From their perch in a vineyard overlooking the Loire River, the ancient Cabernet Franc vines that go into Thierry Germain’s Les Mémoires sit deeply rooted in the Loire valley’s signature limestone tuffeau. My tasting note included the phrase “rapturous raspberry fruit,” which now looks a bit silly in the harsh light of my computer screen, but really does describe the vividness of my impression. And not only raspberries, but blood orange, fine tannins, and incredible minerality. The stone that once built a château now fills bottles.
Thierry relocated to the Loire from Bordeaux in the early 1990s, and soon fell under the influence of his spiritual father, Charly Foucault of Clos Rougeard. Thierry would ultimately convert his entire domaine to biodynamic viticulture, which was the equivalent of his wine epiphany. Listening and observing his plants, allowing them to guide him, revolutionized his way of thinking. Thierry harvests on the relatively early side to preserve fresh, vibrant fruit. His goal is to produce Cabernet with purity, finesse, and drinkability, while avoiding rusticity, vegetal character, and hard tannins. When it comes to his Chenin, he makes bone dry, high acid, mineral wines that drink like Chablis young and take on weight slowly over time. Aging takes place in large oval foudres (for the whites) and round foudres and demi-muids (for the reds) in Thierry’s frigid tuffeau cellars below his winery in Varrains. His incredibly diverse terroirs are translated with utter clarity and precision.
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.
For the wines that I buy I insist that the winemaker leave them whole, intact. I go into the cellars now and select specific barrels or cuvées, and I request that they be bottled without stripping them with filters or other devices. This means that many of our wines will arrive with a smudge of sediment and will throw a more important deposit as time goes by, It also means the wine will taste better.
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