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Wine Wanderings: Visit to Joguet

Charles Joguet is the domaine that put Chinon on the map.  Joguet liked Burgundy, especially how each itty bitty plot of land seemed to make distinct wine from its specific terroir.  Joguet noticed that Chinon was a bit like that too: his great vineyards produced wines that were consistently distinct and delicious on their own, without any need of blending.  He decided Cabernet Franc was a great grape variety, deserving of the full Burgundian treatment.  Single vineyard Chinon was born, and the world became a better place.

Winemaker Kevin Fontaine, who took over from Charles several years ago, greeted us at the caves where the domaine stores their bottled wine.  I will think of these cellars every time I run out of room in my tiny wine fridge at home. The caves, which  extend for a full hectare, were hand-carved out of the local white-tinged limestone by hand, centuries ago – you can still see the marks where the long-gone laborers used their tools.

We toured the giant space.  Even with all that wine, Joguet uses only a tiny bit of it; it could easily store several million more bottles in it’s perfect conditions, temperature fluctuating by no more than half a degree Celsius throughout the four seasons.  There was even a “courtyard” -- really just one of the caverns but with the roof missing – with an outdoor grill, so you’re all set for a great cook-out when it’s time to pop some bottles.

It was too cold in the courtyard today, so we headed into an interior tasting cave (only barely warmer) and Kevin walked us through the 2011 line-up.  A horizontal like that is really the best way to see the importance of terroir in Chinon.

The 2011 Cuvee Terroirs, a blend of grapes grown in sandy soils, had crunchy green fruit and was a good example of the kind of Cabernet Franc I wish you could get by the glass in a bar. The 2011 Petites Roches, from clay soils, has an extra dimension, with more and darker fruit and classic Chinon chalkiness.  Serve it up.  The Cuvee de la Cure (gravel, clay) was darker still, with black cherries and currants.  The chalkiness here showed more like dark chocolate – and yes, that’s a good thing.

Les Charmes 2011 is from limestone, giving the wine class and a really fine tannic structure, but this needs a few years in the cellar.  Varenne de Grand Clos 2011 was much showier, with the fruit a more elegant shade of red – red currants especially, with hints of Chambord – and lots of that choco-chalk gout de terroir.

The top wines, built to last, are the Clos du Chene Vert  and the Clos de la Dioterie.  Both were complete-package wines, with all the flavors noted in Les Charmes but on a larger scale and weaved together in a way that made it far greater than the sum of its parts and really impossible to put into words.  Of the two, the Chene Vert was more open and yet had a more quiet beauty, while the Dioterie was fleshier but also hiding a bit under lots of tannins.  If that makes sense.  In any case, these were both super-elegant wines that will no doubt one day attain absolute deliciousness.  And good news for the folks back home: you can shop Joguet in SF and NYC today!

After tasting a couple of 2010s we ended the tasting with Clos de la Plante Martin, Chenin Blanc Sec 2011.  Usually one of my favorite early-drinking Chenins, this did not disappoint.  It’s dry and yellow fruity with a spike of minerals.  It is barrel aged and showed it a little today – another year in bottle will help.  Fortunately that’s just about when it will show up in New York (right now we are selling the delicious 2010).

On the whole, these were first class red Loires rivaled only by you-know-who in Saumur Champigny.  With the rest of the world chasing all the top Burgundies, I’ll leave some room in my cellar for these much more findable beauties.