A Visit to Domaine Guiberteau, 2017

Walking up and across the hill of Brézé for the first time I think it would be fair to say I was a little underwhelmed. Observing it from the north, en route from Saint-Cyr-en-Bourg, this hill is to the unappreciative eye little more than a very gentle incline leading up to a copse of trees that sits atop its summit, a mere 80 metres above sea level. Viewing it from the west it perhaps has slightly more impact, although this is partly down to the presence of the rather magnificent Château de Brézé. Positioned two-thirds of the way up the slope, above the village of Brézé itself, this imposing edifice sits atop ancient cellars and troglodytic tunnels dug deep into the underlying rock, an underground fortress parts of which date back to the 12th century.

The Hill of Brézé

Perhaps this rather understated and eminently assailable slope is one reason why the hill of Brézé is such a strong candidate for the most under-appreciated of all the Loire Valley’s great vineyard sites. Consider, for a moment, some of its peers. The Clos de la Coulée de Serrant, so praised by the gastronomic writer Curnonsky, provides a commanding view of the valley (or coulée) below and the Loire beyond which, once seen, is never forgotten. And neither are the wines Nicolas Joly fashions from its slopes (for a variety of reasons, depending on your palate and preferences, I suppose). And then there is the magnificent Les Monts Damnés; once I had stood atop this precipitous slope and looked down onto the rooftops of Chavignol my understanding of this particular corner of the Sancerre appellation changed forever. And the wines, from the likes of Gérard Boulay, François Cotat and Pierre Martin, are some of the most superlative to come out of the region.

Domaine Guiberteau

Brézé does not have such visual impact, but it is worth knowing this hill. Curnonsky recognised this, and he regarded many of the long-established lieux-dits on its slopes very highly, including the Clos de Carmes and a number of the hill’s other walled vineyards. Today, I suspect most drinkers know the hill only through one or two of its wines. The cuvée Brézé from Nady Foucault and his late brother Charly of Clos Rougeard will surely be the one to set most hearts aflutter; it is rarely seen (these days, anyway – I remember a time when I had no difficulty tracking down a bottle or two for the cellar), highly sought-after and accordingly very highly priced. Then there are the wines of Château de Brézé itself, for years rightly disregarded, although since the vineyards have been contracted out to Arnaud Lambert of Domaine de Saint-Just it seems like quality may be on the up (I still need to check these out). And then, of course, there are the wines of Romain Guiberteau, of the revitalised Domaine Guiberteau, one of Saumur’s up-and-coming superstars.

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