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04.02.2008

2005 Domaine de Chateau Gaillard Saumur, Loire Valley, France

saumur_gaillard.jpgThe Loire Valley is perhaps one of the most underrated and unexplored (by most Americans) wine producing regions in France. So often eclipsed by the bombast of Bordeaux, Burgundy, and the Rhone, if it is known at all, the Loire tends to be known for its famous Sauvignon Blanc from Sancerre. Yet the region, which is the largest white wine producing region in France, and the third largest winegrowing appellation (AOC) in the country, also produces many excellent red wines, chiefly from Cabernet Franc.


The most dominating feature of the Loire Valley must be the river itself, France's longest and the last major river in Europe to remain un-dammed. The river cuts deep through dozens of different geologies spanning millions of years, from limestone and travertine to schist and granite, giving rise to many varied growing regions that spread outwards from the backbone of the river like shelf mushrooms on a tree.

About halfway along the Loire's meandering march to the sea lies the town of Saumur, which lends its name to the large AOC appellation that spreads southwards from the town away from the river. The town (and indeed, many of its wineries) is build atop what is known locally as tuffeau, a calcareous rock similar to limestone (but more porous) which provides excellent drainage for vines and excellent caves which the locals use for storing their wine, much of which is a sparkling wine made from Chenin Blanc that requires extended bottle aging similar to Champagne.

One of the other salient features of modern Loire winegrowing involves the unusually high proportion of winemakers using organic and biodynamic winegrowing methods. And one of the two men chiefly responsible for that was a man named Francois Bouchet, who up until his recent death was France's leading Biodynamic viticulture and winemaking consultant. Bouchet, who wrote what many consider to be the first real how-to guide to Biodynamic winemaking, consulted for biodynamic wineries all over Europe as well as some of the top producers in France, such as Domaine Leflaive, Domaine Leroy, and Domaine de la Romanee-Conti. When he wasn't flying about helping winemakers remember how many times to stir their silica solution in each direction, he was at home making wine with his son Mathieu at their tiny Domaine de Chateau Gaillard.

The estate consists of only about 12.5 acres of vines, which are farmed, as one might imagine, according to the strictest principles of Biodynamics, which involve, among other things, the complete absence of chemical fertilizers, pesticides, or additives of any kind. The estate's vines, which are some of the oldest in the region (some more than 80 years old) produce naturally low yields, which means that the estate produces only about 2000 cases of wine each year, only about 100 of which make it into the United States.

Mathieu Bouchet continues to run the estate just as it always has been. According to the dictates of Biodynamics, the wines are never racked, fined, or filtered before they are bottled. Bouchet continues to age the wines for several years only in large neutral oak casks, resulting in very little oak influence in the wines.

Tasting Notes:
Medium to dark purple in the glass, this wine resembles many red wines just before they are bottled - deep and shining with grapey color. The nose carries a deep aroma of what might best be described as: mud. Wet, wet earth combined with hazelnuts. In the mouth it is bright, tight, and tart, with excellent acidity and a juicy cassis and sour cherry fruit that is married to a drying-chalkboard flavor which lasts long into a finish. This is not a deep, nor a complex wine, but it is no simpleton. Like many of its fellows in the Loire, it is a working-class wine with no pretentions at anything more - a fine dinner companion.

Food Pairing:
This versatile wine will go with a lot of things, though because of its dry, tanginess I don't suggest it be served with anything spicy. Salty or sweet would be better, and I suggest salty. It might be a beautiful match for this spice rubbed quail.

Overall Score: 8.5

How Much?: $19

This wine is available for purchase on the internet. It is imported by Weygandt and Metzler.

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