I am always on the hunt for a bargain, but with wine it can be challenging. In the ongoing pursuit of organoleptic bliss, I am not willing to sacrifice my standards for quality just to save a buck. So, I'm thrilled when I can find wines, such as the two featured this month, whose quality outshines their prices. I’ve often said that if I could afford to, I would drink the first growth wines from Bordeaux all the time, but those wines carry an almost prohibitive price. My fondness for the great Chenin Blancs of the Loire Valley encouraged me to look to other appellations (other than the well-known Vouvray, whose prices continue to climb) that can offer tremendous flavor and quality for a more reasonable price. With the holidays rapidly approaching, there will be occasions when a special bottle of wine will make the festivities even better. It’s always very exciting and gratifying when you can share wines of this quality and bask (humbly) in the glory of compliments that are thrown at you. Only then should you boast about what a bargain they are.
About the Winemaker and Region: From its source in the hills of Auvergne, in western France, the Loire River flows for just over 620 miles to the plains of the Pay Nantais, where it empties into the Atlantic Ocean. The Loire wine region, which follows the course of the river, produces more than one hundred million gallons of wine each year. It is home to 70 appellations and roughly 175,000 acres of vines, spread across 14 administrative departments. Montlouis is an appellation of 400 hectares located directly across the river from Vouvray. In fact, until it was granted AOC status in 1937, Montlouis wines were produced under the Vouvray appellation. These are Touraine’s two great white wine appellations, and both have plateaus where most of the vineyards grow high above the river. Montlouis has somewhat more sand and less clay in its soils than Vouvray and its wines, very generally, can consequently be fresher and straighter, requiring more time in bottle to round out. Vouvray’s advantage in clay favors botrytis, which can add any number of layers of fat and flavor to a wine.
Xavier Weisskopf founded Le Rocher des Violettes in 2005, after studying winemaking in Chablis and Beaune and earning his degree in viticulture and oenology. He quickly went to work for the famed Gigondas producer Chateau de Saint Cosme, where he rapidly rose to the rank of chef du cave, making 4 vintages during his tenure. His love for Chenin Blanc drew him to Montlouis, an underappreciatied historic appellation. Xavier bought 22 acres of vines in the Saint Martin le Beau sector of Montlouis, and an enormous 15th century stone cellar—originally a quarry dug deep into the Loire’s chalk-limestone bank in Amboise. Since that time, he has increased his holdings of Le Rocher des Violettes to just under 40 acres of vines, with most being classified in AOP Montlouis, while the rest are divided between Touraine (7.5 acres) and Vin de France (2.5 acres) appellations. The vines are scattered about in various parcels and were planted at different times, but the majority were put into the ground before WWII. There’s Chenin Blanc, followed by small amounts of Cabernet Franc, Chardonnay, Grolleau for rosé, and Malbec (Cot). Following the path of minimal intervention, by 2009 Xavier converted the farming of all his vines to certified organics. In the cellar, he favors 500-liter demi-muid barrels over steel tanks for the exchange of oxygen the wood permits, which is particularly useful for Chenin because its wine is prone to reduction. He’s careful to preserve fruit without letting oak intrude; he likes his wines to be fresh, mineral, long and vertical, rather than fat. His goal is simply to make wines of clarity and focus.
About the Winemaking: Xavier’s 2019 Le Rocher des Violettes Chenin “Vin de France” is made of 100% organic Chenin Blanc grapes sourced from declassified Montlouis vines (75% from Les Borderies and 25% from Negrette). Some peculiar local regulation keeps this from being labeled as "Montlouis Sur Loire". These vines, which are grown in soils of limestone and silex, average over 60 years old. The grapes for the 2019 were hand-harvested and the wine was fermented using only indigenous yeast. Once fermentation was complete, the wine was aged 90% in stainless-steel and 10% in large older barrels.
Tasting Notes: The 2019 Le Rocher des Violettes Chenin “Vin de France” is a dry, fuller-bodied 100% Chenin Blanc with just a kiss of oak. In the nose aromas of honey, green apples, ripe pears, chalk, and clover flower are rich and complex. These flavors coat the palate on its initial attack and are followed by bright acidity leaving the palate clean and fresh.
Enjoy this wine by itself as an aperitif, or pair it with seafood dishes that include lobster or scallops, cream sauces, winter squash, edamame, veal, mushrooms, vegetable soups, fresh salads, mild to medium cheeses such as cheddar or goat cheese, roast pork loin, roast turkey, and moderately spicy Asian foods.
The 2019 Le Rocher des Violettes Chenin is $23.00/bottle, $248.40/case
About the Region: The French wine-producing region of Bordeaux, ruled by the English for 200 years in the Middle Ages, produces more AC wine than any other region in France. It is a vast area of 60 appellations with over 13,000 wineries making approximately 60 million cases annually. If Bordeaux were a country, it would rank 5th in wine production on its own. While most wine drinkers may know of the great appellations within Bordeaux where the appellation’s finest wine châteaux are located, they may be unfamiliar with the wines from appellations such as Bordeaux AC, Fronsac, Lalande de Pomerol, Médoc, Côtes de Bordeaux (which can be prefixed by Blaye, Bourg, Côtes de Bourg, Cadillac, Castillon and Francs), or the satellite appellations with St-Émilion as part of their name for reds.
The wine area of Lalande-de-Pomerol is situated just beyond the gates of the provincial town of Libourne, 30 kilometers east of the city of Bordeaux along the Right Bank of the Dordogne. The Barbanne stream separates this appellation from Pomerol, its famous Southern neighbor. Both the villages of Nérac and Lalande-de-Pomerol are included within the appellation known as of Appellation Lalande-de-Pomerol Contrôlée. Thanks to the geological specificities of its soil, Lalande-de-Pomerol has an excellent reputation amongst other right bank appellations. The area is protected on its south-western side by the hills of Fronsac, and takes advantage of a hot climate, particularly well adapted for growing Bordeaux varietals. Similar to Pomerol, Lalande-de-Pomerol’s soil is marked by important iron oxide traces (locally called "crasse de fer") as well as decalcified, hardened, and reddened quartz deposits, flint, and granite. The ground displays argillaceous and gravelly characteristics but gets increasingly sandy towards the west side of the appellation. Merlot grows exceptionally well in the clay dominant gravel-based soils of this fertile area. When the yields are well controlled, the wines of Lalande-de-Pomerol have a common touch of spice and red fruit in their youth, before evolving toward a more elegant and round-bodied wine with savory and complex fruit flavors.
About the Winemaker and Vineyard: Vincent Lagrave ended a career as a professional rugby player at the age of 36, in 2010. Today, he is a full-time winegrower on a family property handed down for several generations. He is himself the son and grandson of winegrowers. “I have always been immersed in the agricultural world. Working in the vineyard was not my specialty, I preferred to drive the machines.” Vincent studied oenology and viticulture at the Lycée Agricole de Montagne with the goal of making his own wine. After managing two significant Haut-Médoc Crus Bourgeois estates, Château Belle-Vue and Château Gironville, Vincent Lagrave turned this attention to Lalande-de-Pomerol. He now farms a one-hectare site in Lalande-de-Pomerol’s preferred north-west zone and is in the process of renovating a building using his own homemade scaffolding made from old pallets. Lagrave makes just one wine from this secluded and beautiful parcel, Château Fleur D’Eymerits. Château Fleur D’Eymerits is strongly committed to sustainable farming practices. The estate’s tiny plot is hand-tended and hand-harvested.
About Winemaking and Tasting Notes: Château Fleur D’Eymerits is made from 50+ years-old Merlot vines planted in clay soil. Vinification is done in the traditional fashion and the wine is aged 12-14 months in small French oak barrels. The 2018 Château Fleur D’Eymerits is an archetype of the appellation. Under the dark burgundy color, the bouquet expresses a sweet woody, slightly vanilla and spicy flavor. The mouth reveals an elegant fleshy structure, powerful without heaviness, tight without astringency. This Lalande-de-Pomerol will be perfect in three to four years but will go much longer.
The 2018 Château Fleur D’Eymerits is an extremely versatile wine to pair with food. It goes well with the deeply savory tastes you get in foods such as roast chicken, mushrooms, and parmesan. It’s a wonderful accompaniment to meats such as grilled chops - veal, pork or lamb- especially with herbs such as thyme, rosemary and oregano. It pairs beautifully with steak in a red wine sauce, roast rack or leg of lamb, roasted duck, caramelized roasted vegetables - especially those with a touch of sweetness, such as roast squash, red peppers and beets.
The 2018 Château Fleur D’Eymerits is $26.00/bottle, $280.80/case