Domaine des Roches Neuves, 2019 Update

The manner in which Domaine des Roches Neuves has evolved since proprietor Thierry Germain (pictured below) first landed on the outskirts of Saumur has been dramatic, and tangible through the character of its wines. I recall my first ever taste of Terres Chaudes, the domaine’s original single-vineyard cuvée, rich in brooding fruit, dense and brawny, and wrapped several times over in oak. If I had asked you to guess Thierry’s origins within France based on the style of wine he was making, you might probably have said Bordeaux. Probably right-bank Bordeaux. And you would have been right; Thierry (together with brother Philippe of Château de la Roulerie and father Bernard of Château de Fesles, among others) all arrived in the Loire Valley from Bordeaux during the 1990s.

It wasn’t that I disliked the wine; it was obviously well made, but it fused a Bordeaux philosophy with Loire Valley fruit, and while both can be wonderful in isolation that does not necessarily mean they work well together. While I decry the notion that all Loire Valley reds should be tannin-free fodder for summer picnics and a weekend lunch at the local bistro, that does not mean they should all be stacked to the rafters with tannin, texture and oak. Loire Valley Cabernet Franc can be supremely ageworthy – ask Nady Foucault, or Philippe Alliet, or Bernard Baudry, or Philippe Boucard – but this ability may be bolstered by a different process to that which works well at Château Pavie or even Château Margaux, one that does not necessarily involve turbocharging the wine with wood tannins.

Domaine des Roches Neuves

Today, though, Thierry’s focus is terroir and the age of his vines, his very best cuvées coming from venerable old vines rooted onto the region’s deep limestones, their character unfettered by oaky tannins. All picked by hand, the fruit is infused rather than subjected to a detailed extraction, and it no longer spends much if any time in small oak barrels, Thierry now preferring larger vessels, including larger foudres, up to 25 hectolitres apiece. The end result are wines that have a fruit-derived tannic structure which means they should still age well, but they also have a wonderful sense of purity, fragrance and lift. Put these features in combination with the character of the 2018 vintage, which I think could turn out to be one of the greatest this century especially for reds, and we have something very special indeed.

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