The siege is over at last. After years of asking Thierry and Christine Boucard for their lone cuvée from Saint-Nicolas-de-Bourgueil, they have finally sent us a small shipment. You might have two questions: Why not until now? And what makes their Saint-Nicolas-de-Bourgueil wine different from their Bourgueil bottlings? To answer the first: the appetite in France for great wines from the Saint-Nicolas-de-Bourgueil appellation has been ravenous and the Boucards have made just enough of this wine to satisfy their compatriots. Besides, they have kept us more than happy with their Bourgueil AOC cuvées, some of the most dependable and delicious values we import, so we couldn’t really complain. Which brings me to answer the second question: what’s different about this wine? Saint-Nicolas-de-Bourgueil lies just to the west of Bourgueil, home to the rest of the Boucards’ wines, all made from Cabernet Franc. The Bourgueil “Beauvais” comes from a clay-and-limestone terroir that is seen as an unofficial grand cru by the local producers. It is the most structured and built for the (very) long haul. The Bourgueil “Alouettes,” meanwhile, with its bright red fruit and soft tannins, screams “dangerously downable bistro wine!” Our new cuvée, the Saint-Nicolas-de-Bourgueil “Irène”, comes from 30-year-old vines in sandy gravel and achieves an irresistible balance between the two Bourgueils. With blackberries, blueberries, graphite, and pine rising seductively from the glass, it has the inherent charm to drink beautifully on its own, but it also has the spine and finesse to stand up to roast meats, braises, stews, and grilled vegetables. A dual threat, in other words. If you want to experience the evolution of this outstanding value, I suggest getting six bottles or a case to enjoy its progress over the next three years. You’ll be amazed by what’s in your glass and what you paid for it.
Just outside of the village of Benais, in the heart of the Touraine, sits lovely Domaine de la Chanteleuserie. This “place where the larks sing,” as the name means, is perched on a limestone plateau in an idyllic landscape. Moise Boucard, a vigneron whom Kermit discovered in 1976, has not only given his good sense of humor and modesty to his son, Thierry, but his winemaking skills, too. This is the land of Cabernet Franc, and Thierry makes pure varietal wines. Bourgueil is among the most age-worthy of the Loire Valley’s reds, and Chanteleuserie’s are no exception: their 1976 still drinks well today! These structured wines also have a suppleness and generosity of fruit that set them apart from most wines produced in the area today.
The defining feature of the Loire Valley, not surprisingly, is the Loire River. As the longest river in France, spanning more than 600 miles, this river connects seemingly disparate wine regions. Why else would Sancerre, with its Kimmeridgian limestone terroir be connected to Muscadet, an appellation that is 250 miles away?
Secondary in relevance to the historical, climatic, environmental, and cultural importance of the river are the wines and châteaux of the Jardin de la France. The kings and nobility of France built many hundreds of châteaux in the Loire but wine preceded the arrival of the noblesse and has since out-lived them as well.
Diversity abounds in the Loire. The aforementioned Kimmderidgian limestone of Sancerre is also found in Chablis. Chinon, Bourgueil, and Saumur boast the presence of tuffeau, a type of limestone unique to the Loire that has a yellowish tinge and a chalky texture. Savennières has schist, while Muscadet has volcanic, granite, and serpentinite based soils. In addition to geologic diversity, many, grape varieties are grown there too: Cabernet Franc, Chenin Blanc, Sauvignon Blanc, and Melon de Bourgogne are most prevalent, but (to name a few) Pinot Gris, Grolleau, Pinot Noir, Pineau d’Aunis, and Folle Blanche are also planted. These myriad of viticultural influences leads to the high quality production of every type of wine: red, white, rosé, sparkling, and dessert.
Like the Rhône and Provence, some of Kermit’s first imports came from the Loire, most notably the wines of Charles Joguet and Château d’Epiré—two producers who are featured in Kermit’s book Adventures on the Wine Route and with whom we still work today.
Trust the great winemakers, trust the great vineyards. Your wine merchant might even be trustworthy. In the long run, that vintage strip may be the least important guide to quality on your bottle of wine.—Kermit Lynch
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