Philippe Alliet Chinon L'Huisserie 2009
After last week's detour to the vines of Collines Rhodaniennes in the Rhône Valley, we return to Chinon this week. But not just any part of Chinon, as there is a theme here, although I am quite sure it would be difficult - if not impossible - for anyone to perceive this after just three wines. The theme is not the vintage (although all so far have been from 2009) not the grower (even though Alliet and Baudry, the domaines included so far, are two of my favourites). The theme here is place, as all three wines so far originate from the limestone slopes that run to the east of Chinon, along the Vienne. Why should this matter? Well, as it happens, not all Chinons are born equal.
Although it was the wines of Couly-Dutheil that first drew me to Chinon, in particular the famed Clos de l'Echo cuvée, as the years passed and I tasted more from the appellation I began to realise that there were some wines of serious quality being made from vineyards along the D21, which runs out of Chinon through Cravant-les-Coteaux and Panzoult. With this realisation I began mentally to parcel Chinon up into different zones; I then clicked that this was essential to understand the wines of this appellation, without a doubt the most important red wine commune for the Loire Valley (fans of Clos Rougeard and Saumur-Champigny are no doubt currently picking themselves up off the floor at this point).
Top dog is - in my opinion - this limestone slope, which runs from beyond Panzoult down and into the town of Chinon itself. A few weeks ago I likened it to the première côte at Vouvray, although there are some differences worth noting. The first major hole in my analogy is that here the band of vineyards is very thin, overlooked by and interdigitating with the remnants of a great forest, whereas at Vouvray the vines run northwards along the slopes of the Brenne and its tributaries, up and down what are known as the deuxièmes côtes. The second is that at Vouvray the première côte limits the spread of the vineyards, the flat land below planted solely to arable crops, whereas here the flatter, gravelly land is in places (particularly upstream, not close to Chinon) planted to vines.
After the limestone slope the other regions of the Chinon appellation are three in number; the second and most easily identifiable region lies across on the other side of the Vienne, from the bridge at L'Île Bouchard down to La Roche Clermault, which sits on the opposite bank of the Vienne to Chinon. The soils here are more alluvial in origin, tending towards sand and gravel. The third region continues on from where the limestone slope left off, in Chinon itself, running through Chinon and Beaumont-en-Véron. The soils here are clay and limestone still, this being a direct continuation of the limestone that lies upriver of Chinon. Finally, the fourth region is the broad finger of land which lies between the converging waters of the Loire and Vienne rivers. Here the soils are more alluvial, sometimes with gravel, sometimes sand, occasionally some flint. Although I have found good wines in these regions, from the likes of Olga Raffault for example, they do not have the tense, challenging, limestone-influenced structure of the wines from the upper vineyards.
This week's wine sees the return of Philippe Alliet, this time with the Chinon L'Huisserie in the 2009 vintage. The lieu-dit L'Huisserie lies close to the western end of the limestone slope, not too far from Chinon, close to Le Clos Guillot and Coteau de Noiré, and was planted by Alliet in 2000. In the glass the wine displays a fairly deep but vibrant core, but with a bright, rather claretty rim. The nose is surprising in its character, as along with the slightly burnt, smoky fruit there is also a little note of celery and fennel seed; it seems slightly incongruous both in terms of the Alliet style, and in the context of such a warm vintage. Nevertheless the palate is tense, bright and smoky, with a very cool texture to it. The fruit character feels nicely perfumed, with a very attractive floral violet tinge to the strawberry and raspberry fruit, and just a little hint of those greener elements on the nose, thankfully not sufficient here to have any significant negative impact, for my palate at least. It is fresh, sappy, but with an appealing texture, leading us into a dry and savoury finish, which lingers appealingly. A good wine, although certainly a more old-school style than I was expecting from Alliet. 16.5/20 (20/5/13)