“Vin de plaisir! Lovely, bright, unfiltered color. Loaded with aroma and flavor. Intense, rambunctious fruit, as in crunchy, thick-skinned, tiny purple / black grapes. For newcomers, Bourgueil is across the Loire from Chinon. This is 100% Cabernet Franc from a sun-soaked parcel. ‘Les Alouettes’ is Boucard’s cuvée that requires no aging. Enjoy it starting now.” — Kermit Lynch on the 1996 Cuvée Alouettes
About thirty miles downriver of Vouvray lies the sleepy town of Bourgueil, where Cabernet Franc reigns. Thierry Boucard represents the seventh generation of his family to run Domaine de la Chanteleuserie, an estate blessed with some of the appellation’s finest parcels. From their south-facing limestone sites, in fact, Thierry and his forebears have produced beautifully nuanced Bourgueils with the structure to age for decades in bottle. The Cuvée Alouettes, however, comes from sandier soils, which tend to yield softer wines with very supple tannins—perfect for drinking young. Since it’s similar in style and price to an easy-drinking Beaujolais Villages, you’ll want to drink it chilled and, likely, in one sitting. Unlike with other quaffers, though, you can expect a little extra brawn and woodsy fruits like cassis and plum. It saw fermentation and aging in stainless steel to preserve maximum aromas of fresh fruit, and the aromatics are not lacking: wild berries jump out of the glass invitingly, while a peppery note adds an earthy twist. The gentle finish makes a chilled glass oh-so gulpable alongside picnic fare, lunch, or a BLT.
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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