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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.

Comments (53)

Rajiv A wrote:
04.02.08 at 11:28 PM

Alder - what do you think of this wine's aging potential? Of other wines from Saumur?

I ask because the wine I reviewed was a wonderfully aged St.-Nicholas-de-Bourgeil from 1996, and the nose had about equal parts fruit and earth/veggies/other non-fruit complexity. I greatly enjoyed it and I'm wondering whether that wine (Joel Taluau) was the exception rather than the rule, in terms of improving with age. The 2005 vintage of the same wine sells for $16. the '96 for $35.

Also, is the absence of cab franc greenness typical of 2005 in the Loire?

04.03.08 at 6:51 AM

Crazy, one of the two Cab Francs I reviewed for WBW was the 2004 Gaillard, which I thought phenomenal.

Rajiv, 2005 was a riper vintage than most and I believe that many of the wines are indeed less vegetal than in other vintages. As for ageability, it depends on the producer but many can age 5 to 10 years or more, as your own experience shows. Certainly the 2004 Gaillard has a long life ahead of it.

04.03.08 at 6:52 AM

"So often eclipsed by the bombast of Bordeaux, Burgundy, and the Rhone"
How right you are. The Loire is all about refinement. So much so that the area around Angers - just to the west of Saumur - is renowned in France for its "douceur angevine", meaning softness and gentleness. This applies as much to the people as to the environs.

Although you say that many of the vines are on tuffeau stone, it is worth mentioning specifically one non-tuffeau area in particular. Just to the west of Angers is (in many people's opinion) the finest expression anywhere of dry wine from the Chenin Blanc thanks to the schist terroir. It is an extraordinary wine, and worthy of a note specifically on the Savennières appellation.

Alder wrote:
04.03.08 at 7:41 AM

Rajiv,

2005 was indeed a nice ripe year, which allowed many producers to avoid the green pepper, green wood character that can characterize (and ruin for me if too prominent) Loire Cab Franc.

Because of these wines good acidity, I think they have the potential to age and even improve a little over time. But I don't have enough personal experience with vintages of Chinon or Bourgeil going back farther than about 10 or 15 years to know whether they have a long life and whether they can really improve with extended aging.

I've had the Taluau bottling. It's good.

Leif Sundstrom wrote:
04.03.08 at 11:43 AM

If wanting older Cab Franc from Loire I recommend seeking out your local distributor for JM Raffault. This Chinon producer has done several late releases and I know here in Portland, OR it has recently been possible to get vintages as old as 1986 or 1989 (can't remember which). Beautiful wines that seem to age very well. Getting wine like this, direct from the producer, at this age will make it easier to lay some down another few years to test them out.

John Skupny wrote:
04.03.08 at 8:35 PM

It was exciting to see so many different French Cabernet Franc being tasted for WBW. I had to open a bottle of 2005 Bernard Baudry~Les Grezeaux~Chinon in honor of so many franc corks being pulled in such a short period of time. Stunning wine, one of the best wines I have ever tasted. Even with the apparent vintage ripeness, with the caliber and balance of this wine it should walk gracefully into it's next decade, maybe two. But it is so good now!

David McDuff wrote:
04.04.08 at 2:05 PM

Great discussion going on here, all.

Rajiv,
At $16, it's likely that you're thinking of Taluau's Bourgueil "Cuvee du Domaine" or, if you're getting a good price, maybe the St. Nicolas de Bourgueil "L'Expression." The St. Nicolas de Bourgueil "Cuvee Vielles Vignes" -- which is the 1996 that came onto the market recently -- should run into the low $20s.

All,
There have also been some '89s and '90s resurfacing from Baudry and Raffault in the last year or so. All three vintages (89, 90 and 96) are serious candidates for long term aging, as are 2002 and 2005.

John,
Not ready to stop tasting Chinon after my own writeup of wines from Gasnier and Breton, I cracked a bottle of Baudry's regular 2005 Chinon last night. A little tangy on the finish but absolutely delicious. Great with sausages and crusty bread.

winenegress wrote:
04.04.08 at 3:51 PM

I have enjoyed my limited explorations of the Loire Valley and appreciate the information offered here. Also, on an unrelated note, I think I missed WBW #44. Could someone fill me in?

Steve L. wrote:
04.10.08 at 5:29 PM

Speaking of Loire Valley red wines from the 2005 vintage, the C. & P. Breton Bourgueil 'Clos Senechal' is just a stunning wine, at least for my palate. It's awfully appealing right now, but I'd expect some of the bottles I purchased to be showing very well in 10-15 years. At five years of age, the Bretons' 2003 Chinon 'Beaumont' is still very young (delicious, but young). The Breton wines are in Berkeley at Kermit Lynch (the importer) and in SF at Terroir.

Steve L. wrote:
04.10.08 at 5:32 PM

Speaking of Loire Valley red wines from the 2005 vintage, the C. & P. Breton Bourgueil 'Clos Senechal' is just a stunning wine, at least for my palate. It's awfully appealing right now, but I'd expect some of the bottles I purchased to be showing very well in 10-15 years. At five years of age, the Bretons' 2003 Chinon 'Beaumont' is still very young (delicious, but young). The Breton wines are in Berkeley at Kermit Lynch (the importer) and in SF at Terroir.

Rajiv wrote:
04.10.08 at 6:25 PM

David:

The $16 is the Expression. As for the '96 vielles vignes, if it is available for low $20's, I'd love to know where! wine-searcher gives $38, and the local store has it for $35.

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Required Reading for Wine Lovers

The Oxford Companion to Wine by Jancis Robinson The Taste of Wine by Emile Peynaud Adventures on the Wine Route by Kermit Lynch Love By the Glass by Dorothy Gaiter & John Brecher Noble Rot by William Echikson The Science of Wine by Jamie Goode The Judgement of Paris by George Taber The Wine Bible by Karen MacNeil The Botanist and the Vintner by Christy Campbell The Emperor of Wine by Elin McCoy The World Atlas of Wine by Hugh Johnson The World's Greatest Wine Estates by Robert M. Parker, Jr.