Last May's visit to the Loire Valley brought a wide array of discoveries, but the visit that left the most indelible mark was with Arnaud Lambert at Château de Brézé in Saumur. I had been familiar with their 2012 vintage, however what we tasted from the yet-to-be-released 2014's was something that's put my eye on the calendar for a year now.
Today the 2014 vintage has been released, one where Saumur strived and where Chenin Blanc from an estate dating back to the 1400's was executed brilliantly. The 2014's from Lambert are among the most thrilling white wines produced anywhere in France, but the cat is out of the bag.
Arnaud Lambert has resurrected the Château de Brézé of Saumur, a domaine praised for their Chenin Blanc wines as far back as the 15th century where they were served at royal courts throughout Europe. Regularly the Chateau would exchange their wines with those of the revered Château d'Yquem of Bordeaux. And today it is a UNESCO World Heritage site.
As times passed and industrialism gave way to quick fixes in the vineyards (herbicides, pesticides) to ensure high yields and minimize the need for hand work the Chateau de Brézé lost something. Recruited in 2009, Lambert has spent the last eight years finding the magic by going back to the roots. Lambert immediately converted to organic farming, drastically reduced yields, and has started to incorporate biodynamic principals.
Saumur's high concentration of tuffeau limestone, and its active calcium content, has long delivered wines of striking purity and elegance. Winemaking styles here lead most producers to block malolactic fermentation, which help Chenin Blanc preserve its bright, linear, and more crystalline traits. The top whites here see some new French oak, but the flavor is nearly imperceptible, as fruit from these sites absorbs any woodyquality that may otherwise stand out. While most wines in the appellation showcase fresh orchard fruit notes, those of Chateau Brézé have a deep textural element and persistent finish that strikingly stand out from their neighbors. The poached pear and quince flavors are met with brown spices, orange zest, and chalky minerality.
Lambert would be the first to tell you that it was not an overnight change that has made these wines what they are today. It was a few years of intense vineyard management that has finally brought quality up to such a high level. 2012 was indeed a pivotal moment for the domaine, but in 2014 the greatness of this hallowed site has been fully realized.
Today offered are the two top wines of the estate, both evoking the glory of what once graced the tables of kings and queens throughout the continent.
2014 Chateau de Brézé Clos David $33
2012 Chateau de Brézé Clos David $38
From pure sand and gravelly limestone. A cool site that never develops botrytis, and sand gives an elegance to this wine that stands out.
2014 Chateau de Brézé Saumur Clos de la Rue $50
2012 Chateau de Brézé Saumur Clos de la Rue $55
The top wine of the domaine. From the warmest vineyard on the hill of Brézé, and protected from the gusts of wind that regularly zip throughout vine rows. Sandy limestone at the top of the hill, with clay underneath gives richness, power, and deep texture.