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The Loire Valley is full of incredible vignerons and vigneronnes with joyful personalities and even bigger hearts. Amongst them, the Caslot family stands out as one of the most engaging. Be it in Angers at the annual January fairs or at the Domaine in Restigné, Stéphanie and Laurie Caslot not only fill you with awesome wines, but also with an infectious “joie de vivre." I love tasting with them. I sometimes find myself visiting multiple times a year. I have to admit I went 3 times to the estate in 2019! Their humility, simplicity and kindness are a blessing in a wine world way too often driven by self-interest, scores and marketing! To quote David Lillie quoting Stéphanie : "Wine has no value unless it is shared." They will never admit it, but they produce some of the most delicious and sincere Cabernet Franc in the world, and at a fantastic price! Every time I open a bottle of Domaine de la Chevalerie, I can’t help but smile. When David told me Chambers Street Wines will be receiving some special back vintages from the estate I was ecstatic. So treat yourself, not by the bottle but by the case, as these wines are as highly addictive and delicious today as they will be with age!
My first visit to Domaine de la Chevalerie was in the winter of 2006. I will always remember Pierre Caslot welcoming me with all smiles. “Let’s go to Paradise," he said, pointing to a little door in the back of the courtyard. I descended down stairs dug directly deep into the tuffeau by the hand of man. The flickering light hanging overhead was revealing the traces of the tools used in the carving out of the cellar hundreds of years ago. I would discover the incredible underworld of this estate filled with gigantic caves, miles and miles of them, where time seems to have stopped (and where Stéphanie told me she used to bike as a kid…). In this “cathedral of darkness and peace," the wine was aging in older large barrels or in walls of perfectly aligned bottles, some sleeping for more than a century. My palate was forever informed by that tasting inside the very terroir that shaped these unique Cabernet Francs, the vine roots finding their way through the cracks, Pierre Caslot opening bottle after bottle, going back as far as the 1950’s.
The roots of the Caslot family in Bourgueil may not be quite as ancient as these cavernous quarries that they use as cellars (they started to be operated in the XIth century), yet their geneology can still be traced back to 1640. Taking over from his father in 1975, Pierre Caslot embodied the Bourgueillois spirit of the area until the fall of 2014, when he suddenly passed away. But his larger than life soul was not lost. His three children, the 14th generation, have been proudly and passionately carrying the torch. After studying as an engineer, Emmanuel joined his father in 2003, followed by Stéphanie in 2004 (an English literature graduate). Right away their presence breathed new life into the domain - they stopped machine harvesting and began the conversion to organic farming (Pierre had already stopped using herbicide the decade before). Within years the work paid off. The wines lost a little bit of their rustic charm to reveal more precise variations of Cabernet Franc from their multiple terroirs. With this success, they pushed even more, and in 2012 the then 38 hectares farmed were certified in biodynamie. The arrival of their youngest sister Laurie in 2018 (a modern history graduate specialized in viticultural history who learned her viticultural skills at La Grange Tiphaine with Damien Delecheneau) gave another boost. Today, the vineyard is throbbing with life. Tilling is done to a minimum, trees, bushes and hedges are replanted, and they bought some fields to deliberately keep fallow, ensuring biodiversity - and we haven’t even begun to discuss their new Chenin or amphoras projects!
Most of the vines are located around the house/winery/cellar, on the northern border of the Bourgueil appellation, below the plateau supporting the forest (of oaks, pines, birches, chestnuts, acacias.) To be able to manage the work, they decreased the vineyard surface to 33 ha. The lieu-dit "La Chevalerie" in Restigné is the heart of the estate, just up the road from the old Catherine & Pierre Breton cellar, who coincidentally happen to be cousins of the Caslots! Just like in Burgundy the old families are all connected! Since 2008, they farm "Grand Mont" in Benais, a superb site 7 minutes on bike from the property. Having all the vineyards so close is a plus for efficiency - you don’t spend hours on the tractor going from one plot to another, and harvest is easier - but a very problematic minus when the frost hits. 2011 was the last vintage with a full crop. Since that time, they have faced small harvests every vintage - in 2016 they lost 90%. As they are not willing to buy any négoce fruit, the last years have been challenging financially, and they had to release more back vintage to bridge gaps.
Before we get into the different cuvées, let’s chat about Bourgueil’s history and geology and how it differs from St-Nicolas de Bourgueil, Chinon and Saumur - a regular question among us wine geeks.
Bourgueil is a historical wine region, dedicated to Breton (the local name for Cabernet Franc) for many centuries. When reading the archives, you learn no other grape was ever really grown there, except some grolleau in the XIXth for its yield, a little Chenin and Pineaus, and a decent amount of hybrids between the phylloxera crisis and the 1950s. But all were really for private consumption. Until the French revolution, Bourgueil was attached to Anjou, with more connection with the west then with the south, i.e. Chinon. The Loire acted as a barrier between the two regions. As for most of the AOCs located on its banks, the river was a crucial trade road, but the location of Bourgueil was not that favorable. Located upstream of Angers and Saumur the wine of Bourgueil came after the production of these regions when shipped to the northern markets (UK, The Netherlands - who also preferred the sweet whites). Downstream of Tours, the wines usually arrived spoiled in Orléans and did not make it to Paris (this is why this city became the French capital of vinegar). So most of the consumption remained local, with less investment from the wealthy (monastic orders, aristocracy, then bourgeoisie) compared to Chinon or Saumur (which at the time was mostly dedicated to Chenin with very little Cabernet Franc planted). Until the 1950s, Bourgueil was still dominated by polyculture as grapes were not yet the most lucrative crop. But the desire to step up was there. In 1937 the AOC was granted for both Bourgueil and Saint-Nicolas-de-Bourgueil for red and rosé with the help of the local unions viticoles and coopératives. Since that time, a tremendous amount of work has been done by a few - not the majority unfortunately - to show how world-class and diverse Cabernet Franc can be from these terroirs.
In terms of soil, the 1400 ha of Bourgueil is a little bit more complex than usually described, defined by the Loire, its fluctuations and carving of the tuffeau:
In the southern part of the appellation you find the youngest alluvial soils called Varennes (2 to 10 km width from the Loire), great for asparagus and liquorice (an historical crop in Bourgueil) but improper for vineyards except on isolated small islands of older alluvions. You find these terroirs in La Chapelle-sur-Loire, Chouzé-sur-Loire and part of Ingrandes-de-Touraine.
As you go north, you start to slowly go up a gentle slope to find a second, older, alluvial terrace in the southern part of the communes of Restigné, Bourgueil and the northern part of Ingrandes-de-Touraine. 15 meters higher with a mix of gravels, sands and clay, this is a great terroir for fruitier, rounder Bourgueil (like the Galichets).
Going even more north, you reach the coteau of Turonian tuffeau (two types : yellow and mica-enriched), split in two by a little river called the Changeon. To the west of the stream (Bourgueil, Saint-Nicolas-de-Bourgueil) you find more variations of limestone, clays, marls with eolian sands; to the east (Benais, Restigné, Ingrandes-de-Touraine, Saint-Patrice) the terroir is more uniform, with thin top-soils of eolian sands and altered clay over the tuffeau. This yellow tuffeau is special as it contains some glauconie, a mineral compound rich in iron silicate helpful to avoid chlorosis for the vines and to obtain better tannin maturity. Yellow tuffeau is often considered better for Cabernet Franc than white tuffeau, preferred for Chenin. Benais has the most acreage on this yellow tuffeau. This is where you find the historical plots of the appellation.
Finally, on the top of the hill you find eolian sand and loess just below the forest. Grolleau was planted here, but you barely find any vineyard anymore unless there are pockets of Senonian clay (like in Peu Muleau).
Saint-Nicolas-de-Bourgueil which was granted its own AOC in 1937 is mostly located on the older alluvial terrace with roughly 20% on the limestone coteau. Thus the majority of the appellation gives rounder, juicier wines than Bourgueil. As for Bourgueil AOC, it is really important to know where the vineyard is located! As you can imagine now, there will be a lot of variation between the different expressions! To make it easy, think that the most structured bottlings come from Benais, then Bourgueil itself, then Restigné, Saint-Patrice and finally Ingrandes-de-Touraine. Chouzé and La Chapelle will always be light.
When I compare Chinon, Bourgueil and Saumur, I always think about the wines made on the mid-slope limestone coteaux as they are most expressive of their place, not those from the alluvial river banks or on the plateaux. Chinon is a little warmer, often harvesting earlier than Bourgueil which is more open to the oceanic influences as situated directly on the Loire which is fairly wide at that point (1200 feet). Chinon is located on both sides of the smaller, southeast/northwest Vienne, and the valley is more protected. Despite the forests, Bourgueil is more exposed to northern winds. Chinon has also a more consistent mix of yellow and white tuffeaux (older than Bourgueil) on lower but steeper slopes with very little top soil. All in all, the wines tend to have a bit more acidity in Chinon, and more volume and tannin in Bourgueil. Regarding Saumur, the expression are even more diverse, as you have two very different pockets for Cabernet Franc: the area on the left bank of the Loire around Champigny - historically a white wine region planting Cabernet Franc at the end of the XIXth century, with white tuffeau covered by sand, clay and gravels; and near le Puy-Notre-Dame way further from the Loire, the highest and driest area of the Saumurois, on tuffeau and old jurassic limestone and silex - it produces more full-bodied, riper wines than Champigny. Overall, Saumur is drier and slightly warmer than Bourgueil and Chinon. Because of its recent history and the multiple styles of producers though, it is difficult to give one identity for Saumur, except that the individual touch of the winemaker is probably more marked.
How would I classify the Domaine de la Chevalerie style? I would say the style is not driven by ego, but rather by a genuine spirit. Grapes are hand-harvested since the siblings joined the property, very carefully sorted, destemmed, and vinified in tanks (cement and inox) as they think vinification in oak may not be as clean as they wish. Macerations are usually short, up to 20 days or so, less for the early drinking cuvée, with gentle pigeage and remontage. Then the aging is done either in tanks or larger used barrels, depending on the wines. It lasts from 4 to 10 months depending on the vintage, never more (like in Vouvray, the wines are bottled young, which does not mean they can’t age!). Sulfur is used when needed, carefully, to avoid too much VA - something they are very careful about as the vintages are getting warmer especially at harvest. It's usually around 30 ppm max. The wines are neither fined nor filtered except Dyptique until 2017 (just a light filtration on clay). So it is really straight forward, with no gimmicks - as natural as possible, but clean.
The domain produces 6 single-vineyard cuvées and 1 blend, all on sedimentary soils south to west facing. They don’t have any vineyard on the younger terrace closest to the Loire. I have ranked them below by harvest date (starting the end of September/ early October).
Diptyque, on sand and gravel soils,1 to 2 meters deep, intermixed with clay soils on an old alluvial terrace closer to the Loire, at the foothills of the coteau. This terroir gives supple, fruit driven cabernet without being green or too simple thanks to the biodynamic farming of the domain. Maceration is short, aging is usually short (4-5 months) and only in tanks. The first vintage of this cuvée was in 2003. The label featured a design by a famous local artist friend of the family (Jean-Jacques Martin) that changed every vintage up until 2016. When introduced to the New York market, the label took on the image of the Statue of Liberty. This is the vin de soif of the domain - hyper quaffable, you can serve it slightly chilled, pop it open to pair with pretty much every type of food (except iodine and oily fish) and even keep it a couple of years!. If you don’t believe Cabernet Franc can be delicious, juicy, savory yet fruity, just try this wine! Diptyque refers to something composed of two parts, in this case the sun and the soil
Peu Muleau, on the upper part of the hill just below the forest of chestnut, acacia, oak, pine and birch, on Cenozoic aeolian sands with iron clay and altered tuffeau. The vines are around 35 years old. The maceration is a little longer than Diptyque, and aging is done in a mix of tank and large used barrels with less and less oak. This is the earliest drinking single-vineyard cuvée, always on the raspberry and wild violet with very supple tannins, but you can keep it up to 5 years without a problem. Peu Muleau always shows a more herbal, linear profile. Peu Muleau means probably a military feudal motte, as the plot is higher on the slope.
Galichets, South-west facing on quite deep altered sands with gravels, silex and clay from the Sénonian over Turonian yellow tuffeau. This is the largest cuvée, produced from roughly 10 ha on the upper terrace below the house. The oldest vines were planted in the 1930s, with more planting happening in the 70s, 80s, 90s, and now. The average age of vine is approximately 60 years old. Maceration usually lasts two weeks, and aging occurs in large used barrels. This is always a generous cuvée, more fruit-forward (on the darker side) with great mid-palate flesh. The finish is a great combination with gentle tannins and sleek acidity. Galichets is a reference to high contains of rocks in the soil.
La Chevalerie, between the Galichets and the winery, slightly higher on the slope, with more clay on the top part. The Turonian tuffeau is not even three feet below. The oldest vines date from 1903 and 1922, the average being 75 years. The sandier part of the plot goes into the Galichets. This cuvée is a perfect introduction to the more “serious” tuffeau driven bottlings of the domaine. You still get the flesh and texture brought by the sand, you also pick up the racy, salty and fresh acidity typical of the tuffeau. The fruit becomes more blue with distinctive herbal notes. Chevalerie is a reference to a stud farm or an inn. In 1640, a fellow by the name of Pierre Caslot started to live and farm there!
Busardières (they are the only one claiming this vineyard name), a 2 ha plot located fairly high on the slope, just below the Peu Muleau with more clay, less sand (aeolian and not alluvial) and closer to the Turonian yellow tuffeau. The terroir is quite similar to Bretêche which is located more east towards Ingrande-de-Touraine. Maybe the most austere cuvée as it has less flesh than Bretêche and Grand-Mont, it will please Cabernet Franc fans who love the wild raspberry, beet juice and hibiscus side of the grape. With age, it softens beautifully, and gains a more meaty complexity. Don’t hesitate to cellar it for 10 years or more. Busardières is a reference to a bird, a harrier which can be seen from this elevated site.
Bretêche (they are the only one claiming this vineyard name) is the easternmost vineyard, a rented plot on the border of Ingrandes-de-Touraine. On the southwestern exposed upper part of the mid-slope, the vines are planted on a meter-deep heavier clay with high mica content above the Turonian yellow tuffeau. The wines are between 25 to 55 years old. More powerful than Busardières with broader tannins, the wine maintains a great freshness. The structure is more angular and in its youth benefits from decanting. Of course, it ages beautifully well for up to 20 years or more. Bretêche is a reference to an arrowslit (a narrow vertical aperture in a fortification through which an archer can launch arrows.)
Grand-Mont (since 2009) is located west of the winery in Benais, the most highly regarded commune for age-worthy Cabernet Franc in the AOC, as most of its acreage is on Turonian tuffeau on a perfect southwest / west facing slope. This plot is just below the forest, the top part being on eolian sands, with more clay at the bottom. The tuffeau is not even 2 feet below. Vines are around 55 years old. Grand-Mont means high hill. This is the cuvée de garde of the domaine, macerated and aged longer (but never more than 10 months). Picked last as there is a cooler micro-climate allowing for hanging time, this is a dense cuvée for the estate. The texture is full right upfront, tannins are stonier with a remarkable freshness. I always decant young releases of these wines, but I would recommend to wait and enjoy them after 10- 30 years, as this is the point at which the wine begins to truly reveal itself.
In terms of vintages, 2014 is often considered the last “classic one” regarding the alcohol level even though it was not an easy one : no frost and good weather at flowering helped the vines to give decent quantities (the plants were tired by two previous complicated vintages). July and August though were wet and warm, and mildew spread quickly. Fortunately, as very often, the vintage was saved by a beautiful, windy September : the grapes were just ripe, acidity and alcohol had a perfect ligérienne balance. This is a very good vintage to keep when coming from talented vignerons!
2015 was a better vintage according to Stéphanie and Laurie : the growing season went very well, without any excess, the ripeness going forward at a very nice pace. Summer was gently warm without any heat waves. Harvest happened at the end of September. They picked at their rhythm, letting the grapes achieve perfect ripeness. Domaine de la Chevalerie produced wines way fresher than most of the other producers of the area. It is a really great vintage for them with beautiful quality and good quantity.
In 2017, the domain was unfortunately hit once again by the frost after losing 90% of the crop in 2016. The rest of the season was warm with some heat peaks, leading to an earlier harvest. Wines are very supple and giving, with a lot of upfront delicious fruit and a softer acidity for the early-drinking cuvées. The tuffeaux bottlings kept their unique tension.
I was lucky to work at Racines NY with some of these bottlings, and I can assure you they were always a hit! So, once again, indulge yourself and enjoy some of the most delicious Cabernets Francs.
PS - A big thank you to Laurie Caslot for letting me read her fantastic research work on the viticultural history of Bourgueil! Pascaline Lepeltier.
(Arrives 11/21) Bretêche is their easternmost vineyard, a rented plot on the border of Ingrandes-de-Touraine - (Domaine de la Chevalerie is the only estate claiming this vineyard name). On the southwestern exposed upper part of the mid-slope, the vines are planted on a meter-deep heavier clay with high mica content above the Turonian yellow tuffeau. The vines, biodynamically farmed are between 25 to 55 years old. 2015 was an easier, more mastered vintage for the Caslot siblings, as the growing season was never extreme, and the harvests were peaceful. A little more concentrated than the 2014, especially in acidity, this a great vintage for the Domaine! Bretêche 15 is still a baby! Purple in the glass, the wine as usual has more freshness, tension and a little austerity. This is even more apparent here. The nose is a little restrained, showing progressively a lot of black and red currant and cranberry, hibiscus tea and black cardamon. In the palate, it is a superbly balanced wine, with some chiseled tannins enhanced by the lingering acidity. There is less flesh than other cuvées, and the texture is sleeker but absolutely charming and vibrant - and could please any Burgundy lover. You will pick up more herbal notes in the palate : tobacco, beet juice, pink peppercorn. A great bottle to keep 10 years and plus, as it is built to age! To serve it now, decant it a good hour at least or enjoy it over multiple days100% Cabernet Franc. Pascaline Lepeltier
(Arrives 8/30) Peu Muleau is located on the upper part of the hill, above the Domaine de la Chevalerie and just below the forest of chestnut, acacia, oak, pine and birch, on Cenozoic eolian sands with iron, clay and altered tuffeau. The vines are around 35 years old, and farmed biodynamically. The maceration last less than 20 days. Aging is done in a mix of tank and large used barrels with less and less oak. This is the earliest drinking single-vineyard cuvée, always on the raspberry and wild violet with very supple tannins, but you can keep it up to 10 years without a problem. 2014 Loire reds are really great wines, despite a tricky vintage for the producers. Yet with the best the wines are delicious, in a classic ligérien style. It means the Peu Muleau from the Caslot in just a winner, a terrific value and such a great Bourgueil to enjoy now! The wine has a unique chalky minerality, subtle and earthy on the palate - the nose explodes with raspberry and cherry blossom, coriander seeds and Sichuan pepper. The ripe, salivating acidity is driving the palate, with supple tannins, and a lingering saltiness. It is ready to drink now, but cellared for 4-5 years you will gain some nice earthy secondary tones. Pair it with a beautiful pâté en croûte, duck rillette or a summer porcini risotto. 100% Cabernet Franc. PL/DL
(10/18) Domaine de la Chevalerie's "Les Galichets" vineyard is on the lower part of the Turonian slope just below the "Chevalerie" plot, with clay -alluvial sand and gravel topsoils, rich in silex, giving a wine that is more open and easy for early drinking. The vines average about 60 years of age. The wine is aged in large old barrels, and bottled after 6 months unfined unfiltered. 2014 Galichets is an archetypal Bourgueil to enjoy now! This wine is a fabulous mix of fruit and minerals, perfectly balanced and with terrific length: dense black/red color, with aromas that blend soil, stone and blackberry fruit with hints of cocoa and violet. The palate is dense and supple and round without any heaviness - a blend of stone and ripe red and black fruits, continuing in the long, graceful mineral finish. This is a beautiful Bourgueil that can be enjoyed now with roast chicken, pork dishes, even a steak - or hold for ten to fifteen years for a mature experience. It's a fabulous value - congratulations to the Caslots! 100% Cabernet Franc. David Lillie / Pascaline Lepeltier (Re-tasted on Jan 3, 2022 - when opened it's very good, but on day 2 it's fabulous, a beautiful mouthful of earth and minerals , a bit of musk and gorgeous dark fruits. I'm buying a case, I suggest you do the same!)
(Arrives 8/30, 24 btls available) Bretêche (Domaine de la Chevalerie is the only estate claiming this vineyard name) is the easternmost vineyard, a rented plot on the border of Ingrandes-de-Touraine. On the southwestern exposed upper part of the mid-slope, the vines are planted on a meter-deep heavier clay with high mica content above the Turonian yellow tuffeau. The vines, biodynamically farmed, are between 25 to 55 years old. More powerful than Busardières with broader tannins, the wine maintains a great freshness. Hand-harvested and destemmed, the grapes are macerated for up to 20 days and aged in large used barrels in the magnificent underground cave dug into the yellow tuffeau for roughly 8 to 10 moths. The wine is bottled unfined and unfiltered. 2014 is considered a great classic vintage in the Loire for Cabernet Franc, and it is indeed very good at Domaine de la Chevalerie, with fruit a little darker than the 2015 (this opposite to a lot of other estates in the region). Ruby purple in the glass this cuvée as usual has more freshness, tension and a little austerity - 2014 enhances these typical quality of the wine! More open than the 2015, the nose has distinctive black cherry, elderberry notes, Chinese badiane and spearmint. The palate is still deliciously youthful barely showing any evolution, with lean and brilliant acidity, and oolong-like tannins. It is already very-well structured and poised, not angular at all. Decant it 2 hours and serve it in Bordeaux glasses, or keep it 20 years or so - I would say it will reach another plateau by 2025. Enjoy it with a duck magret, the juice reduced with a touch of raspberry vinegar, or sweetbreads in a madeira sauce. 100% Cabernet Franc. Pascaline Lepeltier
La Chevalerie is located between the Galichets and the winery, slightly higher on the slope, with more clay on the top part. The Turonian tuffeau is not even three feet below. The oldest vines date from 1903 and 1922, the average being 75 years. The sandier part of the plot goes into the Galichets. This cuvée is a perfect introduction to the more “serious” tuffeau driven bottlings of the domaine. You still get the flesh and texture brought by the sand, you also pick up the racy, salty and fresh acidity typical of the tuffeau. The 2015 is now showing all its potential, after a quick decanting. An easier, more complete vintage compared to 2014 according to Stéphanie Caslot, the wine is showing concentration yet a lot of delicacy, with a noticeable floral bouquet, and more red berries as it ages. A little sweetness on the attack indicates a perfect ripeness, then you feel the limestone backbone on the terroir, with a juicy sandy flesh and lingering chalky tannins make it ultra appealing. The fruit is a nice mix of red and black plum and cherry, with Chinese badiane and coriander seed, finishing with a great mix of salt, smoke and leather. Without a doubt a great bottle at a terrific price, you can cellar it for 5 years and more, then enjoy until 2035, or serve it in large glass, quickly decanted, with any red meat with a poivre sauce, or a rack of lamb in Provençale herbs crust. 100% Cabernet Franc. Pascaline Lepeltier.
(Arrives 8/30, 12 btls available) "Grand Mont" is perhaps the greatest site in Bourgueil - a high, south-facing slope on yellow Turonian limestone with shallow sandy clay soils, rich in mica. Wines from this vineyard are built to age and this rare bottling from Domaine de la Chevalerie is a beautiful example. They started to produce it in 2009, and they consider it their grande cuvée. The wine ages in a one-year-old barrel and several older barrels for 7 months, bottled unfined unfiltered, released 5 to 6 years after the vintage. 2016 was a tough year for the winemakers in Touraine, beginning with a disastrous frost, followed by a rainy spring and outbreaks of mildew that continued into early July. From mid-July through October the weather was sunny and beautiful with just enough rain in September to help the ripening. Matthieu Baudry is reminded of 2002, but perhaps with a bit more tannin and concentration. I would put the 2016 Grant Mont away for eight to ten years and enjoy at least until 2045-2050. David Lillie