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Today we keep our focus on the Loire Valley, specifically two wine families that are legendary for their role in the world of organic and biodynamic viticulture and natural winemaking.
Domaine des Sablonnettes
Christine and Joel Ménard in Rablay-Sur-Layon are justly famous in France for their superb wines. Although the word "natural" is sometimes abused, in the case of the Ménards, the most positive connotations apply. All of their decisions are made after careful contemplation and in the context of their countless years of experience with their parcels and different grape varieties. They are certified organic and biodynamic, and vinify without added yeasts, sugars or other "corrections," and their use of sulfur dioxide is minimal, if they use any at all. Long before the phrase "natural wine" existed, the Ménards were making pure and beautiful natural wines, and they have always seemed happy to quietly continue doing so!
Auguste Ménard, the first generation of vigneron in the family, was nicknamed Ménard le Rouge for his revolutionary tendencies and his enormous red mustache. Now, his grandson, Jeremy, the son of Christine and Joel, has taken the helm at the estate, and is in charge of winemaking. He has a calm energy about him, and a firm grasp on winemaking, having grown up among the vines that surround their humble home and winery. Walking through the vineyards with him in the winter of 2018, it was clear that he has deeply connected to this plot of land, truly a farmer in his element, albeit sans moustache.
Today, we offer a batch of delicious Sablonnettes wines that have recently arrived. As always, the prices are very reasonable, even with a slight increase from the last vintage (to be fair I don't think they raised their prices at all the previous 10 years!). There is an increased use of small percentages of white grapes now, with Chenin Blanc making it's way into many of the cuvées that used to consist of 100% red grapes. I'll ask Jeremy about the decision making behing this when I next see him, but I will say the result is a level of freshness and lift to the wines that works quite nicely with the overall house style. -Eben Lillie
Cheverny, Cour-Cheverny and Vins de France from Philippe and Simon Tessier!
Quality at this dynamic estate seems to improve every year and we are happily taking whatever we can get our hands on, but sadly, in 2022, that's only 6 to 24 btls of each wine. These will sell-out quickly so don't delay!
The Tessier’s estate covers 26 hectares split between main islands of 5 ha or so each, nothing being more than 1 ½ miles away from the cellar. They have three main soils: 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, certified, since 1998 and minimal or zero SO2 is used. 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 For the red they grow 6 ha of Pinot Noir, 4.5 of Gamay, .3 ha of Pineau d’Aunis they planted 10 years ago and some Côt.
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 and Simon have 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.
Philippe and Simon Tessier are making soulful wines, true to their terroir. The wines are both complex and easy to drink which is not easy to achieve. (And they are made more beautifully enjoyable by the minimal or zero use of SO2!)
Please 2 bottle maximum on the rare "Porte Dorée."
Tessier wines arrive no later than Tuesday Oct 11 (Sablonnettes are in store already)
The 2021 Le P’tit Blanc comes from biodynamically farmed Chenin Blanc vines grown on schist soils in the Coteaux du Layon AOC. The grapes are grown on chemical-free schist soils and hand harvested, then the wine undergoes natural fermentation in stainless steel tanks. The wine shows a slightly cloudy pale gold color and aromas of baked apple and pear, a bit of citrus, white pepper, apricot and green tea. The palate is refreshing with brisk acidity with white fruits, lemon zest, apricot and peach with wet stones, a hint of caramel and a lovely burst of spicy citrus in the finish. Chenin Unchained! Really unique and delicious. From the bottle: "Expression commune et populaire pour désigner "le ballon de blanc" qu'on boit sans chichi ni tralala sur le zinc du bistro. Dynamique et rafraichissant, ce vin fera bon vent avec les possions ou autres accords gourmands." Loosely translated: A common and popular expression for the glass of white that we drink at the bar without fuss or 'tralala (razzle-dazzle).' Dynamic and refreshing, this intriguing natural wine will go well with fish, white meats and full-flavored cheeses. No added SO2. EL/DL
This is a new addition to the Sablonnettes lineup, a skin contact (Blanc de Macération) of Chenin Blanc, with subtle peachy hue, and lovely stone fruit on the palate. From the bottle: "Plus aromatique et plus tannique que son p'tit frère (le p'tit blanc), le zeste qui sauve le vigneron!" Loosely translated: More aromatic and tannic then its little brother (P'tit Blanc), the zest (alternatively, spark) which saves the winemaker! This would be great with marinated and grilled veggies, cheeses, and fish dishes. -EL
A lovely, rather full-bodied rosé of Cabernet Sauvignon and Chenin Blanc, featuring spicy deep raspberry and red currant aromas with a bit of honeyed white fruits from the Chenin, really fresh and lovely. The palate is light and pretty with peppery raspberry fruit, quite refreshing with brisk acidity and a lovely tart finish, just delicious! "This is not a Rosé" may be the name, and the color is a lovely pale red, but we still say it's a rosé! Absolutely charming with a chill. From the bottle: "Polisson gourmand, ce rose s'est régalé de tous les fruits rouges du jardin il en rougit encore de gourmandise" Loosely translated: Naughty eater, this rosé has feasted on all of the red fruits of the garden and is still blushing with gluttony. .. Enjoy!
Les Copines Aussi is a blend of Gamay and Chenin Blanc in 2021. It's joyful, fresh, and just a touch wild. Pure and delicious, great with a chill. From the bottle: "Les lampions brillent à la guinguette et l'accordeon nous rend polissons. A ouvrir entre copains... et copines. Gouleyant et jovial, ce vin vous invitera à partager le plaisir des petits moments et des grands instants" Loosely translated: The lanterns shine at the tavern, and the accordion makes us mischievous, To open with guy friends... and girl friends. Easygoing and jovial, this wine will invite you to share the pleasure of small moments and great moments.
This is the first natural wine I ever tried, over a decade ago, most likely in the mid 2000s, solely on the strength of the label which has a bunch of French hippie types jamming on musical instruments. The 2021 vintage of the Copains D'Abord is a blend of Groslot (Grolleau), Chenin Blanc, Cabernet Sauvignon and Gamay. There's more high-toned raspberry fruit aromas (with some cherry, strawberry and currant thrown in) which follow through on the medium-bodied palate. There's a bit of "barnyard" funk on the nose, certainly more than you get with the Copines, which is just Gamay/Chenin blend. This makes me think it might just be reduction linked to the Groslot or Cabernet. Balanced by lively acidity and pleasantly low in alcohol, this is a lush and delicious wine that will accompany grilled chicken or any lighter summer cuisine. Bravo to the Ménards for making these delicious and affordable wines! -EL
From the label: "Millefeuille de cepages rouges de chez nous. Auguste Ménard, premier vigneron de la famille était surnommé 'Ménard Le Rouge' pour son côté révolutionnaire et sa moustache rousse"Roughly translated: A millefeuille (layered pastry) of grapes from our home. Auguste Ménard, the first winemaker of the family, was nicknamed "Ménard the Red" for his revolutionary side, and his red mustache. This is a delicious and unique red that involves grapes being layered in a vat. 2020 was whole cluster Gamay, with Groslot a week later and finally Cabernet Sauvignon grapes laid on top before a final press. This vintage is Chenin Blanc, Gamay and Cabernet Sauvignon. My guess is they start with the Chenin, then follow with Gamay and finally the Cabernet Sauvignon (which they do usually harvest later). I'll get the scoop from Jeremy and update this note once we have details. However it was done, the results are delicious! Though I remembered this as being a darker wine than the Copines or Copains in previous years but this vintage it is almost spritzy, really lively and bright. Drink with a chill! -EL
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. A blend of Sauvignon and 10% Chardonnay, they add about 10% 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. 2021 was a vintage of tiny yields because of spring frosts givng a wine with bright acidity, but with good ripeness as well. 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. 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 and of course some goat cheese.
The 2020 Tessier Cour-Cheverny is 100% Romorantin from vines grown on sandy clay soils over limestone. The wine goes through the malo and is vinified and aged in vats. This is a beautiful Cour-Cheverny showing the power and weight of the 2020 vintage but as always with great balance and firm acidity. The wine shows distinctive aromas of pear and citrus fruit, lime-flower, toasted almond and hints of spice, really quite lovely. The palate is scintillating and dry with citrus, pear, herbal, stone and nut flavors, with nice ripeness and density and firm refreshing acidity. The finish is very long, with mineral, citrus and pear flavors that linger on the palate. Perfect as an aperitif or serve with full-flavored fish and chicken dishes, Asian foods, and especially with mild cheeses like Morbier or Raclette, or goat cheeses from the Loire. This will be very interesting with 2 to 4 years of cellaring as well. Lovely wine and a great value! 14.5% alc, 2.33 g/l RS, 18 mg/l total SO2.
We're happy to have "les Sables" back in stock, even if it's only one case! This beautiful, rich but dry Romorantin from Tessier is from 25 to 40 year-old vines on sandy clay soils with silex. The wine ages 10 months in tronconic wooden vats and 5 months in cement and was bottled with minimal SO2. This is a rare and beautiful wine, quite concentrated and incredibly vibrant! The nose is complex, with a lot of pear drops, lime zest, wild flower honey, almond and stone. It is in fact quite aromatic for a Romorantin. In the palate, there is a lot happening: you would never guess the alcohol as the tangy, acidity has such a backbone. It is really lifted for such a dense wine. Get creative, as this unique wine is a great food pairing for a full-flavered fish or shellfish preparation, or with rabbit and other white meats. We have 12 bottles.. (Approximately 14% alc, 1.5 gr/l RS, 15 mg/l SO2.)
The delicious 2021 Tessier Chevery Rouge is from 15 to 40 year-old vines of approximately 55% Pinot Noir, 35% Gamay and 10% Cot grown in sandy clay soils. Wild yeasts, of course, and aging in old barrels with minimal or zero SO2 added, bottled unfiltered. The yields were terrible in 2021, but the surviving bunches achieved good ripeness with perhaps a bit less acicity. The wine shows bright cherry and raspberry with plum, rose, citrus and brown spice. The palate is round, velvety, ripe and vibrantly refreshing with chalky spiced berry fruits, plum skin and mineral flavors, ending with sappy red fruits and bright acidity. Serve quite cool with charcuterie, chicken and pork dishes and a wide variety of cheeses. Just delicious!
The 2021 "Chemin Noir" is 100% massale selection Pineau d'Aunis (aka Chenin Noir, even though the two grapes are not related). Semi-carbonic fermentation for two weeks or so, then aging in older barrels. In the glass, the wine is a lovely pale cranberry in color. On the nose, there are high-toned scents of wild red berries and crisp pomegranate seeds, snappy dark citrus, with a whisper of black pepper. On the palate, bright and juicy cranberry, strawberry, and lean cherry hug a core of enticing minerality. The structure is incredibly refreshing, with great acid and just a touch of tannin - a light grip down the tongue. The finish is a delicious, full of energy, with an ounce of clean, bitter herb. This wine is dangerously drinkable.
Tessier's 2020 "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 in 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 minimal sulfur dioxide. It is really a round, easy-to-drink wine, showing cherry with lush wild strawberry and pomegranate, hints of cinnamon and almond, and very soft tannins. Serve cool, enjoy over the next five years. 13.5% alc, 19mg/l SO2.
The Tessier "Phil'en Bulle" is a fabuous Pet Nat (Methode Ancestrale - one fermentation that finishes in the bottle) made from 80% Romorantin and 20% Menu Pineau (Orbois) - two of our favorite grapes! The wine is bottled after one year sur lie, with zero added sulfur. The 2020 version is a knock-out, as usual, showing a pale gold color and vibrant aromas of citrus, honey, almond, and pear with herbal notes. The palate is round, dense and brisk, with citrus peel, almond, white fruits and caramel with herbal notes. The finish is long and refreshing. Serve this terrific Pet Nat with just about anything, it's a perfect aperitif and will be a treat over the holidays...