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Wine Traveller Dairies 2023

Our trek along the Loire started in Sancerre and Pouilly, zig-zagged across the Touraine, then Anjou and Saumur and over to Muscadet. We mainly tasted 2022, a brilliant vintage across the Loire. The logic behind the quality on offer is much the same as we will see in Burgundy. 2022 was a warm, sunny year with a hot summer, much like 2020. But 2020 was much drier, whereas 2022 had good rain at the right moments, especially in August. This, along with cooler nights later in the season, made an enormous difference. In short, the ’22s have terrific freshness and vibrancy; they’re deep yet super racy with excellent balance. This is what we tasted again and again.

News from Domaine Gérard Boulay

Thibaut Boulay, Gérard's son, has been back at the estate for a couple of years and is taking more control. Gérard is still working every day (at 72 years of age!), but it’s clearly time to start working on the succession plan. Thibaut is a historian by training and a writer, too. He comes from a successful academic career, as does his wife, who still works full-time at the Sorbonne in Paris (where Thibault was also based; he also did some time at Princeton). Thibaut has used his academic skills to produce two excellent books on the history, geology and general terroir of both the Sancerre area and, more specifically, Chavignol. Both books are incredibly detailed, as you might expect from a successful academic, and are packed with fascinating details. You might be amazed to read, for example, how complicated the geology here can be. Unfortunately for us, they are only in French for now.

Thibaut’s historical knowledge introduced me to a few things I didn’t know before on this trip. For example, the Comtesse vineyard of Monts Damnés was only grafted after 1945, and before that, it was the last ungrafted white vineyard in France (as la Romanée-Conti was for red grapes). This tells you something about how revered this site was. We visited the Comtesse climat—it is right at the bottom of the slope of the Monts Damnés and clearly differs from the rest of this vineyard. It’s a cooler, less exposed place, with some variation in the soil. It produces a wine of great finesse, something finer and more restrained than a typical Monts Damnés.

Vineyards like this in Chavignol (Monts Damnés, Clos de Beaujeu, etc) have so much history. They were very well known in the Middle Ages. Monts Damnés was owned by the church, as was Clos de Beaujeu later on, and the wine of Clos de Beaujeu was served to the Pope (when this meant something). Anyway, a brilliant set of ‘22s here. Gerard Boulay recently compared them to his legendary 1959s! Apparently, this latter vintage is still drinking well. To prove the ageworthiness of great Chavignol, Gérard showed us a Clos de Beaujeu 2001, which was in fabulous condition. View our recent offer on the latest arrivals here.



News from Domaine Alphonse Mellot

Perhaps you don’t expect much evolution at a benchmark domaine that has been going for 19 generations? Or that has been at the top for so long? Yet every time we visit this storied domaine, there is something new to discover: a new technique, fermentation or aging vessel, vineyard or progress made with certain wines. What struck me this year most was the quality of the reds, on which Alphonse Jr has been working hard to find ever greater finesse. The Moussière Rouge and the Petite Moussière Rouge, both from ’21, the later ripening year, have worked beautifully for them. Also, the 2019 Pénitents white from the Côtes de la Charité, another Mellot project, was absolutely stunning. I hope we’ll have some exciting and well-priced Chardonnay and Pinot on our next Mellot shipment.

This year, we visited with Alphonse Jnr, but Snr made an appearance and is surprisingly sprightly for his age. It’s always a monster tasting here; we tasted 2020s, ‘21s and ‘22s. There wasn’t a dud wine. 2022 is clearly a great, great vintage. You wouldn’t expect anything less from the Mellot family, obsessed as they are with perfection.


News from Domaine François Chidaine

The coolest man in the Loire? How many winemakers greet you wearing bright blue glasses and a leather jacket?! Here, we tasted a range of ’23s from cask and Wineglobe (François has many Wineglobes and loves them). It is early days but ’23 looks like a very good vintage, with Vouvray being a genuine star. Then, it was the full range of ’22s, which is a spectacular year for this address.

We spoke a little about what has been happening in Vouvray, where today, 80% of the production is sparkling wine, and 80% of the producers are ordinary. For François, there are only four or five good domaines, which has been the case for quite some time. So, it’s a rather underwhelming scene for one of France’s great terroirs. Regardless, we are lucky to have two top domaines on our books: Huet and Chidaine. There were a lot of fabulous wines in the line-up of ‘22s, but a little shout-out to the Chenin d’Ici ‘22, a new addition to the range and a super-value wine.

One thing to note is that Alice Chidaine is now taking more and more responsibility here. Although her father is still running the show, Alice is very much on the tools and takes full responsibility for one cuvée in the range, Les Grillonnières Montlouis by Alice Chidaine. She also makes some wine outside Montlouis with her husband, Jean-Baptiste Bonnigal, that we will likely bring in when the time is right. The apple never falls far from the tree.


News from Domaine Guiberteau

We had a fantastic tasting with Romain Guiberteau. There are many exciting changes to mention here, all to the good! This domaine is really hitting its straps. It’s now 20 hectares in size with 18 full-time people (that’s a great Burgundy-domaine kind of number, by the way!) From vintage ’24, however, Romain has decided to reduce the number of hectares to 16, with the other four being transferred to a new négociant project he and his team are starting (yet to be named). The current entry-level wines, the Moulin and the rosé (the latter we don’t yet ship), will now become part of the range of négociant wines, and the quantities will be supplemented by purchased fruit from good organic growers. The price for these wines will go down, and, happily, availability will go up.

With this progression, starting with vintage 2024, the Domaine Guiberteau label will be purely for the top estate wines, beginning with the “Domaine” bottling, which will be aged longer before release. In the meantime, the aim of the négociant wines will be to produce delicious, early-drinking styles at fair prices. There is also a new building for the long-term storage of domaine wines, allowing for longer aging alongside a museum library. This longer maturation has already begun, with the wines aging a year longer before release. A new cellar for the négociant wines is being built in time for vintage ‘24.

In other news, Romain’s daughter Camille has joined the domaine with her partner Antoine (a qualified oenologist), significantly bolstering the team in the cellar. Of course, Romain’s long-term offsider, Brendan Stater-West, remains a vital part of the team.


News from Domaine des Roches Neuves

We visited Thierry Germain at Roches Neuves, who has his children Louis and Jeanne both back at the domaine (Jeanne is in charge of the horses). As our clients know, and as certainly shows in the wines, this is one of the most precise domaines in France, and Thierry Germain is simply obsessed with his system of farming and biodynamics. Environmentally, it is also super impressive. To give one example of many, all water is reused, even the water used to wash tractors—the waste goes through a filtration and treatment plant process to be reusable. You see drive and attention to detail everywhere you go, from the cellars to the vineyards. The level of perfection is quite incredible, especially considering that this is a 28-hectare estate today. The full-time staff runs to 14 people, and many more join during the growing season. The vineyards look like gardens.

Roches Neuves also began a cellaring/museum programme in 2018 and will start to release the first wines in 2028. Thierry tells us that Louis refuses to give him the key to the aging rooms because he knows Thierry will keep raiding the stock! This is a wonderful initiative, and hopefully, we will get access to some of the wines. Recent vintages here have been spectacular. Thierry believes ’21 is one of his greatest, with a balance he has never seen, while the ‘22s continue the theme; both vintages are fabulous. By the way, if you ever have the opportunity to try Roche Neuves with a bit of age, don’t hesitate! Even better, buy some and age them yourself!


News from Domaine Jonathan Pabiot

We had a lovely tasting with Nina Pabiot. In the cellar, they are moving more and more to 5,000-litre wooden casks (foudre) from Atelier Centre France and a local cooper who came out of ACF. For those of you who tasted the Chasselas and wished we could get more, they are planning to plant some more vines in the coming two years. Several name changes have occurred this year: Prélude is now called Elisa, and Florilège has become Leon, named after Jonathan and Nina’s two young children. Apparently, this has triggered a new take on sibling rivalry, with the two little ones ribbing each other about which wine is the better! The final change is Pabiot’s single vineyard Prédilection, now called Luminance—a fitting name for this intense and light-filled Pouilly-Fumé. Again, this Domaine’s ’22 wines played to the central theme of our visits this year: ripe and textured wines with fabulous freshness. Get excited.


News from Domaine Huet

This iconic cellar is now run by Benjamin Joliveau, a Vouvray native who started in 2009 working closely with Jean-Bernard Berthomé and overlapping with Noël Pinguet. He was at the press with a smile on his face when we arrived. Owner Sarah Hwang is as passionate as ever. Although they were on their second last day of harvest, Sarah still managed to find time to put on a tasting for us, where we compared the current releases with several back vintages. 2022 has delivered outstanding wines at every level and style here. They are incisive, driven, mineral and long, and they are certainly more layered and complex than their 2021 counterparts at the same stage. This year’s museum releases come from a vintage that Huet’s former (legendary) cellarmaster, Noël Pinguet, always believed had great potential: 2003. Twenty years on, Pinguet had every right to be excited about the future of the vintage. Not only are the wines supremely complex, but they are also amazingly youthful and bright.


News from Bernard Baudry

Let’s put it out there: 2022 is undoubtedly the best vintage I have tasted at Bernard Baudry. A Chinon masterclass. We visited a number of the vineyards with Matthieu Baudry. It’s obvious that he is a superb grower; the work in the vines is really first class. When you compare with his neighbors, the quality of the viticulture is self-evident. We visited a number of terroirs but the Clos Guillot and La Croix Boissée vineyards stood out. Clos Guillot is just a short drive from the cellar and situated on a southeast-facing slope with soils of clay, chalk and yellow limestone (known locally as tuffeau). Unusually, this vineyard also includes a small parcel of the domaine’s remaining ungrafted vines, which used to go to Baudry’s now retired (and much missed) Franc de Pied cuvée. Baudry’s other top vineyard, La Croix Boissée, sits on chalky white limestone soils above Baudry’s cellars in Cravant-les-Côteaux. Here, the south-facing aspect, altitude and soil produce some of Chinon’s longest-living and most elegant wines. It’s a site that Baudry believes suits Burgundian-style élevage (although the wine sees no new oak). Regardless, in the cellar, more and more concrete vessels are being used for fermentation and ageing.


News from Domaine Landron

Jo Landron’s daughter Hélène has now joined the Domaine, with ’23 being her first vintage. Before this, Hélène was making artisanal sheep’s milk cheese with her husband Nicolas, and her one condition of returning to the Domaine was that they could introduce sheep to the system of biodynamics. Jo Landron was one of the pioneers in single terroir/site wines in the Muscadet region (along with the late, great Guy Bossard), and he has driven the region’s young Cru system that is now gathering steam. 2020 will see Jo’s first Cru Communaux release until the La Haye Fouassière CC, where most of his vineyards lie. It’s worth adding that Landron has also been a pioneer in biodynamics, practising for over 20 years and certified for 17. Everything we tasted from here, ’18, ’19, ’20, ’21, ’22 and even ’23 from tank looked marvellous. Natural yeast and extended lees aging hold sway in the cellar, while concrete, large oak, eggs and amphora are all in play as fermentation and aging vessels. A Burgundian cellar in the heart of Muscadet!


News from Les Quatre Piliers

I’ll not say too much for now, but Valentin Desloges and his Les Quatre Piliers is an incredibly exciting find for Bibendum, and we expect to receive our first order in the middle of next year. Valentin Desloges worked at Coche-Dury and Domaine Paul Pillot before taking control of his father’s vines in Noyers-sur-Cher in the Touraine. He works with two terroirs, one with red clay and one with white clay, on both sides of the river Cher, mainly producing Sauvignon Blanc and Cabernet Franc but a little bit of Chenin, Pineau d’Aunis and Pinot Noir. Without exaggeration, the Sauvignon that Valentin is making strongly reminds me of Dagueneau, or at least they are the closest wines to Dagueneau that I think I’ve tasted from any other producer. His story has some similarities as well: a driven (very driven!) young maker, heavily influenced by great growers in other regions, returns to his home domaine in an area with little reputation for quality. Said young grower then starts farming at very high levels and working very precisely in the cellars… and so on. We could not be more excited to introduce these wines to Australia late in 2024.

 

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