From £10 in bond, €17, HK$208
Loire Cabernet Franc-based reds – when they’re good, they’re so very, very good. And, as I pointed out in Can you afford to ignore the Loire? yesterday, and will emphasise the point in my FT article tomorrow, the Loire Valley is currently basking in the glory of three excellent vintages in a row: 2014, 2015 and 2016. The only blot on the horizon is the exceptionally small crop last year. But now is the time to take advantage of the best of the 2014 and 2015 reds while the 2016s finish their maturation, and this delicious example from Jacky Blot’s Domaine de la Butte is already widely available in Europe and Hong Kong. (Many thanks to Skurnik Wines of New York for the cheery portrait.)
Virtually all my wine-drinking life I have been a massive fan of Cabernet Franc. I love its fragrance, more forgiving tannins than Cabernet Sauvignon and its charm. But for a Loire Cabernet such as a Bourgueil, Chinon or Saumur-Champigny to sing, you need a good, warm vintage, well-maintained vines and a conscientious, talented winemaker like Jacky Blot, who made his name by making sensational still and sparkling Montlouis at the Domaine de la Taille aux Loups. He bought this 14-hectare Bourgueil domaine in 2002 and has gone from strength to strength there. Blot goes the extra mile – organic certification, hand harvesting (by no means a given in the Loire), carefully pruned old vines, ambient yeast and minute supervision in the cellar.
He bottles the produce of different parts of his slope (butte) separately as, as French speakers will know, the wine we are particularly recommending, Domaine de la Butte, Le Haut de la Butte 2015 Bourgueil, is from the top of the 16-ha south-facing, calcareous vineyard above the winery. The grapes are sorted in the vineyard before being foot-trodden. The wine is matured in used oak barrels.
This particular deep-crimson gem is clearly made from fully ripe grapes and the wine benefits from tannins so well managed that the texture is already silky. As well as the trademark pencil-shavings aroma of a fine Loire Cabernet Franc, there are intriguing layers of nuance, just the right amount of refreshing acidity for the no-more-than-medium fruit weight and I reckon it will provide delicious, increasingly complex, savoury drinking from about 2019 to 2024.
At the moment the 2015 is being offered in the UK by Lay & Wheeler and is also available retail in France, Germany, Belgium, the Netherlands and Hong Kong. Justerini & Brooks are just about to move from the 2014 to the 2015.
American retailers are still on the 2014, which is also available in France and Germany. For the tasting article Two great vintages in the Loire, Julia tasted Domaine de la Butte, Le Haut de la Butte 2014 Bourgueil a year ago and described it thus: ‘Destemmed and sorted in the vineyard. Yields less than 30 hl/ha. No pigeage. Intense, really dark fruit and a dusty graphite aroma. Dusty texture and a savoury quality – easy but deep and long. Firm, ripe and delicious.’ She gave the 2014 16.5/20 and suggested drinking it until 2019 – so if you bought both these vintages, you’d have one of the greats in this inimitable wine style covered for the next seven years.