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.
In Châteauneuf du Pape, walking the fine line between elegance and rusticity is difficult, but Domaine Pégau embodies the precision of this balance like none other. Their progression over the last ten years to highlight a more lifted style while maintaining a sense of opulence is a hot topic for lovers of the Southern Rhône Valley. While the estate produces several cuvées, their Cuvée Réservée fulfills the best value and sharpest focus on this fabled terroir.
The Reservée has always been the prime CdP for value, but Laurence's recent move to raise the Grenache and lower the Syrah percentage in the blend has done wonders for its clarity and persistence. Licorice, dark fruits, woodsmoke, game, and wild garrigue are hallmarks of every bottle of CdP. Pégau captures these notes with an impressive mineral streak and fine-grained tannins that stand out from the pack. A rack of lamb alongside Pégau has become one of my ultimate pleasures.
Laurence Féraud works with her father, Paul, in carrying on a steep tradition started by their ancestors in 1607. The backbone of the estate is their old Grenache plantings dating back to 1907 in the famed La Crau vineyard, where limestone mother rock sits below the iconic, round galet river stones. They use whole clusters for vinification, and the wines age in large foudres crafted nearly a century ago. Both elements are crucial in preserving a sense of vibrancy in their Grenache-dominant blends.
Truth be told, the Southern Rhône pulled me into France way back when I was finishing college. Today, I pull bottles from this region with much less regularity—much of that has to do with producers chasing after power and points. However, Pégau never succumbed to altering their methods. I can't tell you how refreshing it is to have a select few producers that still makes wines that they love to drink and their ancestors would be proud of today. Pégau is everything sacred about tradition and should be celebrated as often as possible.
Two weeks ago, I wrote about my visit to Domaine des Roches Neuves, highlighting their top, old-vine Cabernet Franc named Les Mémoires. I'm circling back since the Chenin Blancs deserve their own spotlight. A protégé of Clos Rougeard's Charly Foucault, Thierry Germain has been practicing Biodynamics for over two decades and is now a benchmark for the Loire.
Germain's Chenins are marked by rich concentration and mouth-watering acidity—so much so that we tasted them after the Cabernet Francs. Clos Romans is considerably young, as it was re-planted in 2007, but don’t let that fool you. This 0.3-hectare parcel produces Germain’s most promising and coveted cuvée. Some enthusiasts have gone as far as to compare its grandeur to Burgundy’s Corton-Charlemagne. At this site, the dense limestone soils pulverized into a chalk-like form express a salty minerality in the wine. This insider cuvée continues to creep up in price, but Germain's son, Louis, argues that the 2020 vintage is one of the best renditions they’ve produced. If that price tag is still too steep, the Clos du Moulin is a great alternative, as it comes from a neighboring parcel.
Across the board, these Chenins and Cabernet Francs 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 Germain remains one of the very best.
Burgundy's backcountry has many hidden treasures, including Guilhem and Jean-Hugues Goisot, based outside of Chablis. Jean-Hugues Goisot was one of Burgundy's first adopters of biodynamic viticulture, and his son Guillaume carries on the same commitment to natural practices. The pricing also strengthens the argument quite a bit.
Goisot's extremely sharp pricing is a product of its appellation, Saint-Bris, banished from Chablis in the late 19th century due to phylloxera decimating its vineyards. Still, Kimmeridgian limestone and clay soil are the foundation here, like in Chablis, instilling oyster shell and overtly mineral accents to the wines.
Only Sauvignon Blanc can be labeled as Saint-Bris, so Chardonnay here falls under Bourgogne Côtes d'Auxerre. It's not as rough as a Vin de France exile, but this obscure zone has prevented top Chardonnay vineyards from getting proper recognition. Nonetheless, the Goisot wines are sought after with a fervent zeal in France!
"The world of Savoie wine would be much poorer without him and owes him a bigger debt of gratitude than is evidenced today. I salute you, Michel." — Wink Lorch, Wines of the French Alps
Last week, I wrote about Les Mémoires, Thierry Germain’s soulful, old-vine Cabernet Franc. I’m switching gears today and heading to the French Alps. If you enjoy white wines from the Jura but haven’t dipped into Savoie, you're missing out. One of the most important names to know is Michel Grisard.
This vigneron started Prieuré Saint-Christophe in the late 1970s, after running his family's domaine for a decade. His new sole intention was to produce high-quality, ageable Mondeuse, a powerfully deep red grape variety native to the area. Grisard succeeded but didn’t stop there: He was the Savoie’s first vigneron to adopt Biodynamics, played a key role in the local movement to revive the region’s many abandoned vineyards, by replanting them with indigenous varieties, and he also founded Domaine des Ardoisières.
Grisard devoted his career to championing Savoie, and the wine region is as popular as ever, largely thanks to his pioneering work. He retired after the 2014 vintage and gave his vineyards to the Giachino brothers (Currently my favorite producer in the Savoie). They have carried on Grisard's legacy and continue to produce wines from his former estate under the Prieuré Saint-Christophe label.
In addition to Mondeuse, Grisard also planted 1.4 hectares of Altesse—the finest indigenous white grape variety of Savoie, according to Wink Lorch, author of Wines of the French Alps. (If you don’t know about Lorch, she is a leading expert on this alpine region). Comparable to Burgundy’s Aligoté or Italy’s Trebbiano, Altesse offers an intriguing concentration of fruit with floral and nutty tones.
From the foothills of the Massif des Bauges, on clay and limestone soils, this estate produces one of the most linear examples of Altesse we’ve encountered. It interplays succulent pear with striking minerality, and a slight texture of fresh almond—a pleasing combination that’s compelling and delicious. The wine spontaneously ferments and ages in large oak casks to avoid any oak flavors.