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Château de Chamboureau Savennières Roches-aux-Moines Cuvée d'Avant 1998

This week's featured wine is one for the true Loire geeks only; it's bad enough that I often focus on wines because I find them interesting, rather than plucking any old wine from a box of samples for writing up as a 'recommendation'. This week, I'm featuring a wine from an estate in Savennières which, as an independent entity, no longer even exists. Suffice to say, this isn't a wine you will find on the shelves of your local corner shop, liquor store or cash-'n'-carry. Nevertheless, it is a wine worth featuring, I think, as it comes from an estate which is significant in the story of modern-day Savennières.

During a recent trip to Bordeaux I called in at Domaine de l'A for a tasting of the Stéphane Derenoncourt portfolio; that this should include a slew of right bank wines from Castillon, St Emilion and Pomerol, as well as lesser neighbouring appellations, should come as no surprise. But then, at the end, came a small selection of wines from Domaine FL, the only estate in the Loire to engage Derenoncourt's services, and his first ever foray into white winemaking. This small section of the tasting was enough to remind me of this lone bottle of the 1998 Cuvée d'Avant from Château de Chamboureau which has been lying in my cellar for a little while; the reason why will be made clear in a moment, but first a little background on this long-established domaine.

Château de Chamboureau dates back to at least the 15th century, and viticulture may have been ongoing at this time, although we can be certain it was present by the passing of the 16th century. As such the estate is one of the 'old guard' of Savennières, to be viewed alongside Château d'Epiré, Domaine du Closel, Domaine aux Moines and Château de la Roches-aux-Moines. That the estate has long held a significant number of vines in the Roches-aux-Moines cru only adds to its significance. In 1949 the château and vineyards were acquired by the Soulez family, although it was the arrival of Pierre Soulez in 1991 that led to the development and expansion of the domaine, with the acquisition and renting of numerous vineyards beyond the estate's own.

Château de Chamboureau Savennières Roches-aux-Moines Cuvée d'Avant 1998

Although it might not be a popular or universally held opinion, it is my belief that the subsequent change of ownership that came in 2006 led to improved quality at Château de Chamboureau. It is not de rigueur to favour the wines of industrialists and business magnates over those of the locals (not in the Loire anyway, where there is little history of this sort of thing; nobody would bat an eyelid in Bordeaux), especially when said magnate has already upset many Loire-o-philes when he pulled the financial rug from under the feet of Jo Pithon, forcing Jo and stepson Jo Paillé to start again at Pithon-Paillé. But the truth is, following the acquisition of the Château de Chamboureau vineyards (the Soulez family held onto the residence) by Philippe Fournier and its absorption into Domaine FL (along with the Pithon vineyards) I have been consistently impressed by the Chamboureau wines, especially the Roches-aux-Moines cuvée. The vineyards were converted to organics, the yields were slashed, and more than a hectare of Cabernet Sauvignon and Cabernet Franc - which never make stunning wine here on the schistous slopes of Savennières - were grubbed up and replanted with Chenin Blanc. And, of course, there are regular visits from Simon Blanchard, the Derenoncourt team member responsible for Domaine FL. Having met Simon at Domaine de l'A, I think he really gets Savennières. No wonder the modern-day wines are such an improvement.

Of course, such comments can only be made when there is some historical context, which is the purpose of featuring wines such as this, from the Chamboureau vines before Fournier and Derenoncourt came onto the scene. In the glass the 1998 Savennières Roches-aux-Moines Cuvée d'Avant from Château de Chamboureau wine has a moderately rich, yellow-golden hue. It takes an hour or so to really open up, as it does so shifting from a tight, stony, lightly minerally character to one richer, with a more effusive golden-fruit character, very defined and crystalline with lemony fruit despite the breadth and honey-coated stone suggestion. The palate is cool, lightly fleshy, but within a very tight frame. There is grip here, although the texture that is strung across the framework does not entirely cover it, leaving the middle of the palate feeling a little empty. Nevertheless there is balance here, an appealing stony substance, and an attractive dry and savoury finish. It has a confident, dry and grippy length. It has good form, but perhaps lacks the definition, elegance and interesting minerality that can be found today in the wines made during the Fournier-Derenoncourt era. 16/20 (3/9/12)

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