From €10.32, £12.34, US$10.99 (for the 2009)
Persistently grey skies over London this summer have not deterred the three competitive ice-cream vans in my area from driving me mad with their repetitive chimes* (especially the one that is unable to inject any irony into its tinny rendition of 'The sun has got his hat on, hip, hip, hip, hooray'). Nor will they discourage me from recommending this deliciously fresh and vibrant wine from St-Nicolas de Bourgeuil, an appellation traditionally seen as producing great summer reds. But I find such wines much more flexible and less seasonally constrained than this suggests, both with and without food.
Frédéric Mabileau, Les Rouillères 2010 St-Nicolas de Bourgeuil is made entirely from Cabernet Franc, the Loire's hallmark red variety. It has restrained, fresh aromas of dark-red fruit, just a touch of leafiness and pencil lead typical of the variety but even at just 12.5% alcohol it is more concentrated and mouthfilling than I expected (relative to this style of Loire red). It's well structured by the finest of tannins and crisp acidity yet beautifully supple and ready to drink, even though it should still be very good in another year or so.
Mabileau explained in a newsletter earlier this year, not long after the wine was bottled in February, that the 2010 Rouillères is not typical for this wine, the product of a dry vintage, with low yields (though still a respectable 50 hl/ha) resulting in greater concentration and 'tension tannique'. There is indeed a tension about it - it tastes alive and pure and finishes with mouth-watering freshness. One thing I particularly love about it is that although the fruit is perfectly ripe and juicy, there is still a dry, savoury restraint that avoids those overly sweet flavours you get from some very ripe fruit, especially from climes warmer than the Loire.
Frédéric and Nathalie Mabileau, based in in St-Nicolas de Bourgeuil in France's Loire Valley, farm 27 hectares of vines (Chenin Blanc and Cabernet Sauvignon as well as Cabernet Franc), which they have been working organically for some time but the vineyards and the Mabileaus' viticultural practices are now officially certified by Ecocert. The grapes, grown on sandy gravel soils, are manually harvested and the wine made simply: after destemming, there's a period of cold maceration before fermentation in temperature-controlled tanks and then a further four months in tank before bottling.
The 2010 has not long been on the market in the UK (Waitrose have recently moved on to this vintage), and in the US, for example, you are more likely to find the previous vintage. You could of course wait for the 2010 but I'd equally recommend Frédéric Mabileau, Les Rouillères 2009 St-Nicolas de Bourgeuil, which is a little more meaty than the 2010 and the fruit is more in the plum and damson spectrum but still lively and long. Perhaps more sedate than the 2010 but also a little more rich and savoury after its additional year in bottle. Follow the wine-searcher links at the top or bottom of this article to find the many retailers around the world.
I tasted these wines at a huge tasting of Loire Cabernet Franc organised by Richard Kelley MW of Richards Walford, Mabileau's UK importer. His comment that there is little sign of economic crisis in St-Nicolas de Bourgeuil, at least in terms of volume sold, is born out by steadily rising sales over the last three years. Like Beaujolais, it has long been popular in Paris brasseries but doesn't seem to have experienced the same vicissitudes of fortune and fashion as that more easterly region (see Jancis's article What's so good about Beaujolais 2010). And with wines as consistently good as this, you can see why.
*Believe it or not, last month BBC radio 4 dedicated a whole half hour to the history of the ice-cream van and its chimes in The ice cream van cometh. It was actually quite interesting.