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Domaine des Roches Neuves

On Top of the World: “Wonderful Biodynamic Saumur” from an Iconic Loire Grower
Domaine des Roches Neuves

Thierry Germain was not the first to illustrate that Saumur-Champigny could rival France’s most significant red wine regions—that privilege goes to the Foucault brothers—yet he was undoubtedly the most vocal and his message the most passionate and unguarded. Built on perfectly ripe fruit allied to a fondness for tension, Germain’s aromatic, beguilingly pure and lacy reds thrust Saumur into the spotlight, and there they have remained. Today’s wines, and those of growers who followed in his slipstream, grace the finest wine lists in France and beyond. To paraphrase Andrew Jefford, before Germain, few wine lovers knew that Saumur-Champigny could rival Burgundy for its aromatic intensity and finesse. Now they do.

Germain’s white wines are a revelation in a region where wine-growing practices have not always done justice to superb stony terroirs. When he arrived in 1991, Germain deduced that Saumur’s most exciting whites derived from the region’s most calcareous soils—parcels where with only the thinnest topsoils, barely lining the pure limestone mother-rock beneath. He searched for sites that met this criterion, and today Roches Neuves commands a stellar portfolio of wines that marry ripeness and texture with energy, purity and salinity. Those who find themselves priced out of white Burgundy—which takes in most of us these days—will find much solace at the end of their corkscrew.

Although no longer a newcomer, a visit with Thierry Germain is still like stepping into a whirlwind. You might think he has done it all, and yet this hyper-energetic vigneron retains his obsessive attention to detail and formidable wine-growing curiosity. Now joined by his daughter Jeanne—who runs the domaine’s stables and ploughing regime—and his son Louis, Roches Neuves’ 2021 release reminds us how lucky we are to work with this dynamic grower.

From a cooler, later season that brought miserly yields, the reds are enthrallingly bright and engaging wines of spun-silk textures and ripe, Pinot-like delicacy. It is also worth noting that, though still taut and coiled in their youth, Germain’s wines have evolved to show more allure and openness on release. Pitched somewhere lovely between Rheingau and the Côte de Beaune, the 2021 whites are incisive, with powerful textures sculpted by racy acidities and limestone-derived freshness. We hope the notes below do the wines justice—whatever you choose, you are guaranteed something compelling and seriously delicious.

The Wines

Roches Neuves Bulles de Roche 2020

Roches Neuves Bulles de Roche 2020

Biodynamic. The fruit for this delicious sparkling comes from a range of biodynamic parcels in Saumur alongside a vineyard in Le Puy-Notre-Dame (an appellation only for red wines). It's a blend of 90% Chenin Blanc, with the remainder split between Cabernet Franc and Chardonnay.

The fruit was picked quite late for sparkling—when ripe and full of character—then whole bunch-pressed and naturally fermented in a mix of stainless steel and barrels formerly used for the Insolite cuvée. In the bottle, the wine was then aged for around 18 months on lees before being disgorged with no additions (zero dosage). In short, it’s a Saumur méthode traditionnelle—à la Germain. It has the character, deliciousness (there's that word again) and class to leave a great many Champagnes in the shade. Expect a layered yet super-mineral, chalky white with a salty, bone-dry finish. A joy to drink, with texture and length to back it up.

Roches Neuves Bulles de Roche 2020
Thierry Germain Saumur Blanc I'Insolite 2021

Thierry Germain Saumur Blanc I'Insolite 2021

Organic. In 2021, this bottling sports the Thierry Germain name instead of the domaine label because it contains purchased fruit to supplement the usual source, where yields were dramatically reduced. Over the years, this white has emerged as one of the Loire Valley's purest and most exciting Chenin Blancs, and this edition is no different. L'Insolite's fruit traditionally comes from two densely planted vineyards on clay and limestone soils riddled with sandstone and flint. These lieux-dits—Les Cerpes and Saint-Vincent—lie close to the town of Saumur, where the oldest vines are now 90 years old.

Germain presses the whole bunches long and slow before the juice naturally ferments in 1,200-litre Austrian (Stockinger) ovals and 600-litre casks (ex-Alphonse Mellot). The wine rests on fine lees, slowly building texture for another 12 months before bottling. Germain thinks of this wine as the Loire's answer to German Riesling, hence the name, which means 'unusual'. The cooler 2021 season has gifted a scintillating L'Insolite: a wine of laser-like focus with racy, grapefruit-charged flesh entwined with a nip of reduction and salty bite. It drinks like excellent young Chablis. 

Over the years, this white has emerged as one of the Loire Valley’s purest and most exciting Chenin Blancs. A cooler vintage it may be, and yet the wine’s laser-focused energy is balanced by low-yield density and tongue-wrapping texture. There are fleshy, ripe orchard fruits and white florals on the nose, underpinned by a saline accent. When the wine hits your palate you get an intense jolt of citrus-charged flesh entwined with smoky reduction and a more salty bite. A scintillating L’Insolite.

Over the years, this white has emerged as one of the Loire Valley’s purest and most exciting Chenin Blancs. A cooler vintage it may be, and yet the wine’s laser-focused energy is balanced by low-yield density and tongue-wrapping texture. There are fleshy, ripe orchard fruits and white florals on the nose, underpinned by a saline accent. When the wine hits your palate you get an intense jolt of citrus-charged flesh entwined with smoky reduction and a more salty bite. A scintillating L’Insolite.

Thierry Germain Saumur Blanc I'Insolite 2021
Roches Neuves Saumur Blanc Clos de l’Échelier 2021

Roches Neuves Saumur Blanc Clos de l’Échelier 2021

Biodynamic. If Saumur were drawn up along Burgundian lines, Roches Neuves would claim several Grand Crus sites. One of these would be the two-hectare Clos l’Échelier, surrounded by a wall built 300 years ago. This is a magical site. Thierry explains that he had his eye on this limestone-rich clos since he arrived in the region 20 years ago. He was finally able to purchase it in 2012. It lies in Dampierre-sur-Loire above the old troglodyte caves that skirt this section of the river. Much of the site is planted to Cabernet Franc, though Germain has been planting more Chenin to add to its 0.4 hectares of 60-year-old vines. The soils are sandy and shallow with just a 30cm layer of argilo-calcaire over pure Turonian limestone.

The combination of site, vintage, meagre yields and Germain's precise biodynamic farming has delivered a dramatically tense, crystalline, mineral-bound white this year. Expect dazzling floral and stone fruit flavours seamlessly entwined with old-vine power, rocky structures and a penetrating saline finish. If any doubt remained that Saumur is blessed with one of France's most singular white wine terroirs, a bottle of this would end the conversation. Think of it as the equivalent of Premier Cru Burgundy, Grand Cru Alsace and top Grosses Gewächs.

“The 2021 Clos de L'Echelier is a delicate and tender style, with impressive purity of fruit. It is almost cloud-like in its lightness on the palate. The finest of chalk-like tannins covers the mouth in a blanket of finely-pixelated image, which can no doubt be attributed to this limestone-rich, north-facing site as well as a very delicate hand when it comes to extraction. Being 2021, there's no shortage of acidity, but it is entirely integrated within the wine, providing a thread of tension that courses through its core, leaving everything tied up on the precise finish. This is a harmonious, well-crafted example.”
92 points, Rebecca Gibb MW, Vinous
Roches Neuves Saumur Blanc Clos de l’Échelier 2021
Roches Neuves Saumur-Champigny Terres Chaudes 2021

Roches Neuves Saumur-Champigny Terres Chaudes 2021

Biodynamic. Previously a blend of two terroirs, Terres Chaudes now hails exclusively from the Poyeux terroir in Chaintres, near the heart of the appellation (an area made famous by the Clos Rougeard bottling). The vines for this cuvée are about 50 years old on average and come from the coteau, or slope, where there is very shallow topsoil before the roots hit the limestone bedrock.

All the fruit was de-stemmed and fermented in cement (with some foot stomping), followed by maturation in 60-hectolitre, neutral wooden vats. This vintage must be one of the most impressive, vibrant and nuanced Terres Chaudes that Germain has crafted. You can't miss the imprint of Poyeux's ripe berry, spice and mineral-charged fruit, yet Germain's seamless 2021 is rendered with rare elegance for this terroir. Pure, bright and floral, its silky, floral flecked palate is sculpted by limestone-derived freshness—a fascinating contrast to the Clos Rougeard bottling.

“First tasted in barrel in July 2023, and again from bottle in December, the 2021 Terres Chaudes is a highly aromatic, light-bodied style although there is a touch of juiciness through the mid-palate. True to its vintage, there's no doubting the refreshing acidity and the touch of herbal in the flavor profile. The tannins are well handled, and the fruit is pure and adulterated, as well as lightly spiced.”
89 points, Rebecca Gibb MW, Vinous
Roches Neuves Saumur-Champigny Terres Chaudes 2021
Roches Neuves Saumur-Champigny La Marginale 2021

Roches Neuves Saumur-Champigny La Marginale 2021

Biodynamic. Marginale is drawn from parcels on the limestone soils of Fossés de Chaintre (the lieux-dits of Les Dares and Clos Maurice) and from a small parcel of old vines on Turonian limestone in the famous Les Poyeux. It's made from some of the estate’s oldest and lowest-yielding Cabernet Franc vines. Perhaps more than any other red, Marginale encapsulates the Germain style of elegance and soaring intensity that defines this estate’s wines today.

La Marginale is raised in a 25-hectolitre foudre that had to be erected in the Roches Neuves cellars by Franz Stockinger himself. It rests for 12 months before finishing in three-year-old Burgundy barrels. Since 2013, Germain has employed shorter macerations, which today are limited to one or two punch-downs to let the wine infuse. The resulting wines have been even more balanced, with the kind of finesse and precision of fruit rarely found outside Burgundy.

With excellent tension between the mouth-watering fruit, acidity and satin tannins, Germain’s 2021 is the most elegant young Marginale we can remember. Beautifully perfumed, the wine comes into its own even more on the palate, which flows like silk, marked by a gorgeous powdery texture that dances across the tongue. The finish is Burgundy-like in detail. Not too long ago, the late Josh Raynolds wrote that many of Germain’s Saumur-Champignys “taste more like Burgundy than a lot of Pinot Noirs on the market”. In this case, you can go straight to the Côte de Nuits and collect $200 as you pass Go!


“From a clay-limestone site, the 2021 La Marginale is simply delicious. It is a quiet seducer with it silky charm, while remaining floaty and light on its feet. There's plenty of tannin contained within the core of this wine, coating the mouth finely. The long, fragrant finish is redolent of redcurrant, raspberry, violet and pencil lead. The 2021 is fresh and vibrant yet delicate.”
90 points, Rebecca Gibb MW, Vinous
Roches Neuves Saumur-Champigny La Marginale 2021

“Domaine des Roches Neuves is famous as a producer of wonderful biodynamic Saumur; Germain has for years been making some of the region’s more compelling wines.” Parr and Mackay, The Sommelier’s Atlas of Taste

“The range of wines from Domaine des Roches Neuves has a transparency, delicacy, and ease that you encounter too infrequently. Red wine represents the majority of production at this estate with vineyards scattered around the appellation but a lightness of touch and purity of fruit are common threads no matter the soil type, or orientation.” Rebecca Gibb MW, Vinous

“These days I think Thierry Germain has new, stronger and broader competition within Saumur-Champigny but his wines are still on the top tier in the appellation.” Chris Kissack, The Wine Doctor

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