2017 Vouvray is their Clos de la Bretonniere bottling.  Except it no longer carries the Vouvray appellation, despite the vineyard being located within the delimited Vouvray area.
In a brilliant stroke of genius, it's been decided that unless you vinify the wine within the designated appellation of Vouvray, the wine can no longer be called anything other than "Vin de France."
Curiously, though, Blot was given the green light on making "Vouvray" in his Montlouis cellars back in 1999 and there was no mention of rescinding this approval at any future date.  But the past few years, Blot has been told he cannot label the wine as Vouvray.

So despite the wine from Blot (and another vintner, Francois Chidaine) attracting attention to the appellation of Vouvray as their wines are routinely stellar, they may not be label with their proper appellation of origin!


This is a 4 hectare parcel owned solely by Monsieur Blot.  The yields are reduced by severe pruning allowing them to obtain but a rather meager quantity of wine.  All the juice goes into barrique, with one-quarter of the barrels being brand new.  It's a great expression of Chenin Blanc and it's one of those wines which will make you a believer (or not).

There's a terrific sparkling wine, too.  We like their "Triple Zero" which is slightly less fizzy than a Champagne or full-throttle bubbly.
It's made entirely of Chenin Blanc from 40+ year old, organically-farmed vines.
No chaptalization for the first fermentation.
No sugar added to do the secondary fermentation in the bottle.
No sugar added as a dosage after the wine is disgorged after about two years en tirage.
Triple Zero.

Currently in stock:   TAILLE AUX LOUPS TRIPLE ZERO Sparkling Wine $31.99
2017 TAILLE AUX LOUPS "Used to be a Vouvray" "Clos de la Bretonniere" $39.99


Philippe & his Pop, Jacky Blot

 

 



FRANCOIS CHIDAINE

One of the top names in Montlouis is that of the Chidaine family.  But who knows the wines of Montlouis???

The appellation had long been in the shadows of its famous neighbor, Vouvray.

But between François Chidaine and his neighbor and competitor, Jacky Blot, Montlouis has earned a measure of respect and both make wines which are envied by many a vigneron in the neighborhood.

When we first met Chidaine, his domaine was a small one.  Nobody knew Montlouis in those days, except the most geeky of wine aficionados,

That's changed to some degree, but even today the wines of Montlouis fly below the radar of many wine drinkers.

François Chidaine took over a few hectares of vineyards from which his father had made wine.  He embraced the notion of organic farming and even stepped up from there to employ biodynamic methods for cultivating his vineyard holdings.



The domaine now comprises some 37 hectares of vineyards, predominantly Chenin Blanc.  
Twenty hectares are in their hometown of Montlouis, while ten are across the river in Vouvray.

Chidaine was able to rent, then buy, vineyards in Vouvray which were a domaine owned by Prince Philippe Poniatowski, whose family lineage goes back to Stanislaw August Poniatowksi, who occupied a royal throne in the 1700s.
The Clos Baudoin had been owned by the Poniatowski family since maybe 1918, or so.
Although the Poniatowski wines were of some note, critics will tell you the wines from those vines being made today by Chidaine, achieve a higher quality level.

The domaine then has an additional seven hectares of odds and ends in the Touraine appellation.  

François is a believer in organic farming, yet you wouldn't know it by looking at his labels.  That's because there's no mention of this on the bottle, but his vineyards have been certified as such.  He's long been farming responsibly and is a proponent of "regenerative agriculture," a protocol said to be helpful in lowering the levels of CO
2 in the environment.


The 2019 Montlouis of the Clos du Breuil site is excellent.  This comes from a 3.5 hectare site of mature vines.  They're something close to 45 years old on average, though some vines are said to be around 80 years of age.  Chidaine obtains sensibly low yields to maximize quality.  It's a beautiful, dry, moderately aromatic Chenin Blanc with  a suggestion of pear-like fruit and maybe a hint of citrus underneath.  The wine is dry and fairly crisp thanks to good acidity.
It's showing beautifully in its youth and Chidaine says it can be cellared for another 5 to 15 years.

Currently in stock:  FRANÇOIS CHIDAINE 2019 "CLOS du BREUIL" MONTLOUIS $36.99

 

 

 

DOMAINE DES VIEUX PRUNIERS
The Cave Christian Thirot is located in the famous little Sancerre village of Bué.  
Soils are chalky and they have about 10 hectares in total, seven being devoted to Sauvignon Blanc and the rest planted in Pinot Noir.  They're now farming sustainably, by the way.

 

 

 


You can see the limestone soils in this snapshot...

 



He makes terrific Sancerre, capturing the citrusy notes of the Sauvignon with a mildly minerally note in the background.  The wines are about 20 years of age, so they're mature and hitting their prime.  The juice is fermented in tank and with somewhat low temperatures, it proceeds for about 2 weeks before the wine is bone dry.

No oak, as he wants to highlight the stony, minerally and citrusy notes of the Sauvignon Blanc.

The 2020 vintage is stone, bone dry.  

It is a magnificent example of Loire Valley Sauvignon.  Thirot likes to ferment the juice at low temperatures and he ages the wine on its spent yeast, two of his "secrets."

The 2020 is delicious and perfect for seafood!

 

 



Currently in stock: 2020 VIEUX PRUNIERS Sancerre  (list $26) SALE $22.99
2013 VIEUX PRUNIERS Sancerre Rose  Sold Out

 


 

 


 



DOMAINE DU SALVARD

The Cheverny appellation is rather overlooked by most French wine drinkers.  

Your average French citizen is imbued with wine expertise at birth and many have no trouble to tell you "This is a good wine" merely by looking at the label and knowing the fame of the wine's appellation.  "Oh, Gevrey-Chambertin...that's a good wine" they will say, even if they have never tasted wine from that particular producer.  You see, it's easy to generalize.

Since the French have a penchant for classifications, they know which appellations are the most prominent and best.  Meursault and Puligny-Montrachet are excellent, no matter the vintage or vintner.  They might look at a range of Sauvignon Blanc wines from the Loire and will "know" the Sancerre is good, while a wine from the Cheverny appellation is automatically regarded as "less good" to "average."

The Delaille family owns this property.  I read an article concerning the wines of Cheverny and the difficulty in selling wines from this appellation to people in France.  You see, it's simply not as chi-chi a neighborhood as Sancerre.  As a result, when dining in Paris, you can find Sancerre in virtually every neighborhood bistro, but Cheverny is not on their radar screens.

Too much history.  Too many classifications.  Too little fame. 
Too bad for the winemakers of Cheverny.

Winemaker Emmanuel Delaille was quoted in an article in the French journal, Le Point, as saying "In France, too many people believe to know all and the lessons one learns about French wine. Abroad, the professionals say: 'It is good or it is not good.' There is no border when one is outside our country.  Only the wine counts. In France, it is very sectarian. One is never invited to visit Château Margaux, whereas at Mondavi, yes."

We have had several producers' wines from the Cheverny appellation.  It's a region where Sauvignon Blanc is the main player, but typically Chardonnay makes a small contribution to the wines.  The Salvard property has vines averaging about a quarter-century in age.  Their wine usually has about 15% Chardonnay in the blend, but it's a wonderfully crisp, steely, Chablis-meets-Touraine sort of white wine.  No oak.  

These have been consistently good since our first vintage handling them, 2007.  The 2020 is currently in stock...crisp and stony.

We enjoyed a perfectly chilled bottle at the Hog Island Oyster Company at San Francisco's Ferry Plaza market.  It's a steely, lightly minerally wine, so you can imagine it was a sheer delight paired with a range of fresh, tangy oysters.  In the Loire they'll also serve this with local goat cheeses.


We enjoyed a bottle with some fresh pasta, homemade pesto and rock shrimp.
The wine has enough acidity to deal with the pesto and it's sufficiently herbal & citrusy to match up with the basil.

Currently in stock:  DOMAINE du SALVARD 2020 CHEVERNY $17.99





DOMAINE DU BEL AIR

Here's a delightful little Cabernet Franc from a 15 hectare estate in the Bourgueil appellation.  
They're about a five minute ride from beautiful downtown Bourgueil in the village of Benais.  
This small town had 1600 residents according to census figures from the 1830s, but today there are not even a thousand people living there.
 


Catherine and Pierre Gauthier (and now their son Rodolphe) believe in eco-friendly farming and modest yields in the vineyards.  Pierre's Great Grandfather had been making pottery but bought a smallish estate and planted garlic, beans, carrots, onions and beets, amongst other things.
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

Catherine & Pierre Gauthier


Gauthier's father André appreciated a sensible philosophy towards farming.  He was the last one in their town to still use a horse to cultivate the land and so Pierre continues his dad's organic farming practices.  He had heard the neighbors touting modern farming, but he eventually thought the notion of using weed-killers and fertilizers under the guise of "progress" were foolish, so he returned to the old, tried & true methods in the vineyards.  

Gauthier speaks of growers being "addicted" to the latest and greatest chemical products being sold by big corporate giants.  He questioned using these and decided to get back to "real" farming and being more in touch with the land and the environment.  As of the year 2000 he converted the vineyards back to organic farming and he's much happier with the results.

The domaine has about 20 hectares these days.

We've had several of their wines in the shop over the past decade, or so.

Currently we have their 2017 Jour de Soif, which is an entry-level wine.  It's made entirely of Cabernet Franc that gets a pre-fermentation cold soak and then it's fermented using native yeasts.  It's racked into barrels and matured for a few months, being bottled in the spring to capture the bright red fruit of the Cabernet Franc.  
We like serving this at cool cellar temp and it seems to improve with an hour of aeration in a decanter.
So, if you're thirsty for a medium-bodied, youthful Cabernet Franc, this may be worth trying.

 

Currently in stock:  BEL AIR 2017 "BOURGUEIL" Jour du Soif   $16.99



 

 

 


PHILIPPE FOREAU  "CLOS NAUDIN"
2009 VOUVRAY "MOELLEUX"   Sale $55.99

Perhaps as Vouvray is typically overlooked by most wine drinkers, its pricing remains attractive to serious wine geeks who appreciate the finesse and elegance of wine made of the under-estimated Chenin Blanc grape.

If you look at the cost, these days, of wines from other top artisan estates around Europe...think of Bartolo Mascarello, Quintarelli, Clos Rougeard, Comtes Lafon, Dagueneau, Valentini and others of that level, you'll see this "expensive" bottle of nicely cellared Vouvray is actually a bargain.

Philippe Foreau assumed the helm of the family domaine in 1983, the property having originally been acquired by his Grandfather Armand back in the 1920s.  We understand he cultivates something like 12 hectares of vineyards and produces maybe 50,000 bottles annually.  Yields are fairly low and the vines are cultivated organically.

The vineyards are picked with multiple passes over the course of the harvest season, as the pickers are selective as to which bunches are brought in.  They hope to have some Botrytis for their sweet wines, but the 2009 Vouvray Moelleux that we have is said to be made from over-ripe Chenin Blanc with little or no "Noble Rot."  The juice is fermented in 300 liter French oak cooperage and only a tiny percentage of the barrels are new.  Foreau seeks to display the Chenin Blanc fruit, first and foremost.


We opened a bottle in July of 2021...paired it with a homemade Apple Crumble & Cinnamon Ice Cream.
The color of the wine might lead you to expect it's quite mature and maybe even a little bit tired.
But the wine was sweet and bracingly acidic on the palate, so it was a real palate cleanser with the sweet dessert.
In fact, it showed a sort of Calvados-like aroma (apple brandy!), so it really worked well in this setting.

Currently in stock:  FOREAU 2009 VOUVRAY Moelleux  $55.99




 


DOMAINE DE L'ECU

Guy Bossard has been making wine for decades and is viewed as a leading light in the world of "Muscadet."

Of course the grape of Muscadet, the Melon de Bourgogne, tends to produce a rather innocuous dry white wine if left to its own devices.  But cultivated with care and vinified skillfully, the grape can produce a most satisfying wine which exhibits some measure of terroir.  
 


It's not as "noble" a variety as Riesling or Pinot Noir, but paired with the right food, a bottle of Muscadet can make for a most satisfying gastronomical experience.

Bossard was an early advocate of some sort of organic farming, shunning the new-fangled chemicals popular with many growers back in the 1970s.  In the 1990s he began converting to Biodynamic farming.  And his wines have "stuffing," which is unusual for Muscadet.  Most are superficial, simple, dry, light white wines without any particular character.

But taste a Bossard rendition and you have a veritable symphony in the glass, with notes of lemon, stones, minerals, hazelnuts and maybe even a whiff of salt "air" from the ocean...

We currently have the Gneiss bottling, a wine from a 3 hectare parcel of vines which are in the range of 50 years old.  The vines are harvested by hand...natural yeasts...it's aged in the winery for a bit more than a year before being bottled...
Remarkable wine...

You can pair this with 'normal' Muscadet fare such as oysters, but it's big enough to stand up to a soulful bowl of steamed mussels or clams or even roasted chicken or pork!  That's saying something.
 

Currently in stock:  DOMAINE DE L'ECU 2015 GNEISS  $22.99



HIPPOLYTE REVERDY

There are numerous Reverdy family wineries in Sancerre and you'd be correct in judging this book by its cover:  This producer makes "old fashioned" Sancerre.  The bottles they sell in France, though, have a more modern label, but the American importer prefers this retro look.
 


The vineyards and cellar are in the town of Verdigny, a sleepy little burg of about 300 residents.  

The Hippo, as we suspect he was known to his buddies, had grapes as a part of their farming business back in the 1940s.  After World War II, the family found an increasing demand for wine and bottled some of their own and sold grapes to the local grower's co-op cellar.  

One of Hip's sons took over the domaine in the 1980s when Dad died and the other two sons passed away.  Today the estate comprises something like 14 hectares with a little bit of red wine as part of their production.  

The vineyards are farmed sustainably, by the way.  The Sauvignon Blanc vines are approximately 25 years of age.


The 2020 Sancerre is currently in stock.  This is one of those minerally, grapefruity, stony dry white wines.  It's a wine intended to pair with dinner, so the acidity is nice and crisp and the wine blossoms once opened and allowed to get some air.   

You know how some products are marketed as "This is not your father's fill-in-the-blank (like Oldsmobile)"???   Well, this IS your father's Sancerre!

Currently in stock:  2020 Sancerre Blanc  $33.99 (750ml) (Last bottles)
2020 Sancerre Blanc 1/2bottles  $18.99

 


Daniel Chotard and his son Simon

 

DANIEL CHOTARD

The Chotard family has a long history of farming and winemaking in the village of Reigny, about 6 kilometers west of Sancerre.

Daniel Chotard fancies himself as a musician as well as a Vigneron.  

Their 16, or so, hectares of vineyards are on several soil types...Flint, clay and limestone...

Since 2011 Chotard's son Simon has been working in the family business.  He studied winemaking in Toulouse, but on top of his university education, even more valuable is the schooling he got from his father, Daniel.

The Chotards prefer to pick at slightly riper levels of maturity than many of his neighbors, but his wine still strikes us as having crisp acidity and a beautifully minerally note to go along with the mildly lemony Sauvignon Blanc fruit.

The 2020 recently landed...

  

 

Currently in stock:  2020 CHOTARD SANCERRE  $29.99

 

 

 

Here are some photos provided by the Chotard winery:

 


Some grapes are hand-harvested.


Some vineyards are machine-harvested.

And then they put them on a sorting table to cull out any fruit that is not perfect.

 



 


Daniel Chotard makes harmonious Sancerre.

 

 

 

 


DOMAINE RICARD

Vincent Ricard is making some of the most impressive Touraine wines in the Loire Valley and it's clear this fellow has learned from his mentors.

Ricard was an intern at the estate of Philippe Alliet in Chinon, where he learned about red wine production and he spent time with Francois Chidaine's uncle, Claude Levasseur, learning about white wine.  And how!

We understand Vincent's grandfather was instrumental in establishing a modest grape grower's cooperative winery in the Touraine appellation which still exists today.  


The family estate features some rather old vines.  This is but one of the secrets of Domaine Ricard.  Vincent is well-versed in biodynamic farming and organic viticulture and he reportedly employees environmentally-friendly techniques.  We recall him saying he didn't want to use "organic" as a marketing tool and he said many of the wines sold on the basis of being so were really poor quality.

Still, he did get certification of his biodynamic farming practices which he's employed for many years prior to the documentation.  

 

 

The domaine presently is made of up 30 hectares.  Touraine.  21 hectares are simple Touraine Blanc and 4 are Touraine Rouge.  Ricard has 5 hectares of Touraine in the sub-appellation of Touraine Chenonceaux, a new appellation since the 2011 vintage.

 

Ricard calls the Chenonceaux  wine "Tasciaca" which is some ancient reference to Thésée, a small town near his winery.

The vines are 30 to 40 years old and the grapes are picked by hand.
Ricard ferments 75% in  400 liter puncheons and the remainder goes into special conical-shaped tanks.

The wine is quite different from typically Loire Valley Sauvignon...it's almost floral along the lines of a Riesling.  It's really exotic and tastes like the Rheingau meets the Loire Valley.  


 



?  ?  ?  ?  ?  ?  ?  ?  ?  ?

Ricard makes a Touraine white called "?" and this is, unquestionably, a remarkably fine wine.
No question about it.

Sauvignon Blanc from low-yielding vines and the juice spends about 3 months fermenting in the cool, underground cellar used by Ricard.  The wine is then racked into new oak and it spends nearly a year in wood.  I find it stylistically similar to Dagueneau's fabulous Pur Sang bottling.



This will set you back $39.99.  Don't miss it.

 

 

Currently in stock:  Sold Out  

 

 




Under construction, of course.






 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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