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Domaine du Mortier St Nicolas de Bourgueil Graviers 2009

Breaking out of my comfort zone is a priority for me in 2012; this doesn't mean I want to start drinking biodynamic Zambian Sagrantino, or Latvian Furmint aged in underground amphorae made from ceremonially pulverised moon rocks, more that I feel a need to look beyond the domaines I know to some that are less familiar, and hopefully bring some news of these domaines and their wines to Winedoctor. And it is not Zambia or Latvia that I will be focusing on, but the Loire; a wine region you might think I know well. But you know the old saying - "the more you learn, the less you know" - and I'm conscious that this can be applied to wine. For every one of the Loire's many domaines that I know well and think I understand, there are ten more making wines which I have never tasted. It is these domaines I would like to know a little better, even if I can only scratch the surface of this undiscovered country.

Domaine du Mortier St Nicolas de Bourgueil Graviers 2009Domaine du Mortier is one such domaine, although it is hardly a new discovery; the wines already have a presence in a number of important export markets. The domaine is a fairly young one though, brothers Fabien and Cyril Boisard having established it in 1996. They have about 9 hectares of vines to their name, with a mix of typical sandy and gravelly St Nicolas de Bourgueil terroirs, although there are also vines planted on the more highly regarded clay-limestone soils of the region. The vines, which are purely Cabernet Franc, are all worked by hand; this includes soil management by a combination of grassing over and ploughing, and an occasional application of biodynamic compost. The brothers appear to have solid organic and biodynamic credentials, having certification from Nature et Progrès, one of the longest-established bodies overseeing and certifying organic agriculture in France, and Ecocert. There are a number of cuvées produced here, but it is the St Nicolas de Bourgueil Graviers in the 2009 vintage, from 2 hectares of vines planted on the gravelly soils (hence the name), on which I am focusing today. The fruit for this wine is picked by hand, gently destemmed to avoid damaging the fruit prior to fermentation, and crushed by foot. There is a cool maceration to start, followed by fermentation in cement cuve; no sulphur is added during these early stages, and there is no room for addition of yeast, sugar or enzymes at any time. There is a regular pigeage to keep the solids submerged, before the wine is eventually pressed and run off into 50-hectolire 50-year old foudres. The wine may see a further racking, but no bâtonnage, fining or filtration, before the wine is bottled, admittedly in several bottling runs.

The wine in question was harvested at 45 hl/ha, and unsurprisingly in view of the brothers' philosophies is labelled as "non levuré, non chaptalisé, vendange manuelle". The sulphur content is notable, in that the figures declared by the Boisards are 32 mg/l total sulphites and 18 g/l free sulphites; these figures might upset natural wine purists a little, but I think the brothers are clearly interested in the quality of the final product. I applaud their intent, especially as their work seems to have paid off; this is a delicious wine. In the glass it has a brilliantly vibrant hue, all crimson brightness. The nose is open, crisp, fresh and elegantly perfumed; first there are pretty, gravelly elements, so this is a wine that seems to be displaying its origins quite clearly. Then more solid notes come in, with cherry skin and stone, but there is always a bright, icing-sugar intensity to it, so that at times it seems reminiscent of cherry ripple ice cream. The palate is intensely polished, with gently grippy backbone, a fine texture and a firm finish. We have here a wine of shape and frame rather than one of softness and sweetness. This is delightful, and considering I am often less enamoured with gravel cuvées as opposed to those from the more prestigious limestone terroirs, then this is a real success, bright, honest, real, pure and perfumed. A lovely wine with a long finish. Alcohol 12.5%. 16/20 (16/1/12)

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