Friday, November 13, 2009

Another Gravel-Grown Chinon

Cabernet Franc: when it's ripe enough to overcome its weedy tendencies and left well enough alone to be able to express its true self, there are few other vines that speak to me so clearly. It's a vine, like Pinot Noir or Riesling, that when grown in the right place seems to possess an immutable capability to express not just the flavor of the grape but a clear sense of its origins.

Take Chinon as a perfect example of one such Franc-centric place of origin. The wines of Chinon – again, when they're made well enough to retain their transparency – speak differently of their overall place depending on whether they hail from the banks of the Vienne, the flat lands east of the city or the hillsides that climb up from those plains. Perhaps the clearest and easiest to understand of those expressions is the voice of the Vienne, where the sand and gravel dominated soils yield Chinons of cool, supple texture, driven more by fresh acids and delicacy than by the greater richness and sinew of their cousins to the near north. There's a certain fine-grained, dusty character to the wines' tannins and a hallmark cassis-driven fruit signature that just says gravel-grown to me when I taste it. I wrote about a few such examples earlier this year; here's another.

Chinon "Les Gravières d'Amador Abbé de Turpenay," Couly-Dutheil 2006
$17. 12.5% alcohol. Composite cork. Importer: Elite Wines Imports, Lorton, VA.
The first words written in my raw tasting notes over the course of two days spent with the above wine? "I'm betting this is riverside Chinon." Light, fresh, supple and minty, it's driven by red cassis fruit and leafy aromas, with medium-high acidity and a lightly tannic touch. A dash of cocoa and raspberry parfait emerged as the wine opened. Somewhat loose around the edges. That loose-edged sensation was more apparent on day two when the wine lost much of its structure, though it did retain its coolly textured impact in spite of the softer mouthfeel. A bit less characterful than similarly priced wines from the top producers, but nonetheless a solid if simple Chinon.

I'll admit to not knowing much about Couly-Dutheil going into this bottle. So after drinking and mostly enjoying it, a quick bit of research was in order. Couly-Dutheil is a large producer by most standards, and very large indeed by Chinon standards, farming 90 hectares of vines and overseeing an additional 30 hectares, with annual production figures in the 100,000 case ballpark. "Les Gravières" falls into a group of cuvées that Couly-Dutheil classifies as Chinons de plaisir. Sure enough, it's produced from 25-35 year-old vines planted on the gravel and sandy terraces of the Vienne, just to the east of the town of Chinon. I was – again, I'll admit it – rather pleased to find my gut reaction to the wine was correct. And it's additionally edifying to find a larger producer that, regardless of what their reputation may be, can still get it right.

* * *
Some of you may recognize today's photo, by the way, as something of an Edwardian reference. There's no real connection between Nick Cave's latest novel and the Chinon, other than that it's what I've been reading of late. Entertaining enough, I suppose, but not one of the author's better efforts, musical or literary. I'll let you know if the verdict changes once I've tested its finish.


Do Bianchi said...

great post... I love the literary reference... and I love your take on Cabernet Franc... well said... my mouth is watering at the savoriness I imagine in that wine...

Edward said...


Thanks for the kind mention. Not sure how I would live without books or wine. It's a pity not every book or bottle (though the Chinon sounds excellent) meets expectations.

David McDuff said...

Thanks, Jeremy. Always glad to inspire a little thirst.

You're most welcome. I always enjoy your book postings. If every bottle and book met our expectations, I think it would take some of the joy and adventure out of the act of exploration.

Blog Widget by LinkWithin