• Saumur Blanc Royalty: Domaine Guiberteau

    Saumur Blanc Royalty: Domaine Guiberteau

    Visiting the Loire's Saumur for the first time, the idyllic, undulating hills perfectly matched my notion of pastoral France, but I didn't have a clue where to spot the grand terroir. Since the middle ages, the hill of Brézé was esteemed as any white wine terroir in France, but the secret was in the bedrock of this unassuming, gentle slope.

    The famed tuffeau limestone is the backbone of France's single most celebrated Chenin Blanc, Clos Rougeard's Brézé bottling, which often surpasses $400 per bottle. However, Romain Guiberteau's wines offer the ultimate intersection between this appellation's brilliance and value. Having mentored under the Foucault family, he's learned the secrets to capturing Chenin at its most crystalline and pure!

    The Guiberteau family has farmed Saumur's hill of Brézé for more than a century, but it was when Romain began implementing critical changes in farming that quality began to soar. Unlike neighboring appellations, where Chenin Blanc's rounded, overt orchard fruit dominates, the alkaline limestone soils in Saumur bring cut and lacy minerality, sharing more in common with Chablis and Champagne.

    Shop Domaine Guiberteau

    Posted by Max Kogod
  • Saumur Blanc Royalty: Domaine Guiberteau

    Saumur Blanc Royalty: Domaine Guiberteau

    Visiting the Loire's Saumur for the first time, the idyllic, undulating hills perfectly matched my notion of pastoral France, but I didn't have a clue where to spot the grand terroir. Since the middle ages, the hill of Brézé was esteemed as any white wine terroir in France, but the secret was in the bedrock of this unassuming, gentle slope.

    The famed tuffeau limestone is the backbone of France's single most celebrated Chenin Blanc, Clos Rougeard's Brézé bottling, which often surpasses $400 per bottle. However, Romain Guiberteau's wines offer the ultimate intersection between this appellation's brilliance and value. Having mentored under the Foucault family, he's learned the secrets to capturing Chenin at its most crystalline and pure!

    The Guiberteau family has farmed Saumur's hill of Brézé for more than a century, but it was when Romain began implementing critical changes in farming that quality began to soar. Unlike neighboring appellations, where Chenin Blanc's rounded, overt orchard fruit dominates, the alkaline limestone soils in Saumur bring cut and lacy minerality, sharing more in common with Chablis and Champagne.

    Shop Domaine Guiberteau

    Posted by Max Kogod
  • Saumur, make room for Chenin Blanc

    Saumur, make room for Chenin Blanc

    Previously, I wrote an offer for Thierry Germain's 2018 Saumur-Champigny Les Mémoires. I didn’t talk about his Saumur Chenin Blanc at the time, because it’s worthy of its own excavation. Germain is an heir of the Loire's cult producer Clos Rougeard, and he's made a name for himself as one of the top Biodynamic vignerons in France.

    Today, I'm happy to offer the 2015 Saumur Blanc Clos L'Echelier and 2017 Saumur Blanc Clos Roman.

    A 2015 Vinous review of Loire Chenin says that much of Saumur’s white varieties were ripped out in the 1960s to be replaced by Cabernet Franc. However, Germain owns a handful of small parcels in what should be considered historic sites (some with vines almost a century old).

    L'Echelier is Germain’s one-hectare, old-vine Chenin site in Dampierre-sur-Loire where the soils are enriched with Turonian limestone; the vineyard is contained by an ancient stone wall built 300 years ago. These 70-year-old Chenin vines that have stood the test of time are three decades older than the Cabernet Franc sharing the same parcel!

    Three kilometers east in Parnay, Clos Romans is the smallest (less than an acre) and most coveted of Germain’s parcels—some would go as far as to compare it to the grandeur of Corton-Charlemagne. The soils here change to Senonian limestone, and the stone wall is centuries older than the one at L'Echelier. Germain started replanting the vines after he purchased the site in 2007.

    As people become wiser with age, I find older vines to be more seasoned, expressing more pronounced aroma, body, and concentration. The 2015 L'Echelier has a warming herbal aroma reminiscent of lemon balm tea with a spoonful of honey. The wine starts out round with soft apple flesh, yellow florals and honeycomb, then a boost of acidity (a characteristic that I love about Chenin) streamlines the wine with pressing energy.

    However, I especially gravitated toward the 2017 Clos Romans for its sheer sense of composure and focus. The aromas are of pollen and dried honeycomb, and there’s more vibrant springtime on the palate with budding wildflowers, salty minerality, and underripe lemon. It’s a quiet wine that opens up more and more with time, and knowing that this vineyard is in good hands, I’m eager to see how Clos Roman will continue to develop in the coming years.

    Loire’s high-acid, mineral-driven Chenin is much like dry German Riesling or, even, young Chablis. I like drinking White Burgundy as much as the next person, but for my budget, the next French region I happily turn to for white wine is the Loire. Germain is an excellent reference point for the magic happening in Saumur and, arguably, in the ranks of France's most dynamic vignerons.

    Posted by Sydney Love
  • 2014 Château de Brézé:  Saumur Soaring

    2014 Château de Brézé: Saumur Soaring

    A May 2016 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 2014's really drove home the point that this estate is now a top benchmark of Saumur.

    The 2014 was 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 now the cat is out of the bag.

    Arnaud Lambert 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 nine 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 woody quality 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 notes are met with brown spices, orange zest, and chalky minerality.

    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.

    Clos David is sourced from a parcel of pure sand and gravelly limestone. A cool site that never develops botrytis, and sand gives an elegance to this wine that stands out.

    Clos de la Rue is 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.
    Posted by Alexander Rosen
  • Two Ends of the Chenin Blanc Spectrum

    Two Ends of the Chenin Blanc Spectrum

    The diversity within the range of styles of Loire Valley Chenin Blanc is something that fascinates us to no end. On a recent trip we visited two particular producers who accentuate this truth in show stopping fashion. Today we focus on two very different sides to the Chenin Blanc coin.

    It is only 25 miles that separate Saumur from Anjou, but the styles of Chenin Blanc seem worlds apart. Terroir plays a large role, but we also found that winemaking philosophy and technique is a pivotal element in what distinguishing these stunning wines.

    Arnaud Lambert has resurrected the Chateau 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 seven 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 it's bright, linear, and more crystalline characteristics. The top whites here see some new French oak, but the flavor is nearly imperceptible, as fruit from these sites absorbs any wood quality that may otherwise stand out. While most wines in the appellation showcase fresh orchard fruit notes, those of Chateau Brézé have a deep layered texture to them with an impressive array of tertiary qualities. 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 marked a defining moment for the domaine, as their top two wines offered today resemble the glory of what once graced the tables of kings and queens throughout the continent.

    2012 Chateau de Brézé Saumur Clos de la Rue $53.95
    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.

    If Chateau de Brézé is a reflection of the grand achievements of centuries past in the Loire, then Kenji and Mai Hodgson serve as stark reminders of what thrilling heights await us as we look toward the future. The couple, originally from British Columbia, have an adventurous spirit that embodies what's so exciting about today's Loire Valley.

    They produce wines under the Vin de France (VDF) designation which allow them to essentially ignore the archaic requirements set by local appellation laws, like those of Anjou. While the VDF designation was once commonly thought of as the lowest generic label, today it is used by hundreds who find its flexibility a blessing that allows them to craft the wines of their dreams. And believe me, with the 2014 Les Aussigouins Kenji and Mai landed on cloud nine.

    In Vancouver it proved nearly impossible for the Japanese-Canadians to rely on organically farmed sources of grapes, and land was too expensive to buy outright. They took a giant leap and moved to the Loire without a grasp of French, but what they lacked in language they made up for in sheer determination. After four years they finally made their mark thanks in large part to the generosity and mentorship of iconic producers in the region like Richard Leroy and Mark Angeli.

    2014 Vins Hodgson Les Aussignouins VDF $43.95
    Les Aussignouins is sourced from vines in the famed Montbenault vineyard that Richard Leroy has drawn a spotlight to over the last few years. While Leroy's wines are doled out in 6 bottle allocations per year (if you're lucky!), Hodgson's version just landed this month in the US for the first time ever, and while quantities are small, we took a rather large slice.

    Specifically, the Montbenault vineyard is located within Coteaux du Layon Faye de Anjou. The Chenin Blanc here is grown on volcanic rhuloite rock and differs dramatically from the limestone-dominant Saumur vineyards. The winemaking decisions here are quite different, as well. Malolactic fermentation is uninterrupted, zero sulphur is used, and the wines age for a rather short period of time in neutral oak barrels, before going into tank and then bottle.

    Les Aussignouins has a broad texture, giving rich golden orchard fruits, and a distinct honeyed quality. What impressed so much at our visit was how perfectly balanced this wine was. It had the purity and laser-like focus of the Saumur wines, but with wild exotic fruit notes and concentrated savory spices on the ultra-long finish. I must have revisited this wine three more times when I was traveling in France and each time was more blown away. Of all the wines of Vins Hodgson this is the one we knew we had to go deep on.

    Posted by Max Kogod