Loire 2017 at Three Years: Red Wines
It perhaps says something of the changing face (or should that be changing climate) of the Loire Valley that this instalment of my Loire 2017 at Three Years report features tasting notes on 25 wines, only one less than my report on the region’s white wines in this same vintage. Or perhaps it says something about my long-term obsession with these wines? After all, I have been following them ever since that first taste of the 1989 Chinon Clos de l’Echo at the Couly-Dutheil cellars back in the early 1990s (and before that, to be honest), long before phrases such as ‘climate change’ and ‘global warming’ became so widely understood.
Nevertheless, it is clear that the Loire Valley is changing, and to their credit a large part of this cultural and stylistic shift is down to the vignerons themselves. Better practices in the vineyard and an increased understanding of red winemaking techniques is resulting in better and better wines. In some cases this understanding grows as the vigneron gains experience and confidence, but sometimes it arrives suddenly with the stepping forward of the next generation. Thirty years ago, a vigneron who had gained some experience in Burgundy or the Rhône Valley before taking over the family business would have been a rarity. Now it is probably the norm, and their ‘work experience’ is just as likely to include a stint in California, New Zealand, Australia or beyond as it is the other regions of France.
We see this expertise coming through at many domaines, such as Jérôme Billard, who worked with Moueix in Bordeaux before putting in some time in Dominus in California. Emmanuel Ogereau took off to New Zealand, where he worked at Seresin Estate, picking up valuable experience as well as a working knowledge of biodynamics. I am sure it makes a difference; in both cases the wines are a sure step up in quality from those their parents made (which, to be fair, were in both cases already very good).
Nevertheless, having acknowledged that, the changing climate has made life easier when it comes to making the red wines (and perhaps more difficult when it comes to whites – at least it does if you value acidity). The Loire Valley is no longer a region where the prime concern is mere ripeness of fruit. The majority of the last ten vintages have seen Cabernet Franc reach a perfect maturity on the vine, and thus quality depends on other factors, not least the ability of the vigneron to deal with this fruit, making decisions on harvest, vinification and élevage, in order to pull as much finesse, perfume and elegance from it as is possible.