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.
Thivin's Côte de Brouilly has been a staple in our Cru Beaujolais category since day one. The value at $32 per bottle is always refreshing, as top producers in the region continue to climb. These 50-year-old vines are situated on blue volcanic soil and an unusually steep 48% grade slope. There's a blue-fruited quality to the Gamay that leads one to believe terroir can impart an undeniable sense of place.
Château Thivin’s roots date back to the 15th century, though it was in 1877 when Zaccharie Geoffrey purchased the two-hectare estate at auction that it began as we know it today. Geoffrey's grandson, Claude, was pivotal in creating the Côte de Brouilly appellation during the great depression, and the family has continued the production of this benchmark Côte de Brouilly. Kermit Lynch visited the domaine during his first trip on the wine route with Richard Olney in 1976.
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.
While Beaujolais red wines have always been a cornerstone, the region's more limited-production rosés never quite made the cut. That all changed when Kermit Lynch asked Château Thivin (our favorite producer in Côte de Brouilly) for a small amount of their rosé for California. From a single hectare of vines planted on pink granite atop the steep slopes of an ancient volcano—this is not your standard rosé.
Pink granite and sand surround the ancient Mont Brouilly volcano, and here, on some of the steepest slopes in the region, Gamay is endowed with purple-toned fruits and wild lavender notes. I was hesitant before tasting, imagining those very bouncy and fruit-forward Gamay traits wouldn’t translate to the crisp and mineral personality I look, but Thivin's rosé has a great sense of salinity and freshness.
This rosé of Gamay is sourced from one hectare of 50-year-old vines. Grapes are pressed immediately giving just a slightly pink hue. The wine is fermented with native yeasts, goes through full malolactic, and spends its life in stainless steel prior to bottling. As a result, it's a snappy and lively rosé that finishes with salty punctuation.
This two-hectare was purchased at auction by Zaccharie Geoffrey in 1877. His grandson, Claude, was pivotal in the creation of the Côte de Brouilly appellation during the great depression. Now, his grandnephew, also Claude, his wife Evelyn, and their son Claude-Edouard are behind the production of this benchmark. Kermit Lynch visited the domaine during his first trip on the wine route with Richard Olney in 1976.
The driving force behind Quintarelli’s wines is a superhuman dose of patience. Kermit Lynch has imported these wines from the hillsides above Verona for nearly a decade now. "Every release is a masterpiece, a testament to time, tradition, skill, and passion, the creations of a master artisan," he says. "You can’t compare these wines to any other in the region, or anywhere else in the world." Powerful structure and dazzling complexity are the hallmarks of capable producers in Veneto. However, only a true master such as Quintarelli achieves the levels of finesse and grace that allow their wines to transcend even the greatest expectations of their region.
During harvest, Quintarelli makes multiple passes through each vineyard section, only selecting fully ripe clusters. At least half of the grapes lay out to dry on straw mats for months before fermenting at a glacial pace and resting in barrel. Two years of aging are required for Amarone (4 years for Amarone Riserva), and Quintarelli goes above and beyond, as they elect to age most of their wines for seven years or more in oak. The wild berry preserves, dusky florals, and rich spice notes are a common thread in these wines, but the extra care and aging found nowhere else give them a gear of finesse and grace that only Quintarelli knows how to access.