I had originally wanted to show you an autumn ‘warmer’ as the colder days of winter threaten to advance, and to that end I had ordered ‘sight unseen’ from one of my favourite wine merchants a fine red wine from the Rhône Valley. Sadly, to my own palate, that wine’s sheer size and weight of alcohol made it a real challenge to drink, even alongside food where it rightly belonged. It had to go back. Instead, may I recommend a classic alternative, a red wine that well demonstrates the virtues of the ‘cool’ Loire Valley style.
Bourgeuil, ‘Les Racines’ from Domaine Frédéric Mabileau.
The vineyards of the Bourgeuil appellation like those of neighbouring Chinon across the river are rather unusual in the Loire context as producing principally red wines, classically from 100% Cabernet Franc (a vine locally called ‘Breton’ – though the name is not to be confused with Brittany). Frédéric Mabileau, whose properties encompass a range of local Loire appellations is a younger vigneron, whose winery is based at Chouzé-sur-Loire in the heart of Bourgeuil’s St. Nicolas terrace.
Here then is his ripe but ‘cool tempered’ Bourgeuil, a wine crafted from the ‘Breton’ vines planted by his grandfather forty-one years ago. The grapes hailing from vineyards nearer the river, the ultimate style of ‘Les Racines’ – (‘the roots’) – is governed by a soil of type the French call ‘argilo-siliceux’, i.e. siliceous clay – in contrast to the embedded ‘tuffeau’, or tufa-based soils common to many vineyards in the Loire hinterlands, further from the river margins. Local opinion suggests that Cabernet Franc wines produced within sight of the river exhibit a berry fruitiness coupled with a firm dry finish with hints of licorice behind the top-line flavours as a result.
My own opinion? In terms of tasting, I’d suggest approaching this wine at ‘cellar temperature’ in order to maximize its fresh edge of fruit. Fairly dark hued in the glass, the wine’s nose reveals primary aromas with attractive berry characteristics plus a gentle warm touch of spirit. The alcohol is well-controlled, unsurprising perhaps in this cooler northern part of France. The back label of the bottle spells out the traditional treatment the wine has received across the entire process from harvest to wine, so there are no fireworks, merely the assurance that it has been made purely according to time-honoured local practices. Given the combination of the factors thus indicated the wine seems, and tastes, reflective of its ‘roots’ and its terroir. Dry, yet smooth-textured and well-fruited, with an attractive balance. If I suggest that this is ‘a wine-drinker’s wine’ it is simply to point out that any of the more pushy crowd-pleasing virtues displayed by the ‘show-stopper’ I mentioned earlier are happily absent.
I consider it a real winner alongside patés, terrines, or charcuterie. It would be the perfect partner, too, for a little rack of French-trimmed lamb cooked a bit ‘pink’ and served up mounted on some celeriac purée, with some buttered haricots verts ‘riding shotgun’. Santé!
Country of Origin: France (Loire Valley)
Name of Wine: Bourgueil, ‘Les Racines’, 2012
Producer: Frédéric Mabileau
Alcohol: 12.5% Vol.
Retailer: The Wine Society
John Ducker – Member of the Circle of Wine Writers