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They are back! The wines of Philippe Tessier have been favorites of the team at CSW for quite some time now. This should come as no surprise to those familiar with Philippe’s work as his wines are undoubtedly among the greatest low intervention wines you can find in this part of the Loire. These wines are sincere in execution and consistently exceed expectations. The eastern Touraine, and more specifically a golden triangle between Cheverny, Mareuil-sur-Cher and Les Montils, as well as both banks of the Cher, have become one of the most important active centers in France for the rebirth of true, living wines, with the likes of Puzelat, Clos Roche Blanche (with their successors Julien Pineau, Laurent Saillard, Noëlla Morantin, etc.), Les Capriades, Bruno Allion, Christophe Foucher and Hervé Villemade. When you think about the concentration of talent in this little corner of Loir-et-Cher, it is just incredible! Philippe has been a force in this movement, as well as one of the main players in the recognition of Cour-Cheverny and the preservation of Romorantin since 1981. 2018 was his last harvest, after which his son Simon officially took control of the 26 ha Domaine. Yet, as Simon puts it “Philippe lives and breathes the vineyards." His father is ever present in the vineyard, helping with the transition. It is great to see such a smooth generational transition of control. Simon understands the work and the legacy of Philippe, and if changes may need to be made to the vineyard (more experiments, continuing to implement more permaculture, cover crop, biodynamic techniques, etc.), these changes will be respectful of the legacy of the estate. So here you are, 2018 and 2019, two very similar and different vintages at the same time, similar as they were both sunny and warm, different as 2018 saw more mildew leading to a smaller, very concentrated crop, while 2019 was more generous in yield - both with great acidity despite the heat! Father and son handled the conditions extremely well to offer us a great line-up of wines denser and riper than usual - yet they managed to preserve the saltiness and the lift they are known for. With Fall upon us, these are perfect wines to enjoy with all the gastronomical treats brought to us this season!
Cheverny, Cour-Cheverny and Sologne.
Just a couple of words on the region. This area is not usually as highly regarded as other appellations of the Loire Valley, and might be completely overlooked if it was not for the Romorantin grape which brings a twist of interesting indigenousness, and this pool of natural winemakers who believed in the potential of their home vineyards. If not (unfortunately) world-famous for wines, the area is without a doubt famous for its iconic castles: Chambord, Chenonceau, Cheverny, Chaumont, Blois, Montrichard, etc. Why did the aristocracy take root in this place? Multiple reasons, including the proximity to Paris (via Orléans), the access to building stones (tuffeau, just west in Montlouis and Vouvray), the mild climate (with the protection of the rivers) and the land. Fertile, flat soils perfect for a large variety of crops including grapes, numerous ponds for fishing, the proximity of the forests for hunting (Chambord was originally designed to be the hunting lodge of Francis the 1st) If you wanted to eat and drink, it was a perfect spot. Since that time, the Sologne Viticole, as it is unofficially called, developed itself as an area of polyculture, and a transition area between the warmer, western influences and cooler continental effects. This is one of the reasons why you have a mix of grapes, and a tradition of blending for Cheverny. One of the other reasons is historical (and commercial), as Francis the 1st indeed asked for a vineyard to be planted in the area. We are pretty sure by now Romorantin was not part of it (more detailed below), but Pinot Noir certainly as the 80,000 vines were called “Plants de Beaune." Being a political center, the number of exchanges, including imports of cuttings, was not surprising. So why was the region not more recognized? Essentially because of transportation: with most of the vineyards on the hills of both banks of the Cher, the wines had to be shipped by this river to reach the Loire where they were usually sent to Orléans with lower quality production (the best being shipped abroad). Phylloxera’s destruction did not help either. You had to wait until after World War II for the first official recognition. In May of 1949 the area was recognized under the designation of “Mont Prés-Chambord, Cour Cheverny” and became AOC Cour-Cheverny in 1993. In 1973 Cheverny gained VDQS recognition, and in 1993 finally gained AOC status. Quality can be found without a doubt, thanks to a mix of soils, and a nice patrimony of old vines allowing the production of original wines, with a distinct personality from the mass of Touraine AOC wines.
Sologne is indeed a flat land, with rolling (low) hills reserved to the bank of the rivers. You are in transitional territory here, and until I visited, I wondered why you had no vineyards between eastern Touraine and the Sancerrois… just forests. Soil and climate variation explain it! The Cretaceous Turonian tuffeau of central Touraine disappeared under younger alluvial soils brought by the different geological phenomena of the Quaternary. There are multiple influences from the many rivers flowing to the Loire, creating terraces of alluvial soils composed of a mix of sands and different types of clay - illite, montmorillonite and smectite. The limestone surfaces stretch out hundred kilometers or so with the Jurassic cuestas of Sancerre. Where you have more sands, on the western side, you find vineyards. For the rest, swamps and forests dominate (with pine trees planted to reclaim the swamp areas.) The forests increase the influence of the continental climate. Northern influences from the Channel are also felt as there is no real barrier north of the Loire but the flat plain of Beauce (the bread belt of France.) This has ,unfortunately, contributed to several hard frost episodes over the last decade…
The Tessier’s estate covers 26 hectares split between two main islands of 5 ha or so each, nothing being more than 1 ½ miles away from the cellar. They have three main soils, even though they recognize the variations are subtle: a very draining terroir of sand and faluns (a young limestone rich in fossils), easy to work, sensitive to hydric stress, giving the lighter, more fruit-forward wines; some terroir with sands and a different proportion of clay and silt; and a few plots where the Cretaceous limestone is very close to the top soils, giving deeper wines. All are organically farmed since 1998.
The surface is roughly split 50/50 between the white and the red grapes: 6.5 ha of Romorantin, 5 of Sauvignon, 1 of Chardonnay and some Menu Pineau they replanted recently as it is thought that the grape, although not very aromatic, can bring some acidity (it was uprooted because it used to have a hard time ripening, which is not the case this past decade). For the red they grow 6 ha of Pinot Noir, 4.5 of Gamay, .3 of Pineau d’Aunis they planted 10 years ago and some Côt. 90% is planted on 3309 rootstock, better suited than Riparia for sandy soil. They both own and rent the vines.
Simon joined back the estate at the end of 2017. He always loved wine, but his first career was on the other side of the industry - for 8 years he worked in a wine shop in Nantes where he discovered the world of wine, and could taste from all over France, but also Europe and the rest of the world. He gained knowledge of the distribution network and the retail business, an experience he has found to be quite useful now that he is a winemaker. But in 2017 he decided his future was in the vineyard, and after training in the Amboise viticulture school (where Damien Delecheneau teaches) and interning at François Chidaine and Antoine Arena, he came back to harvest in 2018. He works closely in the vineyards with Philippe who remained at the estate after the “official” transition. In the cellar things are very simple - everything is hand-harvested, then pressed or macerated in a mix of different types of vessels and sizes, including a Georgian qvevri (Philippe visited with Thierry Puzelat and his gang a couple of years ago). Fermentations are spontaneous, malo is done for the white, sulfur dioxide is added with parsimony, depending on the cuvée and the pH. Wines may be filtered, especially if there are some residual sugars - but most of the reds are not. The Tessier website is up-to-date if you want to have all the numbers for each wine! The line up is mostly based on the age of the vines. For the reds, they started to do single-variety bottling a couple of years ago, when certain barrels tasted unique to Philippe. They may not produce them every year.
Just a note on this grape, as Philippe and Simon are very fond of it, which makes me very happy! Once again, we can thank Henri Galinié and his work on Loire grape varieties. In this case, I am referring to this one - Les noms Framboise, Dannery, Romorantin (1712-1904). In terms of origins, forget the story about Romorantin being brought from Burgundy when Francis the 1st created his vineyard. Like the 1709 frost and Muscadet, there is no historic validation of it. What we know - thanks to historians, grape geneticists and vignerons - is that Romorantin is one of the names used, and not the first one (it was Framboise, which in 18th century French means “delicate smell” - it also means raspberry). The grape with its multiple synonyms seems to appear in the 18th century, and arrived around Cour-Cheverny in the early 19th century. It is a cross between Pinot Teinturier (a mutation of Pinot Noir which gives darker juice) and Gouais, relating it to Chardonnay and Melon. It is a rustic grape, budding early, ripening later than usually written about it (for example it is always the last grape to be harvested at Tessier’s, whatever the style, usually a good week after the reds). It produces significant yield according to Philippe, so you have to prune it short to get something interesting, and ripe. Its acidity is striking. The stems and the berries have a reddish color. The cluster is compact, but when ready to be picked the skin is quite fragile. Romorantin is very sensitive to Botrytis, and can make very unique noble rot bottlings. When young, it can be confused with Chardonnay. It needs some time in the bottle to reveal its honey, acacia, jasmine, almond milk notes. With age, it makes me think of it as Chenin crossed with an Aligoté. It is very versatile in style, from bone dry to sweet, bubbles, and even skin-maceration. The best ones can age 10-15 years at least, as I was lucky to experiment in their dry and off-dry versions. This is really a very interesting grape, and we need to thank those who fought to preserve the 70ha (20% of Central Park's surface) currently planted with this variety, including some 150 year old vines saved at Henry Marionnet which cuttings were used to replant a vineyard in the Château de Chambord! Philippe and Simon Tessier are without a doubt some of the pillars of Romorantin preservation! Without their work and their love for this grape, it would be even harder to taste it and enjoy its uniqueness! They farm 6.5 ha - one the largest holdings, with those of Michel Gendrier, François Cazin and Hervé Villemade. The Tessier produce up to 6 different cuvées of Romorantin in the best years, including a skin-macerated, a late-harvest and a sparkling. Is this not love...
Philippe and now Simon Tessier are making soulful wines, true to their terroir. They are both complex and easy to drink which is not easy to achieve. In warmer years like 2018 and 2019, the vineyard work paid off without a doubt! The entire line up the shows upfront juicy ripeness supported by a backbone of structure you expect from the domain. Without a doubt these are great wines to enjoy in the next months, but don’t hesitate to cellar the Romorantin, especially the Les Sables et La Porte Dorée. Riper vintages are really good for Romorantin, and the 2018, with its concentration, is guaranteed to be layered and delicious in 10 years or so!
All wines arrive by Tuesday 9/29, normal 10% case/mixed case discount applies. Please note: No futher inventory is available for 2018 Nota Bene, 2019 Cheverny Rouge, 2019 Chemin Noir and 2018 Cour-Cheverny Blanc - don't delay!
La Charbonnerie is the top Cheverny blanc from Philippe and now Simon Tessier, made with the oldest Sauvignon and Chardonnay from the estate, planted by Philippe's father in the 1960s, it is in a way a single-vineyard. Like all the wines of the domain, the grapes are hand-harvested, pressed and fermented with spontaneous yeasts, malo is done and aging is quite short, happening in stainless steel tank. If this bottling has the touch of the vintage, a certain creaminess due to the warm vintage, you still taste the touch of the Tessier. The nose is very nuanced and subtle, with a variation on white flower, pomelo zest and mountain herbs. The palate has a nice glycerol feel with a hint of herbal bitterness and the finish has a fresh iodine length which allows for a lot of pairings. A little time in bottle will make it even saltier. Serve it in medium size glass, and enjoy it with a whole roasted celeriac served with gremolata, or a wild-caught salmon with a caulliflower and halzenut milk purée, and of course some aged goat cheese. 80% Sauvignon Blanc, 20% Chardonnay. Pascaline Lepeltier.
Toc is a pun for Côt, one of the single-variety cuvées made by Simon and Philippe Tessier in their organic estate of Sologne. Côt, or Malbec, is one of the grapes authorised in the Cheverny AOC but as the appellation has to be a blend, the wine is declassified in Vin de France. We are at the eastern and northern limit for this grape : its profile is utterly different than what you know from Cahors or Argentina. On these sandier soil, the tannins are lighter, and the acidity has a unmistakable blueberry core. It may be more herbal, but in a vintage like 2019 it is not the case at all. On the opposite end, this is a great vintage for this cuvée! Vinified like all the other reds in semi-carbonic maceration for 15 days or so, then aged in larger oak barrel, this bottling has a juicy, plush texture balancing really well the natural high acid spine of the variety. Dark purple - the usual colour of Malbec - the 2019 has a powerful bouquet of violet, elderberry, Assam tea and dried thyme. In the palate, the attack is round and easy, then the tension appears, and plays with the gentle tannins. Despite his ripeness it is not heavy at all. This is really a delicious juicy wine you would like to decant and can chill a tight. Pair it with a roasted eggplant with zaatar and cumin, a lamb chop served with braised collar green and black garlic or pork loin with confit beets & radishes. 100% Côt. Pascaline Lepeltier.
Chemin Noir is of course also a pun - pun is a tradition for winemakers in the Loire, especially in the Loir-et-Cher around Cheverny like the Tessier. The wine is 100% Pineau d'Aunis, whose local name is Chenin Noir - black Chenin. It is still used even though it has been proven for a while that Aunis and Chenin were not related. So Chemin/Chenin Noir, you get it. This grape is a new addition for the domain : the vines were planted in 2012 from cuttings taken at a neighbouring estate, Courtault-Tardieux (they like to get massal selection cuttings from the area as the grapes got used to the biotope). This is the second vintage of this wine, and they make almost nothing (they have .3 ha...). It is denser than the 2018, and even though Simon wants to vinify with care as the vines are young, the climate of the year brought concentration, density and texture! He uses the same techniques than for all the other wines, semi-carbonic for two weeks or so, then aging in older barrel. The nose is so Pineau d'Aunis with this mix of fresh crushed black pepper, wild strawberry, damp forest floor. The palate is juicy and delicious, very soft but fresh, with enticing tannins just grippy enough to make you salivate. I really like this bottling, it is a great introduction if you never had the grape. Decant for the hint of reduction, chill it a little if you want, and enjoy it with a burger with a confit garlic aioli and sun-dried tomato sauce, a smoked crapaudine (a type of heirloom beet) with lardo or a trout confit with piperade. 100% Pineau d'Aunis. Pascaline Lepeltier.
Tessier's Le Point du Jour is a beautiful expression of Cheverny, a blend of 20% Gamay and 80%Pinot Noir from the oldest vines of the estate planted on two types of terroir, clay and sand and sandy clay over limestone. Hand-harvested, the grapes are vinified for 80% whole-cluster, macerated for 2 weeks or so before being aged in a mix of barrels, demi-muids and foudres. Aging is short, the wine is blended in January and bottled a couple of weeks after unfiltered with only 22 ppm of sulfur dioxide. 2019 was a ripe and dry vintage giving powerful and full wines, but the old vines enhanced by the farming preserved the acidity in this bottling, keeping it remarkably fresh. It is really a round, easy-to-drink variation. For the moment the aromatics of the Gamay are slightly taking over the Pinot's, with lush wild strawberry and pomegranate, some pink peppercorn and fenugreek, and very soft tannins. As we say in French, it is very "gourmand". I will bet in a year of so the Pinot will show more. But for the moment, it is really easy to drink and pair with so many foods like a beef tartare with sesame oil and tarragon, a fricassée of roasted chestnut with porcini and goat cheese ravioli, or to enjoy by itself as the perfect Indian Summer aperitif wine - serve it with tapas, anised-charcuterie, etc. Don't hesitate to give it a slight chill. 80% Pinot Noir, 20% Gamay. Pascaline Lepeltier.
Philippe and now Simon Tessier are making some of the most delicious Cheverny rouge, a blend from Pinot and Gamay, with a touch of spicy Côt. Fruitier and juicier than Burgundian Passe-tout-grain - probable because of the terroirs, and maybe the clones used - this type of wine is really perfect to enjoy all the time. This specific bottling comes from the youngest vines of the estate, and the vines planted on sandy clay. Made in semi-carbonic maceration and mostly aged in stainless tank, the Tessiers want to preserve the lift and the prettiness of the grapes. Aging is short so aromas and texture are boosted. 2019 was a really warm vintage: you pick notes riper than usual of berry mix with oregano and thai basil, with a Mediterranean twist. On the palate, the wine comes back to the Loire, but definitely has the roundness you would expect from this vintage. Lush but sappy, it is a highly quaffable wine you would enjoy in the next months, and makes a perfect companion for any weeknight dinner. Enjoy it with a roasted chicken with heirloom beans cooked in a a butter and thyme broth, or spaghetti with sundried tomato and bottarga. 40% Pinot Noir, 40% Gamay, 10% Côt. Pascaline Lepeltier.
Philippe and now Simon Tessier are making really delicious wines from the organic vineyards in Sologne. Under the Cheverny AOC, they make white and red, but also rosé : the sandy clay soil as well as the grapes (Pinot Noir and Gamay) are perfectly suited for the style. Of course, don't expect a boring, insipid, pale salmon whitish rosé. There is always some serious depth and length in their wine! With the 2019, you have on top more texture and power than usual: the warm summer led to ripe, concentrated berries. This bottling is more aromatic than usual, with notes of dried rose, pink grapefruit and pomegranate. The attack is creamy and rich, but the wine quickly balances out the alcohol but a really nice bitter edge of pomelo, and the acidity kicks in at the end. It is quite salty too. All in all this is great wine for this Fall and Winter, the type of rosé that can pair really with pretty much anything, and that will have the texture you want when the days will start to be chilly: comforting yet energetic. Serve it in a white wine glass and pair it with what you be pleased to cook, be it some fried squids with spicy aioli, a chana masala or any kind of cheese. 50% Pinot Noir, 50% Gamay. Pascaline Lepeltier.
In the western Sologne, Philippe and now his son Simon Tessier are making some of the best example of Cheverny blanc, an appellation focusing on blend, and highly versatile with a lift and an elegance due to the sandy clay soil over limestone. The Tessier produce 2 Cheverny blanc based on the age of the vines. This bottling, the regular one, comes from the younger vines, on soils with a little bit more sand : it is always the lightest with the highest tones. A blend of Sauvignon and Chardonnay, they had also a bit of a local, ancient variety, Orbois or Menu Pineau, a grape that almost disappeared because in the past it barely ripened. But because of climate change, the Menu Pineau is a valuable asset to keep acidity and tension. 2019 was a warm vintage with drought, so this bottling has more texture and glycerol than usual, without loosing its Loire Valley character. Even if the blend is dominated by the Sauvignon, there is no caricatural expression: it is more a variation on grapefruit zest, sage, and white flowers. The aromas on the palate are also all in touches, with notes of apple blossom, anis, lemon zest with a nice subtle bitterness. In this vintage, it is definitely more a Fall bottle than a brisk summery wine, which is perfect! Serve it in a larger glass, let it open for a little bit and serve it with some black sea bass with squash and yuzu, a salad of fennel 3 ways (raw, confit and braised) and of course some goat cheese with an arugula salad dressed with halzenut oil. 80% Sauvignon, 15% Chardonnay, 5% Orbois. Pascaline Lepeltier.
Philippe and Simon Tessier are without a doubt some of the pillars of Romorantin preservation! Without their work and their love for this grape, it would be even harder to taste it and enjoy its uniqueness! They farm 6.5 ha - one the largest holdings, with those of Michel Gendrier, François Cazin and Hervé Villemade. I really like Romorantin: it makes think about a mix, depending on the style, of Melon x Chenin x Aligoté. The Tessier produce up to 6 different cuvées of Romorantins in the best years, including a skin-macerated, a late-harvest and a sparkling. For the still, they look for a dry expression. The differences between their 3 main cuvées is the age of the vines, the soil and the aging. For the regular Cour-Cheverny, the grapes are the youngest of the estate growing on sandier soil. Like for all the wines, grapes are hand-harvested, pressed, fermented with indigenous yeasts, malo is done. Aging is always longer for Romorantin than for the other grapes as they think the grape needs time to reveal itself. For this bottling there is no oak. 2018 is a really good vintage for Romorantin even though the vintage was really complicated as it achieves a great ripeness due to the small concentrated crop and heat. It gives this wine a density and a complexity of structure I really like, with power - alcohol is not shy, you have a hint of RS (1.5 g) - but with this vibrant acidity typical of the grape. Aromatically it is still quite shy, so give it some air and you will pick up the Hawthorne, the pink grapefuit, the honey. I definitely think a couple of months in bottle will be a bonus, and you can cellar it up to 5 years no problem. It will take this riesling-profile. Enjoy it with a roasted butternut squash stuffed with stracciatella and almond, a goat cheese ravioli with brussels sprouts or a young, hard-pressed cheese. 100% Romorantin. Pascaline Lepeltier.
La Porte Dorée - the Golden Gate - is without a doubt one of the best expressions of dry Romorantin with Hervé Villemade's Les Acacias. This cuvée comes for 80% from a specific vineyard called "Porte Dorée" : there is more clay, the soil is cooler, the limestone is closer. The oldest vines are 60 years old. Because of the late ripeness of this plot, and its concentration, it is always aged in barrels to tame the powerful acidity and help with the aromatic development. It is usually bottled just before harvest. 2018 was a challenging year for vignerons as mildew hit really early on, at flowering, limiting the crop. Then the heat concentrated the berries : it was a small crop of tiny, dense fruits. The Tessier though managed it very well, but this is for sure a bottle that would deserve some time in bottle to loosen up, sharpen and showcase its aromatic complexity. Today the nose and palate are a little shy, showing tons of ruby red grapefruit zest, hawthorne, anjou pear skin, chestnut honey. In the palate, you pick up some shiso, artemisia and quince. The wine has a lot of texture and power - with its 6 g of residual sugars - but the acidity is definitely here in the back, and will carry on this wine for a decade or more. This is a really good vintage for La Porte Dorée for those who are patient! If you want to enjoy it today, decant it, watch the temperature. For pairing, I can think about a great dish by Chef Eric Fréchon, a stuffed cannelloni with artichoke, parmigiano and foie gras, but it will also remarkable with a sauteed scallop with chestnut, apple and brussels sprouts, or a aged goat cheese with mountain honey. 100% Romorantin. Pascaline Lepeltier.
The superb 2018 "Point Nommé" is from 100% Pinot Noir grown on silex and clay over limestone, vinified with minimal SO2 and aged for 10 months in old barriques, bottled unfiltered. This is a vibrant fruit-bomb, showing lush high-toned aromas of blackberry, black raspberry liqueur, citrus peel, brown spice and licorice. There is lush fruit on the palate brightened by firm acidity - black raspberry and red currant - very ripe with a touch of tannin, deep and long. This is an unusual and delightful Pinot Noir showing the beautiful fruit of this great vintage in the Loire Valley. Only 12 bottles available, don't delay. David Lillie Tasting again last week, the wine has tamed a bit its fruity side, and is now more savory, and spicier. The use of whole-clusters brings layers and freshness, with some thyme tea and oolong aromas. If you can enjoy it by itself, this wine will allow a lot of delicious pairing like a glazed duck with pomegranate molasses, a baked red snapper with garlic and herbs or a porcini risotto. Pascaline Lepeltier
The superb 2018 "Point Nommé" is from 100% Pinot Noir grown on silex and clay over limestone, vinified with minimal SO2 and aged for 10 months in old barriques, bottled unfiltered. This is a vibrant fruit-bomb, showing lush high-toned aromas of blackberry, black raspberry liqueur, citrus peel, brown spice and licorice. There is lush fruit on the palate brightened by firm acidity - black raspberry and red currant - very ripe with a touch of tannin, deep and long. This is an unusual and delightful Pinot Noir showing the beautiful fruit of this great vintage in the Loire Valley. Only 12 bottles available, don't delay. David Lillie
Tasting again last week, the wine has tamed a bit its fruity side, and is now more savory, and spicier. The use of whole-clusters brings layers and freshness, with some thyme tea and oolong aromas. If you can enjoy it by itself, this wine will allow a lot of delicious pairing like a glazed duck with pomegranate molasses, a baked red snapper with garlic and herbs or a porcini risotto. Pascaline Lepeltier
"Nota Bene" is Philippe Tessier's rare and beautiful Gamay, made from his oldest vines and only in the best vintages. The 2018 is extraordinary showing a deep black/red color with intense aromas of blackberry, earth, mint and violets - lush but bright. The palate is quite dense with complex black fruits lifted by firm acidity, with hints of mint, licorice, spice and earth. The finish is long and dense with almost bitter black fruit and mineral flavors. We would suggest cellaring for about five years. David Lillie