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Les Quatre Piliers

Spine-tingling Whites and Reds from a Fast-Rising Loire Valley Star
Les Quatre Piliers
As one of our former colleagues might say, the drive from Mountlouis to Les Quatre Piliers is not too shabby. You are hugging the Cher tributary, and as you veer southeast, away from the Loire River, you’re soon driving through those majestic tree-lined roads that crop up everywhere in French historical dramas and tourism brochures. Legend has it that Napolean started these sun-dappled boulevards so his troops could march in the shade. Regardless, before long, we’re passing the Château de Chenonceau, one of the jewels of French Renaissance architecture. Then there are the ruins of the 11th-century Château de Montrichard and signs for the Cave des Roches, the limestone caves that have been supplying Michelin-quality mushrooms since 1893. But as wine hunters, it’s the future, not the past, that we’re searching for.

Touraine—and we’re talking about the appellation rather than the sprawling region that stretches from Chinon to Valençay in the west—has long been known for the quality of its food. Cereals, legumes and vegetables thrive in this area’s fertile soils, while Limousin cattle graze on the lusher riverside meadows. Grape growing, too, is not difficult to spot, even if very few aspirational growers have arisen on the slopes of this pocket of the eastern Loire.

We’re here to visit Valentin Desloges, a young grower in the pretty riverside village of Noyers-sur-Cher who has been raved about by impeccable sources as one of the Loire’s hottest talents. Valentin worked with soul brothers Raphaël Coche (Coche-Dury) and Thierry Pillot (Domaine Paul Pillot) before returning home to take control of his father’s vines. His first vintage was 2020. There are currently 10 hectares in play, split evenly between the Cher’s right and left banks.

In Noyers-sur-Cher, Valentin works with five hectares planted to Sauvignon Blanc, Cabernet Franc, Pinot Noir, Pineau d’Aunis and Chenin Blanc. The cool, shallow terroir in the lieu-dit Les Puits aux Chiens features flinty, sandy white clay over limestone. On the river’s left bank at Saint-Aignan, a second terroir has older vines and red clay soils (again over limestone). It gives Desloges his top single-vineyard wines: Bel Air from Sauvignon and Au dessus de Vitré from Cabernet Franc.

In some ways, not least the remarkable quality of his Sauvignon wines, Valentin’s story reminds us of Didier Dagueneau, whom we first met not far away 20 years ago. Like Dagueneau when he started, Desloges is a driven young maker—headstrong even—heavily influenced by great growers in other regions, particularly Burgundy. Like Dagueneau, he returned home to an area not known for greatness. And again, like that great man, Desloges proceeded to farm at the highest level and work ultra-precisely in the cellar to produce wines of a quality far surpassing anything seen before in the region.

Valentin’s winemaking would not look out of place in the more progressive cellars of the Côte d’Or. He micromanages the pressing to obtain the most balanced juices possible. He is experimenting with whole bunches for his Pineau d’Aunis and Pinot Noir, but the reds are mostly destemmed. They ferment slowly with indigenous yeasts in stainless-steel tanks before aging in older casks sourced from Burgundy and Bordeaux. The whites are pressed as whole bunches and ferment and age in the same oak barrels. In the near future, Valentin hopes to use only his own barrels, made from oak staves personally sourced from the nearby Loches forest and aged in-house. All the wines are bottled without filtration.

Without exaggeration, Valentin’s Sauvignon reminds us strongly of the great man mentioned above (and his son). Intense but nuanced, they are post-varietal wines of great intensity and finesse. The red wines are no less exciting. As a range, Desloges’ wines are a revelation—without doubt, already a reference for this beautiful area. Tasting them for the first time and seeing the work behind the wines gave us that wonderful buzz we can’t get enough of.

The Wines

Les Quatre Piliers Touraine Grande Cuvée Cabernet Franc Au Dessus de Vitré 2020

Les Quatre Piliers Touraine Grande Cuvée Cabernet Franc Au Dessus de Vitré 2020

Home to the domaine’s oldest Cabernet Franc, the 70-year vines in Au dessus de Vitré root down through a blanket of red clay and limestone before tapping into the Turonian limestone bedrock below. It’s a terroir that infuses a deeper register of floral and mineral flavour than the Première Cuvée listed above. There’s a change in winemaking, too. Maceration lasts considerably longer at 22 days, with the juice slowly infusing flavour and gentle tannin from the grape’s skins. Then, the pressing is soft and slow (for the pressing geeks, Valentin uses just one bar of pressure), and the free-run juice ages separately from the press wine. Aging occurs in two- to three-year-old 228-litre barrels from Château Mangot for 18 months, and the wine (which may include some press wine depending on the year) is bottled without fining or filtration. The name Grand Cuvée says it all. It’s a super-pure and refined Loire red with lovely, cool, pulpy fruit, suave texture and a surprising salty twist on the finish. A Charles Lachaux or Théo Dancer kind of Cabernet Franc. To appreciate its full range of flavour and texture, Valentin recommends decanting this wine for an hour before serving.

Les Quatre Piliers Touraine Grande Cuvée Cabernet Franc Au Dessus de Vitré 2020
Les Quatre Piliers Touraine Grande Cuvée Sauvignon Blanc Bel Air 2020

Les Quatre Piliers Touraine Grande Cuvée Sauvignon Blanc Bel Air 2020

Valentin Desloges’ flagship white comes from the Bel Air terroir, a south-facing site on the left bank of the Cher River and home to the domaine’s oldest Sauvignon Blanc vines (some 60 years). It’s not simply the older, lower-yielding vines that contribute to this cuvée’s ravishing intensity. The soils are dominated by red clay, just below a layer of flinty sands, which further adds to the wine’s spicy generosity and textural breadth. The winemaking is not so different from the Chapitre I. However, this wine ferments in barrel and matures (for 18 months instead of 12) in ex-Coche-Dury barrels with 20% new oak from the domaine’s tailor-made barrels. The resulting wine is intense but nuanced, a superstar Sauvignon built on texture, crystalline fruit and smoky, rock-licking minerality. In the length, power, and wrought texture, there’s more than a hint of Pur Sang going on. In the words of French critics Bettane and Desseauve: “It’s a masterstroke.”

Les Quatre Piliers Touraine Grande Cuvée Sauvignon Blanc Bel Air 2020
Les Quatre Piliers Touraine Première Cuvée Cabernet Franc 2021

Les Quatre Piliers Touraine Première Cuvée Cabernet Franc 2021

There is a real finesse to Valentin’s red wines, as you might expect, given that he has worked with Thierry Pillot and Rafael Coche in Burgundy. The first of two Cabernet franc wines, this larger cuvée stems from a parcel of 45- to 50-year-old (on average) mass-selection vines in the red clay and silex soils of Saint-Aignan. Desloges crops at half the permitted yield for this region, and this wine ferments (with 5% bunches) in stainless steel without sulphur for two weeks. It is then transferred to used barrels from Cheval Blanc to complete its year-long aging.

In terms of style, Desloges’ lithe and pulpy Cabernet Franc wines resemble more the elegant shape and slender tannins of Thierry Germain’s Saumur-Champigny than, say, the Chinon or Bourgueil archetype. The wines are silky and vividly fresh, with the sensation of biting into a firm, juicy redcurrant (what the French would call croquant). 

Les Quatre Piliers Touraine Première Cuvée Cabernet Franc 2021
Les Quatre Piliers Touraine Première Cuvée Pinot d’Aunis 2021

Les Quatre Piliers Touraine Première Cuvée Pinot d’Aunis 2021

Pineau d’Aunis is making a comeback in the Loire Valley. This enigmatic variety almost vanished in the early 1970s before starting a slow but steady renaissance. Today, nearly 500 hectares of Pineau d’Aunis are planted (so we’re told), chiefly in the lesser-known Loire regions such as the Touraine appellation and Coteaux du Loire. Loved by the natural people–not to mention a favourite of the thirsty fruit fly Drosophila suzukii–we’ve not had too much experience with Pineau d’Aunis outside of some lovely, fragrant reds from Eric Nicolas Domaine de Bellivière. Regardless, the finest wines for this variety seem to combine beautiful perfumes of wild strawberry, red flower and market-fresh berries with engaging peppery spice and rippling silky fruit—at least, that’s what you get at Les Quatre Piliers.

Low yields are key to the purity and quality on offer here, as is the sensitive winemaking ethos that includes just a little hand plunging and only a pinch of sulphur at bottling. Aging occurs in Valentin’s bespoke oak barrels, whose staves are personally selected and dried in-house before being coopered in Burgundy. The juice ages on lees for 12 months before being bottled, again, without filtration.

Les Quatre Piliers Touraine Première Cuvée Pinot d’Aunis 2021
Les Quatre Piliers Touraine Première Cuvée Sauvignon Blanc Chapitre 1 2022

Les Quatre Piliers Touraine Première Cuvée Sauvignon Blanc Chapitre 1 2022

This incisive, Dagueneau-esque Sauvignon Blanc is drawn from vines aged between 20 and 50 years in the west-facing terroir of “Les Puits aux Chiens”. Sited on the right bank of the Cher River, it’s the highest point of the commune of Noyers, a cool terroir with shallow flint sands and white clay over Turonian limestone rock. Picked ripe, with barely any vestige of Sauvignon-ness, the grapes are pressed as whole bunches and ferment with indigenous yeasts in a selection of used barrels ranging from 228 to 500 litres. These vessels include those made using oak staves from the nearby Loges forest, selected and aged by Valentin Desloges himself (and coopered by François Frères). The wine ages for 12 months with a single racking and plenty of lees contact. It is bottled by gravity without filtration. Despite the negligible use of sulphur (1 g/L at the press and 2 g/L at bottling), it’s an incredibly focused, limpid, penetrating Sauvignon.

Les Quatre Piliers Touraine Première Cuvée Sauvignon Blanc Chapitre 1 2022

“After honing his skills in prestigious Burgundy estates and abroad, the young Valentin Desloges established his own estate in his native Touraine. He converted seven hectares to organic farming on slopes and plateaus in the Saint-Aignan region. The two Sauvignon cuvées are exemplary...” Bettane & Desseauve

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