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I can't and won't hide I am a very big fan of Benoit Courault. I documented the reasons why here in details, but to sum up I think he is a dedicated, humble, super-hard working farmer with a sensitivity in the cellar I have rarely seen. And he is also fundamentaly nice and fun, loves rock n'roll and Texan barbecue, and makes chenin on schist. What's not to love?
I have been tasting his wines for more than 15 years now, and I have to say 2019 is probably his best vintage so far! At least, I am positive after tasting on this side of the Atlantic what he calls his "springtime" cuvées: Le Petit Chemin, a 100% Chenin, Les Tabeneaux, a Cabernet Franc-Grolleau blend, and Eglantine, a pet' nat' rosé also based on the same blend with a sprinkle of Pineau d'Aunis.
2019 continues a stretch of good to great vintages in the region, probably thanks or because of climatic evolutions. I would say it is a very good vintage: as usual now, spring was an issue with frost which badly hit twice the part of Anjou Noir located on left side of the Loire (Savennières was less affected) so quantities were down right off the bat. Winter once again was warm, bud break was three weeks early, and so the chilly mornings in April were deadly. Summer was also once again warm and sunny, with a heat wave in early July. Late August early September brought some needed small rains to stop hydric stress and soften up the skins. Nights got colder. At the end, not a lof of juice, a pretty high level of alcohol but more acidity than in 2018. The wines are dense!
So if this type of vintage can overconcentrate some terroirs, it defintely beefs up wines made from lighter, colder, not as perfect vineyards, giving them more weight, layers, everything. This is the case for these three wines. Add also vines getting older and farming enhancing the natural balance of the biodiversity: these wines are more than just glouglou cuvées but pretty serious wines! They are absolutely delicious to drink now, but can really be kept 5 years and more (I enjoyed in January a Petit Chemin 2014, and the wine could still go for a couple of years.... so I can only imagine how long I can keep the 2019 version!). In other words they are fantastic!
The vineyards & the cellar. Today the domain covers 6.5 ha. 5.5 ha in production over multiple plots, and 1 ha planted 2 years ago. Most of the vineyards are around the house and in the Clos des Mailles, and its extension Le Prieuré where he makes Gilbourg (1.30 ha), Le Petit Chemin (0.70 ha), Les Rouliers (1.30 ha), La Coulée (0.5 ha), and Les Tabeneaux (1 ha). Ben also has some vineyards on the plateau for his Eglantine, as well as near the Layon, neighboring the plot of his dear friend Richard Leroy (where Richard makes his Rouliers) and in Le Plessis on the way to the famous site Mont Benault (Les Guinechiens, 0.62 ha). In total, Ben has 50% of Chenin, 30% of Cabernet, 15% of Grolleau and 5% of young Pineau d’Aunis (and a couple of experiments). Some of his oldest vines are to be found in Les Guinechiens, Clos des Mailles and Prieuré, but for him old does not always mean good - everything depends on the vegetal material. So he keeps on improving the selection by replanting little by little. All the vineyards are within 10 min by tractor, a little longer by horse but it is very important for Ben to be close. Working with his horses really allows him to preserve the soils, but also to go into rows that are not perfectly straight without breaking them. They are also way less noisy and don’t require gasoline like a tractor! Year after year, Ben has been improving his cellar, originally a small house, investing carefully. The set up is pretty minimal - an outdoor courtyard for pressing (Ben has some wooden vertical presses and rents a horizontal pneumatic for the Chenin), and inside a couple of Vaslin tanks for fermentation and some second-hand 228 and 500 liter-barrels for aging. For 3 years he invested in two Grenier foudres. He is able to continue to fine tune every year. The cellar is always spotless despite its rustic look. Most of the time you will have music playing. Ben is also talented guitarist and a music lover. Pascaline Lepeltier, MS
These rare and beautiful natural wines arrive on Thursday 8/27, quantities are very limited.
Le Petit Chemin means the "little path," of course a pun, to describe Benoit Courault's "baby Chenin," his "entry level" Chenin from younger vines. In 2019, the name of this cuvée is totally deceptive, as the concentration of the vintage, and the work of Ben resulted in a very, very serious Chenin on schist, that could hold comparaison with quite a lot of top cuvées of the region. The younger vines of the domain are used for this wine, but they grow on beautiful, top decomposed schist soils in Faye d'Anjou. This is historically a world-class terroir for botrytis wines, and is becoming also a superb site for dry versions of Chenin. Hand-harvested, the grapes are whole-cluster pressed, then vinified in large foudre for 6 months before being bottled with no sulfur. Malo happens, but the acidity remains bracing! On the nose, the wine has a really enticing combination of smoky reduction and a touch of spicy oxidation with a lot of yellow plum, papaya and freesia, with a hint of apple pie. On the palate, the wine is dense but really focused, and certainly lingering. It becomes more savory, loosing the oxidative notes of the nose to become more reductive. Its backing bitterness - think pear skin - makes it even more salivating. Really a top Chenin for the price! Keep it 5 years without any problem, or enjoy it now in larger glasses. For pairing, think about a cantaloupe and cucumber salade with fennel infused olive oil, a Maine lobster roll or roasted chicken with a corn polenta. 100% Chenin. Pascaline Lepeltier.
Les Tabeneaux is supposed to be a bistro cuvée by Benoit Courault, to serve at any time, for any occasion, slightly chilled, with our without food. In 2019, it is all true but this wine has for sure an extra-layer of gravitas and density due to the concentrated vintage. Yet that bottle gives its remarkable tannic elegance: this is Cabernet Franc and Grolleau grown on schists, and you could swear theirs tannins are chalky! This is because Ben's touch: his farming combined by his careful extraction during vinification allow him to have this lifted texture. No green, no harshness. And this year, it is obvious, and delicious. Vinified whole-clusters using the semi-carbonic vinification in tank, free-run and press are blended, then the wine is aged back in the tank until bottling with no sulfur. There is a little reduction on the nose when opening - do not worry, it disappears in minutes to show notes of roses, pomegranate, sorrel and pink peppercorn. On the palate, it is just delicious. Not as sweet as you could expect from the nose, just on the crushed red ripe berries in the front of the Grolleau, and then the herbal, floral, forest floor touch of the Cabernet Franc shines through at the end. Tannins are present but gentle. The wine is clean, precise, and too easy to drink, especially when you think of the amount of Cab Franc! Don't hesitate to chill it a bit if you want, the tannins won't get hard. Decant it and pair it with a spinach and smoked duck breast salad, tuna tacos, pork dumplings with sesame, any type of charcuterie (a plus if they have fennel), or by itself! 70% Cabernet Franc, 30% Grolleau. Pascaline Lepeltier.
Eglantine in 2019 is delicious pet'nat' rosé, a cross between the enticing rose and spicy notes of a Bugey-Cerdon and the backbone of a serious Rosé de Loire. Benoit Courault changes slightly the style of this cuvée depending on the profile of the vintage: this year is frizzante, and almost dry. The grapes are grown mostly on a clay-rich plateau over decomposed schists, with a few plots directly on the blue slate itself. They are of course hand-harvested, pressed and start their fermentation with no sulfur until Benoit bottles the wine with enough sugar to get 2 or so bars of pressure. It ages a couple of months and is disgorged in the Spring with nothing added. Expect an explosion of rose and strawberry at opening, and quite a decent amount of clean, appealing fermentary aromas. The palate is more structured and in place, with a ripe rhubarb like acidity driving the game. Bubbles are creamy but definitely present. I really enjoy the fresh cracked black pepper notes at the end of the palate. It's fun, it's good, it's clean, it's a really great pet'nat. Pair it with pretty much anything, if the bottle is not totally emptied by the end of the aperitif! 70% Cabernet Franc, 30% Grolleau (a sprinkle of Pineau d'Aunis). Pascaline Lepeltier.