Domaine des Echardières Touraine Chenonceaux La Long Bec 2015
Having just returned from four days of tasting in the Loire Valley, my Weekend Wine report is somewhat delayed this week. It is an appropriate choice though, coming from one of the region's youngest appellations, an appellation I have encountered more than once or twice over the last few days, during the course of my visit to the Salon des Vins de Loire.
The Touraine appellation has always been something of a mixed bag, featuring wines of all colours, made from a large range of varieties grown on varying soil types. And within the broader scope of the generic appellation there are a number of sub-appellations, such as Touraine Amboise and Touraine Mesland, which cater for more specific regions and types of wines. Naturally this has the potential to confuse. Having said that, I have always thought that - outside France at least - wines from this region have tended to sell on the reputation of a domaine, or perhaps a wine merchant's recommendation, rather than the strength or specifics of the appellation. It would never have mattered what Catherine Roussel or Didier Barrouillet of Clos Roche Blanche, for example, put on their labels; their wines sold because of the work they did, and because importers and consumers believed in them and followed their wines.
Nevertheless, despite this lack of prestige, in recent years the wine authorities in France have certainly paid the Touraine appellations some attention, taking it upon themselves to 'tidy them up' a bit, a process which included restricting the varieties permitted for use in some of them. It was a fairly pointless exercise (just my humble opinion, obviously) which forced some growers using once-permissible but now illegal varieties to switch to Vin de France instead, hardly a move forward for the appellation system as a whole. Two positive developments, however, were the creation of two new sub-appellations, Touraine Oisly and Touraine Chenonceaux, in 2011. The larger of the two is Touraine Chenonceaux, which is of course named for the village of Chenonceaux, although no doubt it conjures up thoughts of the more famous Château de Chenonceau just next-door. This sub-appellation covers 27 hectares dotted along the Cher from Chatillon-sur-Cher down to Athée-sur-Cher.
Apart from the geographical denomination - which focuses on what you might call the première côte of the Cher - there isn't really much to make the appellation stand out. It allows for Sauvignon Blanc in white, and a narrow range of varieties in red. Yes, growers are subject to slightly lower yields, and they must hit a higher minimum potential alcohol at picking - in other words, the fruit has to be a little riper - but neither are stringent requirements. And it was a slow start for the appellation, with just fifteen vignerons declaring 30 hectares in 2011. It grew quickly though, rising to forty vignerons by 2016, now declaring more than 100 hectare, led by Luc Poullain of Domaine des Echardières, who also happens to be president of the appellation.
The wines I have tasted recently, however, seem to offer confidence and charm, and I certainly found these characteristics in the 2015 La Long Bec from Domaine des Echardières. Despite a relatively pale hue in the glass it offers an enticing aromatically confident nose filled with the scents of lime, greengage, box tree, gooseberry and yellow bell pepper. It is a hugely expressive style, a pungent firecracker of a wine, while on the palate it shows a sandy, quartzy, easy-going frame which I think shows more in common with the Pessac style than, for example, a wine from the limestone slopes of Sancerre. Deliciously textured, with a pithy citrus and gooseberry sorbet flavours, weighty yet showing real acid zip, it culminates in a long and nicely framed finish. It has real energy but enough flavour and bite to keep varietally interested drinkers happy, and makes me think I should be heading back to the Touraine Chenonceaux appellation for more before too long. 16.5/20 (8/2/17)