Couly-Dutheil Chinon Clos de l'Echo 1997
It is difficult for me to open a bottle of Couly-Dutheil's Chinon without my mind casting back to one of my first trips through the Loire in the early 1990s, the bottles I acquired on that trip - which included the 1989 Clos de l'Echo, among others - and the occasions on which I drank them. Perhaps the most memorable bottle of the 1989 was the one which I took to a graduation dinner in 1994. It was perhaps not the grandest affair, as you might judge by the fact we had to bring our own wine, but that at least afforded those of us with sufficient interest the opportunity to bring something worth drinking. The evening went well, and the wine had fabulous, smoky, tobacco-tinged depth, but I didn't finish the bottle, as I had a very late (or very early, depending on your point of view) flight to catch. I had to be at the airport at some unholy hour, probably somewhere between 4 and 5am, and so I left what remained of the bottle with a friend of a friend to enjoy, should she wish to. After my return from my holiday, she tracked me down to make comment on the wine, which she had enjoyed greatly. I had unwittingly created a convert to Chinon!
I have been back to Chinon since that adventure. Indeed, at the time of writing it is less than a year since I last visited the town, and I will be back there again in just a few weeks time. But today things are very different at Couly-Dutheil, not least the tasting room where I purchased those first few bottles; my memory is blurred, but today visitors are entertained in a light and airy room in a small stone house at the foot of the Clos de l'Echo. I am sure it is the smaller property, half buried under greenery, just down the road, where my tasting experience occurred. Tasting rooms are perhaps, however, of no significance. As I write the future of the domain remains uncertain, as the two branches of the family continue towards the division of the domaine, with Pierre Couly - who is reportedly very ill - and his son Bertrand strike out on their own with a new domaine Couly-Farou, which will incorporate the vineyards of Pierre’s brother-in-law Louis Farou. Jacques Couly and his son Arnaud will continue at Couly-Dutheil.
Whilst the future remains an unknown, we can still take hold of the past every time we open a bottle such as this week's wine. The 1989 is all long gone from my cellar, but I still have a good stock of the 1997 Chinon Clos de l'Echo. There is a vibrancy to the wine in the glass, a raspberry red hue which stretches out to the very rim of the wine, with a tinge of maturity but no more than that. The nose is immediately packed with celery seeds and raspberry leaf, but then shows some mineral and iron-tinged fruit, which has a cherry skin profile. Alongside are very forward green peppercorn aromas with a seam of darkly coloured garden mint. There is a fine texture and weight to the wine on entry, and the midpalate broadens to fill the mouth. The peppercorn fruit pervades, but this is matched by a good substance and is framed by an appealing, minerally acidity. There is freshness and light in abundance here, and at the end, a little note of coffee grounds, and a delightfully complex length. This is really very good indeed, and I shall enjoy the remainder of my bottles - and the memories that they evoke - over many years more I hope. 18+/20 (19/5/08)