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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!


Blogger Brooklynguy said...

hi tracie B - thanks for this great report. the oxidization vs. botrytis idea is interesting. i'm not entirely convinced though - although they may not make the wine in an oxiditive style (not topping up the barrels, certain kinds of presses, lots of lees stirring, ie), the wines that I've tasted do show an oxidative character. i happen to like that, but not everyone does. could it be something that happens after the wines are in bottle...

did you taste older vintages?

2/18/2009 9:31 AM

Blogger Unknown said...


2/18/2009 12:11 PM

Anonymous Anonymous said...

fantastic post. a long-time favorite of mine. I'll never forget my first clos Sacrés. It was sent back by a patron that didn't "get" the wine. one man gathers what another man spills. great shots! thanks!

2/18/2009 2:26 PM

Anonymous Anonymous said...

Great post. I'm jealous, too.

When I was in the Dordogne last May, I had a bottle of 2005 Le Vieux Clos; I too had never heard of it - so a thank you for the explanation!

2/18/2009 5:48 PM

Blogger Sicilian said...

How fun. . . . and your post was very informative. . .

2/18/2009 7:47 PM

Blogger Tracie P. said...

brooklynguy--hey there, thanks for visiting...virginie insists that they're not oxidized. there is some lees stirring, and chenin always tends to have a little nuttiness, which is really brought to the front in his wines. these aspects might lend to the idea that they are oxidized. the color may be a factor, but the '07s were very pale and oxidation shows in the color right away, typically. the first joly wine that i had was the CdS and i think it was an '02, maybe an '04--it's a damn shame that i can't remember! it was AMAzing. very nutty,honeyed and unctuous on the nose, but dry with signature minerality on the palate. i remember looking at the color and being shocked that it wasn't so old.

jeremy and i had Le Clos Sacree '05 (le Vieux Clos) recently in austin and it was much more yellow and mellow than the '07, obviously. BUT, nothing O-L-D. we did ask where we could find some older vintages and virginie didn't really know. she said that they don't really hold on to anything. have you tasted anything older? i would JUST die :)

sarah--i'm not gonna lie, i haven't been that giddy since me and my permed and poofy friends saw NKOTB back in the 80s. *squeal!*

scott--thanks for stopping by! glad you liked the post...it is quite an unforgettable experience, no? i've always loved chenin, but when i had CdS for the first time, i was looking for savennieres in every store (hardly any luck here), around every corner, even under the rug. i have since found some other natural wines that have a very similar ADDICTIVE minerality...i guess it's very much a natural wine thing!

2/18/2009 7:50 PM

Blogger Tracie P. said...

jack--glad to help :)

2/18/2009 7:51 PM

Anonymous Anonymous said...

tb -

you've got to love it. something about minimal intervention (at the points where it makes most sense) really coaxes the most interesting complexities from the grapes.

i was lucky enough to get a good supply of the '02 CdS and it was inspiring to watch it develop over time. another of my favorite loire producers is mark angeli, stonemason turned anjou producer. incredible white wines. You and 2b should also keep an eye out for jenny & francois imports (http://www.wineterroirs.com/2006/12/jenny.html). very interesting wines that focus on the purest expression of their terroir. great group of producers and some outstanding values.

2/19/2009 12:27 AM

Blogger Tracie P. said...

scott--you know, when jeremy, alice, and i were in paris (natural wine bar hopping) i realized that many of these wines reminded me of the vino paesano that i drank pretty frequently when i lived in ischia. Much of the VP is pure swill, but some of the higher quality stuff shared that savory quality that i find so intriguing. you know those "little old man" farmers weren't micro-oxing or acidifying. some of the stuff was so unstable! but at least is was true.

here's a link to a weekly wine i did ages ago about vino paesano, IF you're interested:


i've heard of mark angeli, but never had the wine. we will keep ours eyes peeled for jenny and francois! it's so nice to be able to look at the importer (when you don't know the producer) and know that it will be something interesting.

2/19/2009 7:11 AM

Anonymous Anonymous said...

Thanks for keeping me to speed Tra. I love the pictures.

2/19/2009 12:15 PM

Anonymous Anonymous said...

Whoooooeeeeee, that was one long post!!!! Been saving that up for a while huh.


2/19/2009 7:48 PM

Blogger Tracie P. said...

sicilian--glad you're still reading!

mom--like i said in the post, thx mom!

dad--lest i ever wonder where i got the smart-alec from...

2/19/2009 7:50 PM

Blogger Director, Lab Outreach said...

Hi Tracie,
Jeremy sent me over. That's a great post. I'm envious of your visit to the heart of Rudy Steiner wonderland. And thanks too for clearing up the confusion about the Clos Sacres/Vieux Clos.

I've also heard that 2002 was the last vintage where Joly used SO2 in appreciable amounts, if at all. I think, with Brooklyn, that it's probably true that Joly doesn't make his wines in an intentionally oxidative way, but I think it's pretty hard to avoid at least a little oxidation with no SO2. Maybe he's pumping CO2 buffers? (kinda doubt it) I don't know if botrytis alone explains the sherry quality Joly's wines often have.

Keith Levenberg and I, not long ago, drank a bottle of the Coulée de Serrant from '95, one of the few vintages vinified moelleux. It was exceptional. But not at all oxidized. Which doesn't really prove anything but I just wanted to get that in.

Glad to find you. I'll be back.

J David

2/25/2009 5:39 PM

Blogger Tracie P. said...

MPL--thanks for the comment. i honestly don't get the ox note on the few that i've tried. like i've said, there's a nuttiness about the wines, but nothing near sherry to me.

a molleaux CdS?! how fun.

and the mystery continues!

2/26/2009 11:14 PM

Blogger nyc/caribbean ragazza said...

Your trip sounds incredible.

This is one region of France I need to visit.

So many places to see, so little money. :(

2/27/2009 8:11 AM


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