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Wine Wanderings: Another Visit with Pierre Breton

From Joguet we drove directly to Pierre Breton.  We had hung out at Pierre’s place only a few months earlier and it was good to see him again.  On this visit, unfortunately, time was quite short and we headed straight to his underground tasting room and started opening bottles.

We had just come from the top producer of Chinon and we were now tasting with the top producer of Bourgeuil.  Naturally the question that dominated my mind was how do you distinguish between these two AOCs, which face each other across the Loire Valley and produce Cabernet Franc in chalky soils.

Not surprisingly, Pierre’s wines shared lots in common with Joguet’s.  The fruit profile tended to be somewhere around red currant and the more terroir-oriented wines showed chalkiness and sometimes some dark chocolate cake (yep).  Over all there were higher levels of acidity and tannins.

Early in the tasting we tried the new vintage of Trinch, the 2012.  This is true drinking wine, and vintage after vintage it’s the Cabernet Franc I drink at home the most.  I love the crunchy green fruit with a freshness that commands me to take another sip.

The Franc de Pied 2011 was a delicious and elegant wine made from ungrafted vines.  As most of you know, vines need to be grafted to American rootstock to protect them from phylloxera, the bug that would have ended European wine production at the end of the 19th century were it not for the discovery of this grafting technique.  Pierre planted ungrafted vines in his Galichets vineyard as an experiment.  He told us today that phylloxera does not seem to affect local vines until they are about 20-30 years old.  His plan is to keep making his Franc de Pied until phylloxera hits and then to replant with normal grafted vines.

Another experiment is Pierre’s Nuits d’Ivresse.  Pierre makes wines quite naturally, using sulfites only at bottling and only in tiny amounts.  With the Nuits d’Ivresse, he adds none at all –  it is completely free of added sulphur.  The use of sulphur in wine-making is controversial:  some people seem to believe that it interferes with the purity of the wine, while others believe that you actually need sulphur to protect a wine’s purity and its gout de terroir.  The 2011 Nuits d’Ivresse failed to settle that debate.  Some tasted too much of that no-sulphur wildness to really taste the terroir; I personally found it to be well within acceptable levels.  Pierre himself loves this wine; on our last visit we drank a magnum of 2009 with Pierre at the local bar and he was adamant that I needed to put 6 magnums in my own personal cellar.  Anyway, more on this issue when I talk about our recent visit with Thierry Allemand in a future blog post.

Like Joguet, Breton shows off his different terroirs with separate bottlings.  The differences are very clear.  2011 Galichets showed lots of sweet, high toned red fruit and was quite accessible.  Clos Senechal from the same vintage was darker and chalkier, and a little more withdrawn.  The 2010 Perrieres – Pierre’s top climat – was showing barrel influence and needed some time but there was an underlying sweetness that was somewhere between raspberry and red currant and a beautifully elegant finish that confirmed that this wine had a bright future.

Breton also has some holdings in Chinon, so we got to see the difference between the two villages at the same table and with no differences in wine-making to distort the experiment.  He bottles two parcels separately, Beaumont and St. Louens.  We tasted them both and concluded that, while these two villages clearly belonged in the same family, the Chinons showed softer structure, fruit that was a little prettier at this point and more chalk.  Still, it would be extremely difficult for anyone to pick out Chinon from Bourgeuil in a blind tasting!

Pierre is always generous, and he opened for us a 1976 Chinon Beaumont.  Wow, this just exploded with sweet raspberry and was really an astounding wine.  1976 was a very warm vintage in the Loire but there was no sign of sur-maturity and no lack of freshness in this very old wine!  It confirmed for me that for red Loire wines (unlike the whites and unlike in most other regions of France) the warmest vintages really are the best – a view that seems to be shared by most Loire growers themselves although one that is a little controversial in New York wine circles where the common wisdom seems to prefer “classic” vintages.