Chenonceaux 2017 – Revisited
2017 will be remembered in too many parts of France for the severe late April frosts that slashed yields and dashed hopes of a successful season. The western Loire escaped relatively lightly, Touraine was more cruelly exposed to the wide plume of icy Scandinavian air and did not. In Chenonceaux wine growers estimated that up to half of their crop would be lost. It was a pleasure, therefore, to return to the region at the end of harvest and be met with relieved smiles. Crop levels are down, but quality is reassuringly promising.
Picking began earlier than in 2016. The red wine varieties, Côt and then Cabernet Franc kicked off from 6 September, with potential alcohol levels typically 12.5 to 13%, but up to 14% in some plots, together with decent phenolic ripeness. The Sauvignon Blanc followed a week or so later, again with some plots again recording a potential 14% alcohol. At this very early stage the reds look good, but the whites seem to be very good indeed.
I was privileged to be able to re-taste some of the wines we’d sampled during the AWE visit in July as well as a selection of other wines from the appellation. I am deeply grateful to François Desloges of the Domaine du Chapitre in Saint Romain sur Cher, for hosting the tasting and for Laurence Dinocheau of Vignoble Dinocheau and Luc Poullain of the Domaine des Echardières, the president of the Touraine Chenonceaux growers, who gave up valuable time to join us, to share their wines and provide some further fascinating insights into this exciting new appellation. My warmest thanks also go to Corinne Collain of AOC Touraine for her great kindness and generosity in coordinating the visit.
We began with five, white wines from the very successful 2015 harvest and then one each from 2014 and 2016. This was followed by three 2014 reds and one each from 2012 and 2015. What again struck me is that all the wines, red and white, show an immediately identifiable and distinct, indeed unique, family character. This very much a function of the particular geographical, geological and climatic characteristics of the appellation as by the broadly similar way in which the wines, especially the whites, are made.
François described the special characteristics of the Chenonceaux climate that have a clear impact on wine styles. It lies at the eastern limit of the maritime climate of the western Loire, cool, but by now, relatively dry westerly winds funnel down the Cher Valley because the main valley of the Loire turns north at Tours towards Blois and Orleans. The wind extends the ripening period and preserves freshness in the fruit, yet the relatively warm gravelly soils ensure that sugar levels are high as the figures for 2017 show. François pointed out that Sauvignon Blanc tends to ripen here one week ahead of Anjou but one week behind Sancerre.
As I noted in my earlier blog, the white wines are generally highly perfumed, with a marked emphasis on fruit and spice rather than strongly vegetal or leafy, aromas. These range from citrus, especially grapefruit, to green fruit – anything from green apple to greengages, and occasionally stone fruit. Some wines show a distinct spicy, peppery quality. Clearly wine-making choices impact on the aroma spectrum too: more reductive handling seems to give the wine a more obviously ‘mineral’ character. Acid levels are noticeably lower than a typical Marlborough Sauvignon, but fresher than in many a Sancerre. The extended lees-aging adds a creamy texture and the lower yields demanded by the appellation a degree of concentration absent in other Sauvignons from the Touraine.
The red wines are less homogenous, an inevitable result of differing proportions of Côt and Cabernet Franc in the blend (Côt must form at least 50%) and despite the stipulation that fruit rather than oak should dominate, some growers cannot resist the temptation to roll out a barrel or two. Other wine-making choices add further complexity. Luc Poullain, for example, uses a staged co-fermentation of the two varieties, beginning with the earlier-ripening, more reductive Malbec and then later adding the Cabernet Franc on top. His Domaine des Echardières ‘La Long Bec’ 2015 red has unusually silky tannins, in part, perhaps, as a consequence of this approach. It is also clear, as one might expect, that if there is a greater amount of clay in the soil its wines tend to have more body and structure.
One small but important correction to my earlier blog is that there are now 42 producers of Touraine Chenonceaux, not 30 as I stated in July. It is also good to see that contrary to my earlier more cautious assessment of the potential for the red wines on the export market, several are selling well in the UK including Luc’s La Long Bec 2016, which is now stocked by The Wine Society at £13.50.