One of the fringe benefits of teaching classes at Tria Fermentation School is the occasional invitation to sit in as an observer at one of their other sessions. This past Wednesday, I had the pleasure of attending a seminar featuring the Chinons of Domaine Charles Joguet. The course was presented by François-Xavier (FX) Barc, winemaker and estate manager at Joguet. Leading up to M. Barc’s program were introductions from Michael McCaulley, Tria partner and Fermentation School Manager, and Matt Cain, regional sales representative for Kermit Lynch, the importer responsible for bringing Joguet’s Chinons into the US market.
FX opened with a cursory overview of the wine traditions of the Loire, beginning from the river’s mouth in Muscadet, running through Anjou and Saumur, leading to the Touraine and ending, from his perspective, in the area around Sancerre. Returning, of course, to the Touraine village of Chinon, he covered a brief description of the major terroirs of Chinon, from the riverside vineyards to the plateau and hillside plantings. Domaine Joguet itself is located in Sazilly, on the South banks of the Vienne, essentially across the river from Chinon’s largest commune of Cravant-les-Coteaux and ESE of the fortress of Chinon itself. With forty hectares under vine – thirty-seven hectares planted to Cabernet Franc, three to Chenin – the estate annually produces seven or eight different cuvées, each representative of a particular style, terroir or single vineyard site.
Francois-Xavier’s first experience at Joguet was as vineyard manager and assistant winemaker from 1998-2000. After a brief stint at other wineries, he returned in 2003, at the request of current owner Jacques Genet, to become the estate’s head winemaker and viticulturist. His rise was capped earlier this year when his role was expanded, upon the retirement of Alain Delaunay, to include managing the commercial aspects of the business. Since his return, FX has carried on with the already established project of moving the property’s vineyards to organic farming practices. Currently, about 50% of the estate is farmed organically with incremental portions being converted to organics each year. He is adamant about carrying the organic practices into the winery as well, seeing little value in natural farming followed by chemical adjustments in the cellar. The young Monsieur Barc is judicious in the use of oak and with stylistic flourishes in general, preferring to let the nuances of each cuvée in each vintage guide his hand with decisions in the cellar.
Winding down with his technical discussions, and as he could see people in the audience beginning to salivate, FX finally moved onto the tasting portion of the seminar.
Chinon “Les Petites Roches,” Charles Joguet 2004
From a typical, elegant vintage, the 2004 Petites Roches showed a bright, transparent ruby tone in the glass, followed by a gentle, medium-bodied approach on the palate. Red currant, raspberry and herbaceous tones followed through on a modest 12.5% alcohol framework. From 30-40 year old vines, culled to 40 hl/ha yields, from six hectares of vineyards planted on gravel and limestone dominated soils near the banks of the Vienne. Made from free-run juice only, this is the most delicate wine produced at Joguet; it is suitable for near-term drinking with charcuterie, chevre and salmon.
Chinon “Les Petites Roches,” Charles Joguet 2005
Much darker in the glass than the 2004, semi-opaque and dark cherry red in color, the 2005 visually showed the effects of a warmer, drier vintage. The generous climate in 2005, combined with a long growing season, yielded more physiologically mature tannins, riper flavor, higher alcohol (13.8%) and a finished wine that will continue to develop over the next 4-5 years. Again, pair with charcuterie or classic Touraine pork rillettes but also consider herb roasted chicken or small game birds.
Chinon “Cuvée Terroir,” Charles Joguet 2005
Terroir is the basic cuvée of the estate, a young vine wine that blends 70% first run juice from fruit grown mostly on sandy soils spread over 10 hectares of the estate with 30% of vin de presse, juice pressed from the grapes from both the Cuvée Terroir and Les Petites Roches. Clocking in at 14.3 degrees, it is more robust than Petites Roches yet less nuanced, showing bolder, forward fruit and more aggressive tannins and herbaceous flavors – natural side-effects of the utilization of pressed juice.
Chinon “Cuvée de la Cure,” Charles Joguet 2005
Bottled in August 2006 following vinification and aging purely in steel, the 2005 Cuvée de la Cure is the first fully organic wine produced at Joguet. It is also a classic example of older-vine, terroir driven Chinon, coming from two single vineyards planted on a soil base of clay and gravel. Displaying a dense, firm structure built on a medium-bodied frame with very linear, pure focus, the wine’s persistent, dusty tannins lend accent to its mineral and red cassis driven flavors. This should keep well for at least 5-7 years, maybe even ten. FX considers it the finest La Cure of the last three decades.
Chinon “Les Varennes du Grand Clos,” Charles Joguet 2005
The big wine of the night, Les Varennes du Grand Clos sees a longer, hotter alcoholic fermentation than the previous cuvées and is the only wine of the evening to see malolactic fermentation and aging, at least partially, in barrels. Pigeage during fermentation added extra density to the wine’s color and structure. The finished product, bottled in March of this year, shows plush texture combined with muscular grip and sweet-fruited flavors of raspberry, blackberry and licorice. This is Chinon to pair with beef or robust stews… or to forget about in a cool cellar for the next 10-15 years.
Chinon “Clos de la Dioterie,” Charles Joguet 1989
If you’ve ever had any doubts about the longevity of Chinon, lay them to rest. At 18 years of age, the ’89 Dioterie is still singing. In the glass, there was no bricking at all, just a pale, limpid ring around the rim of an otherwise translucent ruby bowl. Aromas of clay, red earth and rhubarb were followed by flavors of tobacco, smoke, violets and lilies. These elements combined with silky mouthfeel and still lively acidity to make this the most enthralling wine of the night. No offense to FX of course – he wasn’t involved in the production of this wine – it’s just that every once in a while the beauty and wisdom of age really do outshine the exuberance of youth. Apparently, FX thought so too, as he pronounced it “da bomb.” We were, I might add, privileged that he had brought the ’89 along for the event, as there are only about 20 bottles remaining in the private storage caves at the estate.
FX Barc represents the new generation of vignerons in France. Not born to farming, he is more student, technician, and consultant. Yet he possesses a strong sensibility for the land and expresses it carefully through natural winemaking. Luck has been on his side since taking the helm at Joguet. A string of good vintages, culminating in the exceptional 2005, have brought Mother Nature to his side. The results are promising. I found the wines we tasted together at Tria Fermentation School to be bright, varietally correct and truly expressive of the spirit of Chinon as an AOC and of the potential of Cabernet Franc as a vine. FX seems to be bringing Joguet’s wines out of their slump of the mid-90’s and back to their place among the top tier in Chinon. I’ll look forward to keeping an eye on his progress in the seasons to come.