January 2019 -
A new year ahead inspired us & we’re so happy to welcome Paula Rester Salinas (read her bio) as our Guest Sommelier! She’s chosen our wines for the January Club from the Jon David Headrick portfolio. We’ve been longtime fans of this book, and Paula’s picked some truly great standouts. We look forward to hearing your thoughts! Share them with us here!
Here are the featured wines-
Louis de Grenelle Saumur Brut Rosé, Loire Valley, France
100% Cabernet Franc
Deep under the streets of the Loire Valley town of Saumur, miles and miles of caves wind their way through the soft limestone that was used to build so many Loire châteaux. Carved centuries ago, many were dug with prison labor (often by men caught for smuggling salt) under the direction of the king of France. There are so many “streets” underground that they outnumber the actual streets in this beautiful town.
One of the last remaining family-owned sparkling wine houses in Saumur, Louis de Grenelle, owns about 2 kilometers of these caves. All of the sparkling wine produced by the property is stored in these cool caverns, many of which were used during World War II by the French resistance. If you are lucky, you will one day get to sit in the king’s chair in the secret cave at the end of one of these caverns. Only if you’re lucky.
The grapes used to produce the sparkling Saumur and Crémant at Grenelle are grown on the hillsides surrounding the town and in the small hamlets just outside of Saumur. They are pressed and flow by gravity into underground tanks at the winery. All of the wines are made in the Champagne method and are bottled with little dosage to preserve the freshness of the Cabernet Franc and Chenin Blanc varietals.
This is not sparkling wine made by “leftover” juice as is unfortunately the case in many Loire sparkling houses. The fruit for these bottlings is harvested by hand and yields are quite low. 100% Cabernet Franc from vineyards just outside of Saumur. Fermented and aged in tank, this is produced using the Méthode Champenoise. Very low dosage to protect the aromas and flavor of the varietal. Bright, crisp, and delicious sparkling rosé.
Dom. de la Frutière Gneiss de Bel Abord, Muscadet Sèvre-et-Main, Loire Valley, France
100% Melon de Borgogne
Granite rock was used for centuries to build the massive fortresses that dot the landscape of Muscadet. Its density and structure were rarely breached by arrow, cannonball, or the good ‘ole medieval siege. Because of its density and the fact that it is everywhere in Muscadet, its unclear why anyone would think that this was the place to plant hectares and hectares of vines. That’s what riverbeds are for, right?
Well, the Romans might have gotten a few things wrong in France (see the 1st century BC through the 5th century AD for reference) but they did get something right: they planted a ton of grapevines on this lunar rock of a landscape. Today, this area is called Muscadet and is home to over 8,000 hectares of vines of Melon de Bourgogne.
It can be argued that Muscadet, in France’s Loire Valley, contains the most diverse array of geological soil types and terroirs than any other appellation in France. Perhaps the most famous of these soils is the kitchen-counter-gorgeous granite of Clisson. The village of Clisson produces classic Muscadet Sèvre et Maine as well as Cru Clisson that is aged for over 20 months sur lie, showing the two extremes of the Melon de Bourgogne grape. Because Melon de Bourgogne generally takes a back seat to any minerality that wants to seep into the vines and into the grapes, it is seen as the ideal vehicle for mineral-expressive wines in France. Following a trend among the top producers of Muscadet the guys at Fruitière are not only making two outstanding cru Muscadets from Clisson and Château Thébaud, but they also make a single terroir (and single plot) Muscadet from sandy, weathered gneiss. This site faces east and is on a gentle slope bordering the river Maine. This terroir expresses itself with a delicate floral aromas and a coiled, salty minerality.
Dom. de Noblaie Chenin Blanc, Chinon, Loire Valley, France
100% Chenin Blanc
Domaine de Noblaie is home base for four generations (grand-mère usually holds court in the living room while holding her new iPad.) It is Jerome Billard, the son of Francois and Madeleine Billard, who leads the property now. Jerome was fortunate to earn an internship at Chateau Petrus in Bordeaux while still in school and then to earn a spot at Dominus in California. I met Jerome in Chinon just days after his return to Chinon from California in 2003 and saw enormous potential. He has certainly lived up to that and more.
Noblaie sits at one of the highest points of the Chinon appellation and is essentially two long, sloping hillsides covering 24 hectares. The soil is mostly limestone (some of it quite deep) covered with clay and limestone shards. The property is certified organic by Ecocert and has been working this way since about 2005. All harvests are carried out by hand (rare in Chinon) and in multiple passes through the vines. Unlike many other properties that hand harvest, Noblaie has the same team year after year and the vineyard and winery triage is quite severe. The point is not to produce green or vegetal Cabernet Franc but to find that perfect razor’s edge maturity that privileges the earthiness and spiciness of the varietal while showing off the fruit and elegance at the same time.
White Chinon is about as rare as it gets. With only 2% of the AOC planted to Chenin Blanc, it is made by only a handful of estates and only a small amount is allocated to the United States. Jerome Billard’s version resembles a top flight Montlouis with beautiful freshness and mineral complexity. A waxy, floral masterpiece from 50 year old vines grown on tuffeau soils then harvested by hand, pressed and fermented by indigenous yeast in tank. As of the 2017 vintage this cuvée goes by the name Chante le Vent - in recognition of the alternately warm and cooling winds that allow Jerôme to harvest his Chenin late in the season without any botrytis.
Dom. Saint Nicolas Fife Vendèens Pinot Noir, Loire Valley, France
100% Pinot Noir
For Thierry Michon, the gregarious force behind one of the Loire’s best kept secrets, Domaine Saint Nicolas, it’s all about the soil. Working on schist and silex a stone’s throw away from the Atlantic, Thierry is the prophet of biodynamics in this tiny viticultural area. His vineyards never see a non-organic product. He has slowly purchased buffer zones all around his property to prevent chemical products from other winemakers from seeping into his parcels. For him, biodynamics isn’t a pragmatic consideration, it’s a religion. Domaine Saint Nicolas sits at the extreme southern end of the Loire delta, just south of Muscadet, but there is no Melon de Bourgogne planted here. Instead, Thierry works old vines of Chenin Blanc, Chardonnay, Groslot, Pinot Noir, Negrette, and Cabernet Franc. If you think working 40 hectares biodynamically (certified by Biodyvin) is easy, you’re crazy. Working by horse and tractor, Thierry usually answers his cell phone from the vineyard, often as late as 10:00 at night. You will not find a more dedicated vigneron in France. Harvest is, of course, by hand.
Pinot Noir in the Fief Vendéens is truly unique for two reasons: the maritime climate and the schist soils. You can find one or another of these variables in places like the Ahr, Central Otago or the true Sonoma Coast but never together. Thierry makes this wine from grapes that are harvested by hand and fermented by indigenous yeast. A short maceration with pigeage is followed by aging in foudre.
La Paradou Grenache, France
Le Paradou is a project created by Alexandre and Frédéric Chaudière whose family produce some of the most respected wines in the Ventoux at Château Pesquié. Sourced from two sites whose raw materials are quite unique, the wines carry the name of a centuries-old farmhouse, Le Paradou, belonging to the Chaudière family. The vines, ranging in age from 40 to 60 years old, and are cultivated in accordance with the laws of Terra Vitis, an organization that ensures that properties respect the environment by stressing the benefits of integrated farming. The Paradou vineyards are all slightly elevated on rather poor soils in order to obtain the freshest and most drinkable wines possible. The aspect of the vineyards is sheltered and none face fully south. The Viognier vineyard is situated North-East of Montpellier, between Nîmes and Uzès, at the foot of the Massif des Cévennes, on fairly poor chalky limestone soils at an average altitude of 150 to 200m which gives a slight mineral taste to the wine. Le Paradou Grenache made from Grenache sourced from Agly valley in the Roussillon combined with Grenache from Chateau Pesquié’s vineyards in the Ventoux.