Lunchtime in Faye D'Anjou - Photo by Isaac Rosenthal (http://www.ikesight.com/loire-valley-vignerons)

Beni and the Jets: The wines of Benoit Courault

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The first time I met Benoit Courault, my hair was wild and desheveled and someone mistook me for him at a wine fair in France. We both had a laugh and I proceeded to taste and chat with him about his wines, vineyards, and philosophy. This was around the same time that I was discovering how remarkable Chenin Blanc on Schiste (schist terroir) can be, so I was very happy to taste all of Beni's Chenins, from various schist plots in the Anjou appellation of the Loire Valley. The reds (especially his 100% Grolleau cuvée) and his elegant Pet-Nat were an added treat! 

Fresh radishes and salad (photo: I. Rosenthal)

Since then, I've visited Benoit several times at his home in Faye D'Anjou, and had the chance to see how he works and lives and become a friend in the process. He's a humble guy, who lived in an airstream trailer among his vineyards for upwards of a decade, before finally building a proper home by hand (with the help of a small bulldozer and some friends). His vineyard work is meticulous and tender, with great care and attention given to each parcel. His team seems to consist of him, two friends, and his horses. All vineyard work is without pesticides, herbicides, or chemical fertilizers.. Wines are aged on the lees in old barrels, usually for a year, and bottled by hand (Benoit has a fair amont of vintage equipment, including a fully functional manual bottling apparatus). Most of the vineyards he works are around his home, with the rest scattered closeby. He learned the importance of vineyard work and healthy soils from several winemakers whom he worked with, and hence dedicates most of his time to working his vineyards. The belief, which is common among natural winemakers, is that the most important work is in the vineyard, and should allow the winemaker to be 'hands-off' in the cellar. To the point, he spent over 5 years reviving previously herbicided soils from a small parcel he obtained, before feeling confident that the soils had ample microbial life and healthy root systems to yield quality grapes. Further to the point, we've been trying to reach him to ask a quick question about SO2 levels in today's wines on offer, and of course he's in the vineyard and not answering his phone! (He finally answered: 1mg/l for the whites at racking, 2mg/l for the Tabaneaux, while the Eglantine Pet Nat is zero added).

Photo courtesy of Pascaline Lepeltier

Though Benoit is not originally from a winemaking family (his father was a horse trader), he wanted to make wine, and so left the Loire Valley to study oenology in Beaune. While studying, he was impressed by the wines of Yvon Metras and Dominique Derain, and was convinced that these were the types of wines he wanted to make. His practical studies led him to the south of France, where he met Eric Pfifferling while working for an estate close to Tavel. He joined Pfifferling for over two years, and then moved back to the Loire Valley. Here he spent some time working and learning with Olivier Cousin, and the Menard family at Domaine des Sablonnettes. Finally, he heard of a small parcel going up for rent and he started his project. Now, more than ten years later, he seems quite content with his life, and is making some remarkable wines! 

For our NYC readers, mark your calendar and join us for a tasting of these wines with Geoffroy Ducroux from Avant Garde Wines on Wednesday, November 28th, from 5-7pm!

Courault, Benoît 2017 VdF Le Petit Chemin (Chenin Blanc)

Petit Chemin is a petite chenin - a charming and well rounded Chenin Blanc from a 60+ year old vineyard on schist with volcanic debris. By no means a simple wine, it's nonetheless a great introduction to Beni's lineup, and to the character that Chenin Blanc takes from schist soils. Crunchy and mineral, but in a vintage like 2017 (with plenty of sun and warmth), also ripe enough to please a less acid-prone palate. Dry, but not too sharp, with some subtle viscosity in the finish. Petit Chemin is a real treat, and will pair perfectly with any of the holiday feasts that are approaching!  EL

  • white
  • 1 in stock
  • $26.99

  • Organic
  • Low Sulfur

Courault, Benoît 2017 VdF Le Petit Chemin MAG (1.5L)

Petit Chemin is a petite chenin - a charming and well rounded Chenin Blanc from a 60+ year old vineyard on schist with volcanic debris. By no means a simple wine, it's nonetheless a great introduction to Beni's lineup, and to the character that Chenin Blanc takes from schist soils. Crunchy and mineral, but in a vintage like 2017 (with plenty of sun and warmth), also ripe enough to please a less acid-prone palate. Dry, but not too sharp, with some subtle viscosity in the finish. Petit Chemin is a real treat, and will pair perfectly with any of the holiday feasts that are approaching! EL

  • white
  • 3 in stock
  • $59.99

  • Organic
  • Low Sulfur

Courault, Benoît 2017 Vin de France Les Tabeneaux

70% Cabernet Franc / 30% Grolleau. Tabeneaux is a straightforward and cheerful red from Benoit Courault, exhibiting some of the vibrant bright red fruit one might associate with a partial carbonic maceration wine, but with nice weight, ripeness, and subtle tannin. Though I may favor Beni's pure Grolleau wines (I'm convinced he's making some of the best Grolleau in the Loire), this is still a singular wine, showing a side of Cabernet Franc that is unique from the expressions of Chinon/Bourgeuil/Saumur Champigny, or the more classically made Cab Francs from Anjou. Enjoy with a slight chill.  EL

  • red
  • 10 in stock
  • $26.99

  • Organic
  • Low Sulfur
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Courault, Benoit 2017 Vin de France Petillant Nature "Eglantine"

I could drink Eglantine every day! A lovely Pet-Nat (petillant naturel aka methode ancestrale) offering from Benoit Courault. A blend of mostly Cabernet Franc, with about 25% Grolleau, it looks like a Blanc de Noirs in the glass. There's very soft-spoken red fruit and a toasty richness on the nose, but mostly crunchy acidity and minerals on the palate. Perfect with a wide variety of food (especially salty and fried foods), and an added bonus: no added SO2 (and it's totally clean and delicious!).   EL

  • Out of Stock
  • rosé sparkling
  • 0 in stock
  • no discount
  • $24.99

  • Organic
  • No Sulfur

Courault, Benoît 2017 Anjou Gilbourg (Chenin Blanc)

Gilbourg is a beautiful Chenin Blanc, with fruit coming from several parcels. As our friend Pascaline Lepeltier explains, the core of this cuvée comes from the Clos des Mailles, which is an exceptional terroir near Benoit's home. She always finds there is nice flesh and mid-palate weight. From a recent tasting, I couldn't agree more. There's ample minerality but it is almost hidden behind roundness and viscosity that develops in the mouth. It's much like the Petit Chemin in terms of approachability, but with a much longer finish and unparalleled depth. Bravo, Beni!    EL

  • Out of Stock
  • white
  • 0 in stock
  • $36.99

  • Organic
  • Low Sulfur

Courault, Benoît 2017 Vin de France Les Guinechiens

Guinechiens is the more obscure and intense of Courault's Chenin Blanc offerings. From a single vineyard of old vines (60-70 years-old) close to the town of Montbenault, there is a pronounced salinity to the wine. It's often a bit reductive on opening - the first time I ordered a bottle in France, my server immediately decanted it - so we recommend giving it some air. My feeling is that the wine needs time in the bottle, if not time in a decanter (or both!). I'm always fascinated by this cuvée, and I drink every last drop, but it should be noted that it is not for everyone.   EL

  • Out of Stock
  • white
  • 0 in stock
  • $39.99

  • Organic
  • Low Sulfur