Loire Valley and the Nicolas Joly Winery
Holy vache, did Jeremy Parzen and I have a good ol' time in France! His band, Nous Non Plus, had a 5-gig tour in France and New York, so I offered my services as number #1 groupie and tagged along. I'll blog about the music later, but the priority here is our 24 hour wine jaunt to the Loire Valley. Each of us alone is quite wine geeky, put us together in a couple and there was no place to go but Savennières.
After a fantastic display of my very own signature badgering, Jeremy agreed to take me. It was a toss-up between Chablis and Savennières...so we decided the first winery to respond would be our destination.
Virginie, Nicolas Joly's daughter responded right away, no doubt thanks to Mr. DoBianchi.
It was rainy and cool, and the plains of the Parisian periphery slowly gave way to the rolling hills surrounding our destination. Arriving in Angers, we abandoned the autostrada for the smaller roads leading to the wine country where there were signs reading Bouchemaine, La Pointe, and Epiré.
The sky started to clear upon our arrival at the Joly property. We were greeted by the young, energetic, and super-knowledgeable Virginie who wasted no time in pouring us wine.
The first wine was the Le Vieux Clos, which is their entry-level Savennières AOC, though all of the grapes are estate-grown. Jeremy asked her if this one was exported to the states, because neither of us had heard of this particular bottling. She explained that for some reason, the importer thought that the word "vieux" wouldn't be appreciated in the States, so this one is known as "Les Clos Sacrés" in the USA. The soil composition under these vines is entirely sandy, and some of the clusters are naturally infected with botrytis.
**Just a break for explanation here...it is very often erroneously reported that Joly's wines are oxidized. This just ain't true, for the love of biodynamic bacchus! All of his wines are botrytized, to varying degrees, which gives them that unctuous honeyed nose, and later the golden color that could be easily mistaken for oxidation.**
Anyway, wine #2 was the mid-level Clos de la Bergerie from the Roche-aux-Moines AOC. The vines from this vineyard grow in about 30 cm of sand before they have the strain of brown slate. There is more botrytis, and the vines are just a bit older. That pic to the right is the Bergerie vineyard cooling under a fitfully shining sunset.
Wine #3...drum roll please...was the Coulée de Serrant AOC. This vineyard is composed entirely of brown slate and is planted on a steep slope. The word Coulée refers to a small valley,** and Serrant is the name of a castle nearby, whose inhabitants donated much of the funds to plant the vineyards many many years ago. The Joly family purchased the entire estate in the 60s, and the Coulée de Serrant appellation is exclusive to this property (that's it in the pic below). Look ma, our very own AOC! Can you imagine? (BTW--Clos de la Bergerie is shared among 5ish producers.)
Virginie patiently answered ALL of our questions (we were quite the curious duo), and explained that the most important aspect of her father's wines is the foundation of minerality, which the brown slate supports. Chenin Blanc (my favorite white varietal), in my experience, has a characteristic nuttiness supported by don't-mess-with-me-while-I'm-getting-ready acidity.
Speaking of, the line-up was from the '07 vintage which is SO not ready to be drunk yet. It nearly split my tongue in two with its bracing acidity. Not to say that the wines weren't fantastic! They just need to hang out in their bottles for a bit. Two things give wine endurance to age: tannin and acid. The latter is the reason that Joly's wines, as well as most other Savennières/Chenin-based wines, are so incredibly long-lived.
There was an interesting twist to our tasting, though. All of the wines had been open since Saturday (we were there on a Thursday) and they were still alive! Many claim that Joly's wines should be decanted for as long before drinking. We were quite surprised when she shared this info with us at the end of the tasting.
BUT, there were TWO bottles of Coulée de Serrant on the table. The second, she disclosed, had been open for a few hours. There was a difference. The 5-day-old Coulée was still very vibrant, but the fresher bottle showed more umph and fruit, the complexity was more apparent. (Brooklynguy did a post on these wines with a similar experiment.)
Still reading? Thanks Mom! Here are some more images from the visit and our muddy stroll 'round the vineyards:That's Virginie practicing patience avec moi in the aging room. They use their barrels for many years, keeping the wood from ruining the wine with its scene-stealing presence.
It's my partner in wine crime...isn't he adorable? And just look at that chicken crossing the road! Don't you want to make a yolk?
That is a gnarly old Chenin Blanc vine, 80-90 years old, to be inexact. There are a couple of rows of these at the bottom of the Coulée de Serrant hill. They use them for cuttings, as they are "so used to growing in this terroir." They produce a couple of clusters every year, though, which go into the CdS mix. Wow. I hope you know that I risked a soggy muddy bottom climbing up the hill to take this picture...the things we do for love!
So that's it (really?!) for the Savennières tour. We had a blast and we are grateful to Virginie for putting up with us and being such a great host!
Stay tuned for Loire Valley Part Deux: Our Queasy Quartes-du-Chaume Drive-by...
**Info provided by Virginie, and she knows everything!