The most significant domaine I visited in the Loire this spring was Bernard Baudry in Chinon. When Max decided to open a wine shop, in 2015, it was producers like Baudry that exemplified the soul of KWM’s selection: “Great people doing the hard work and expressing terroir as thoughtfully as possible,” Max explained to me. “And on top of that, the wines are pure, delicious, and have masterful structure and finesse.”
Coming from a long line of winegrowers, Bernard Baudry left his family’s domaine to set out on his own. In 1975, he started by purchasing Les Grézeaux and slowly expanded to what’s now 30 hectares spread across Chinon. They are deeply interested in “making wines according to the soil,” as Bernard’s son, Matthieu, put it. He joined his father in 2001 and now oversees the winemaking. Over nearly five decades, the Baudry’s have closely studied their landscape through vinification parcellaire, or parcel by parcel, with each cuvée capturing its soil and terroir.
Le Grezeaux, the vineyard where everything began, sits closest to the Vienne river, on gravel soils with rocks and clay, while the entry-level cuvée, Le Domaine is at the very top of the plateau, where there is a mix of sand and clay over limestone. Le Grezeaux’s gravel soils yield supple body and concentration with silky tannins, while the Le Domaine has chalky minerality and freshness due to the limestone.
Clos Guillot is unto itself, in the middle of the slope, where Chinon’s limestone is most prominent. “Limestone is what I call the white gold,” Matthieu declared. Well, in this case, the limestone is actually yellow. Clos Guillot combines rich red fruit and striking minerality, power and elegance, making it the most ageable of the three rouge cuvées here today. We rarely compare Chinon to Burgundy, but Clos Guillot's uniquely similar soil type has transparency and finesse in line with the Côte d'Or.
In my earlier offer for Domaine de la Chevalerie, I mentioned Bourgueil and Chinon are more alike than different. Matthieu admitted to this, explaining that his wines can be more reminiscent of certain Bourgueil producers than Chinon neighbors who farm with pesticides. Still, the latter is considered the Loire’s top appellation for Cabernet Franc. Importer Kermit Lynch has much to do with Chinon’s star power, according to Rajat Parr and Jordan Mackay's The Sommelier’s Atlas of Taste (2018). It was the 1989 vintage that Kermit Lynch first began importing Baudry to the U.S. market.
If there is any Chinon producer to add to your cellar, we would argue that it is Baudry. Our operations director, Marc, blinded us on a bottle of 2012 Le Domaine. Its peppery notes gave away that it was Cabernet Franc, but I was astounded to find it was Chinon. Looking back, these wines have the grandeur of Bordeaux but elegance and freshness undoubtedly tied to the Loire. In a decade, this entry-level wine had preserved its youthfulness with incredible grace. The fact that these wines are so reasonably priced rank them among the best-valued Cabernet Francs in the world.
Earlier this year, as I planned out my trip to the Central Loire, Max had one request—that I visit Domaine de la Chevalerie in Bourgueil. He had read about this winery in Rajat Parr and Jordan McKay’s The Sommelier’s Atlas of Taste (2018), which says “this little-known domaine makes some of the best Cabernet Francs in the world,” and insisted that I add it to my list. Following the visit with Thierry Germain in Saumur, I enjoyed the most delicious, picturesque lunch at Le Terrier du Château, overlooking the centuries-old Château de Saumur, then drove 30 kilometers to the right bank of the Loire, heading toward Bourgueil.
The Caslot family, owners of Domaine de la Chevalerie, has been making wine in Bourgueil since 1640. Siblings Emmanuel, Stéphanie, and Laurie were the 14th generation to oversee the domaine, starting in the early aughts. Their father’s last request upon retiring was that the vineyards be converted to organic farming, and now, the estate is certified, as well as in biodynamics. Sadly, Stéphanie and their father have since passed away, but the Caslot family continues to make traditional Cabernet Francs for an incredibly affordable price, considering the amount of care that goes into bottle.
Bourgueil is one of few appellations in the Loire to focus almost entirely on Cabernet Franc. Though the terroir is similar to Chinon and Saumur, Bourgueil’s south-facing exposure to the Loire River makes for the most maritime climate. Here, Cabernet Franc reveals raspberry and blackberry fruit, earthy and herbaceous notes, and immense structure. Sharing the same name as the domaine, the Caslots’ “Chevalerie” cuvée comes from a parcel first planted in 1893, with vine age averaging 70 years old. It’s situated mid-slope, at the heart of the estate, on clay overlying the estate’s largest outcropping of tuffeau limestone.
“A lot of people think Cabernet Franc from Bourgeil is just interesting to drink young, but we think [that] is wrong and like to show the potential of aging,” said Laurie, my tour guide for the afternoon. All of the wineries that I visited had ancient underground cellars, but Domaine de la Chevalerie’s was hands down the most massive. Having this much space allows them to hold onto their wines for extended amounts of time, and they only release bottles deemed ready to drink. 2014 is believed to be the last “classic” vintage to yield perfectly balanced wines. Today, Chevalerie’s namesake cuvée is a pure delight, though it's sure to evolve in the years to come. At $35 per bottle, the value is simply unbeatable!
In March, I made my first pilgrimage to La Dive Bouteille, where natural wine devotees from across the globe gather to catch a glimpse of the world’s most famous natural winemakers. Luckily for me, La Dive takes place in my favorite appellation in the Loire: Saumur. The trip wouldn’t have been complete without a visit to Domaine des Roches Neuves.
A protégé of Clos Rougeard's Charly Foucault, Thierry Germain has been practicing Biodynamics for over two decades. He is considered one of the greatest Biodynamic vigerons in France and a benchmark for the Loire. Thierry and his son Louis were amazing hosts. Our tour included a walkthrough of the winery and ancient underground cellar, followed by a detailed tasting of the Roches Neuves lineup. They have over 60 parcels throughout Saumur, but today’s offer spotlights their top Cabernet Franc.
In Saumur, the style has drastically shifted from the power of Bordeaux to the elegance of Red Burgundy. (Most domaines only perform pump-overs during fermentation to avoid extracting too many tannins). Roches Neuves especially plays up this variety's fresh streak and rose florals. Planted in 1904, Les Mémoires comes the Germain family's oldest vines and yields a soulfully deep, balanced Cabernet Franc. In addition to the typical clay and tuffeau limestone soils, there is also some flint here, which Louis believes further adds to the wine's strength and composure.
These Cabernet Francs and Chenins walk a fine balance of ripeness, freshness, and underlying tension to drive it all home—to be enjoyed now or years down the road. With time in bottle, the wines have transformational aging capabilities like the best of Burgundy. There are many great producers throughout the Loire, but Thierry remains one of the very best.
If Thibaud Boudignon's Chenin Blancs are the lightning of Anjou, then his rosé brings the thunder. Here lies a prime example of how Cabernet Franc-based rosé can still be true to the variety, with crunchy, dark fruit notes, electric tones, and minerality often elusive in these parts (Direct pressing still keeps this rosé ultra pale, though). The unusual melding of a cotton candy element with a healthy dose of sea salt makes this one of the most irresistible pinks.
A June 2016 visit to Boudignon's estate on the outskirts of Savennières left a lasting impression. He's shaking things up in Central Loire, shifting the conversation on everything from aging vessels to picking dates and fermentation philosophy. In short, Boudignon's Chenins re-define Anjou, and his rosé carries that same hallmark of verve. Provence usually gets the spotlight during rosé season, but the Loire delivers just as much refreshment!
Loire Chenin produced in the most natural method is something I'm always excited to taste. The bar for excellence is high, as only the most skilled viticulture can turn out these complex and high-wire achievements. That's why my interest was piqued when Chateau de Bonnezeaux's importer announced a new name in its portfolio.
Olivier Lejeune, like Guyonne Saclier de la Bâtie of Bonnezeaux, worked alongside the legendary Mark Angeli at Ferme de la Sansonniere, where Lejeune learned the skills to produce Anjou wines with minimal intervention. Lejeune's two cuvées offer terrific value: Both explode on the palate with soft texture and open-knit fruit met with a mineral grip and tingling finish that saturate the palate.
The Chenin Blanc shows ripe orchard fruits and honeysuckle cut with lemon citrus notes that switch this broad attack of ripeness into a mineral delivery system masterpiece. The natural element is abundantly clear with its cardamom spices fully enveloped under a strict spine of chalk and schist-derived minerality.
This importer's portfolio also includes names like Roumier, Roulot, and D'Angerville, and it's exciting to see the juxtaposition of more natural-minded producers coming to the forefront. If there's one new name to familiarize yourself with after the Bonnezeaux wines have sold out, it would be Lejeune's lineup.