Les Cailloux du Paradis Racines 2007
From the drinker's point of view, one of the benefits of France's appellation system is that it provides a sort of 'mental map', a framework which facilitates a very coarse understanding and classification of any number of domaines. Take a domaine in Cour-Cheverny, for example, one not previously encountered; even though the winemaker and his wines would be entirely unfamiliar, the appellation does at least give some idea of the raw material he has to work with. Immediately, through knowledge of the appellation gleaned through experiences with wines from François Cazin, Domaine des Huards or Philippe Tessier, we can begin to give the wines some context.
With some domaines, and some winemakers, those that eschew the overbearing appellation regulations (just because I mentioned this contextual advantage above, doesn't mean I am unaware of the many straitjacket-shortcomings of the system), this isn't possible. You could view that as a disadvantage I suppose. Because I am an eternal wine explorer, addicted to buying unfamiliar bottles for the thrill of discovering something new, something different to last night's or last year's wine, I prefer to think of it in more positive, exciting terms. Claude Courtois, who christened his domaine Les Cailloux du Paradis, is one such example. Here we are not in Cour-Cheverny, but we are close. Claude settled in Soings-en-Sologne, a small village just to the south of Cheverny and Cour-Cheverny, in the triangle of land that lies between the Loire (to the north) and the Cher (to the south), a triangle eventually closed when the two finally meet, just downstream of Tours. Cour-Cheverny is the home of Romorantin of course, but otherwise this is Sauvignon country as far as white wines are concerned (alright, I admit it, there is some Menu Pineau/Arbois and Chenin Blanc too), with a broader blend of varieties for red, including both Cabernets, Gamay, Cot and more. Claude, who acquired the 13-hectare domaine in 1980 having moved here from the Var, has all of these varieties and more besides,
Claude follows a stringent chemical-free viticulture on his domaine, with culture agrobiologique certification from Nature et Progrès. Although perhaps the term polyculture might be more appropriate than viticulture; rather akin to Marc Angeli, Claude has more than just vines here. He has some organic wheat, the product of which he feeds to his cattle, and there are some orchards too, and numerous beds of wildflowers supporting a healthy population of insects. From his vines he produces an array of different cuvées, although in my experience the two most commonly encountered are Quartz, a barrel-fermented Sauvignon Blanc which sees an élevage of up to two years in the same barrels, and the wine featured here, Racines. In the cellar, there's very much a natural vibe; old barrels only, giving no real oak influence in the wines, and no sulphur is the general rule.
Racines (French for roots, by the way - the front label, showing a vine's bright red roots penetrating the yellow soil below, gives something of a clue to this) is a blend of Cabernet Franc, Cot and Cabernet Sauvignon, harvested at about 20 hl/ha. It is picked by hand, destemmed and fermented by indigenous yeasts and then raised in barrel typically for 18 months. The vintage featured here is the 2007, although as Claude bottles his wines as vin de table he has been forbidden from including this information on the label; the fact that this is Lot 07-3 gives us the information we need though. In the glass it has a dark and concentrated hue, with a rather unprepossessing matt appearance, rather than anything more vibrant, the edge taking on a pink-black hue, fading out to an almost clear rim. The nose is remarkable though, starting off with a rather solid plum aroma, but it opens and evolves, immediately showing other fruit-skin notes, with suggestions of leather too. Bright leather though - I don't mean to suggest the sweet and leathery scents that suggests an evolved, tertiary development.
With a little more time the Cabernet Franc begins to dominate, showing a fine and lightly floral perfume typical of the variety, with a nuance of hot stones and rich plum-tinged fruit, with the occasional note of cloves and a slightly spicy fruit intensity. There is lovely fruit substance in the mouth, firm but with quite a full and relaxed spread across the palate. There is freshness to it, alongside the substance, a slightly dry and chalky vitality which keeps it very lively, along with fabulous acidity right though to the finish. Here it shows some cherries, ripe but with a very faint tartness, and a slightly hard and crunchy edge as well, heightening that sense of substance and vitality. It all ends up in a lovely, long and slightly grippy, substance-filled finish. Overall, a very lovely wine. I am glad I have a few other of Claude's bottles for me to try waiting in the cellar, as I continue my eternal wine explorations. Alcohol 12.15%, the back label (shown above) says. 17/20 (13/6/11)