Philippe Gilbert Menetou-Salon Blanc 2011
After last week's Sancerre, the 2010 X-elis from Gitton Père et Fils, this week it seems somehow appropriate to stay in the upper reaches of the Loire. I realise this description of the Central Vineyards as the 'upper reaches' is technically incorrect, as the highest vineyards on the Loire are actually the Côtes du Forez and Côte Roannaise, hundreds of kilometres further upriver, but I hope you will forgive my inaccuracy just this once. I'm not sticking with Sancerre though, as this appellation is quite famous enough already. I'm looking a little to the west, to Menetou-Salon.
The vineyards of Menetou-Salon are dotted along a strip of land that runs from Bourges in the southwest, to Humbligny to the northeast. The appellation therefore extends in a slightly broken fashion along a stretch of d about 25 kilometres long, although it is only about 5 kilometres wide. Beyond Humbligny, to the east, is Sancerre country. Unsurprisingly therefore, the soils are very similar to those found in much of Sancerre, and in particular Kimmeridgian marl, a mix of Kimmeridgian limestone and clay, dominates. The limestone is rich in fossilised oyster shells, known locally as les oreilles des poules (literally, hens' ears). And the varieties planted and style of wine found in Menetou-Salon are very much the same as those found in its more famous cousin.
Along this narrow patchwork of vineyards the domaine of Philippe Gilbert can be found. He has 28 hectares all told, 13 hectares of Sauvignon Blanc and 15 hectares of Pinot Noir. The domaine is run according to biodynamic principles; on the whole Philippe works the soil, although one or two selected sites are grassed over instead. The harvest, which I witnessed first-hand when I visited the domaine late in 2013, is a manual, labour-intensive affair; the domaine was absolutely buzzing with pickers when I arrived, all freshly charged by post-lunch espressos and raring to go I'm the vineyard.
This wine, the Domaine Philippe Gilbert Menetou-Salon Blanc 2011, is particularly interesting to meet again as I first tasted it in component form when I met up with Philippe earlier in 2013, in Angers. The principal difference between the two components was the age of the vines, one young and one old; now blended and in bottle, the two halves seem to have come together very nicely. In the glass the wine shows appealing scents of pears and a little grapefruit, with a slightly aromatic twist, and quite a full and forward character. There is great confidence on the start of the palate, with a mix of punchy and scented orchard fruits on an appealingly textured midpalate, but with a bright and subtly minerally background to add interest. There is plenty of substance running behind here too. It has a fairly short finish, although it shows good composure, finishing in a clean and defined manner. This is a good wine. 16/20 (27/1/14)