Bernard Baudry Chinon Le Clos Guillot 2010
In the past week I had my first taste of the 2014 vintage from the Loire Valley, and it looks like there will be plenty to get excited about. In particular, these early tastes have suggested that the red wines are going to be as interesting as the whites, perhaps even more so, and this conclusion (based on tasting just a handful of wines so far, obviously I have a lot more tasting to do) is backed up by technical analyses from the region, which describe a level of phenolic maturity comparable to 2005. This means, in the next year or two, there could be a lot of spine-tingling red wines coming onto the market. Rather than twiddle my thumbs waiting for the 2014s though (as it could be a very long twiddle indeed, as the top wines won’t appear until 2016) I decided to look back to 2010 instead, and to focus on the variety, just as I have been doing recently with some of the classic white grape varieties of the Loire Valley, including Chenin Blanc, Sauvignon Blanc, Romorantin and of course Melon de Bourgogne, not forgetting obscurities such as Fié Gris of course.
Chinon is of course Cabernet Franc, as I suspect nobody needs to be told. Bordeaux-minded purists look down upon it as a blending variety of course, and even though a handful of wines in St Emilion are renowned for being ‘expressions’ of Cabernet Franc, most notably Château Cheval Blanc but also Château Ausone, Château Pavie and others, they are of course all merely blends that feature this variety. Even Le Dôme, which trumps them all, includes 20% Merlot. Go back a decade or two and your will find this supporting role for Cabernet Franc transmitted though to the language used to describe the variety, which was not infrequently referred to as the ‘little brother’ or ‘cousin’ of Cabernet Sauvignon. These days we known that Chinon’s variety is in fact the father of Cabernet Sauvignon, a variety which resulted from a crossing in the wild between Cabernet Franc and Sauvignon Blanc, as well as Merlot, the offspring of Cabernet Franc and Magdelaine Noire des Charentes, and also Carmenère, which is a cross between Cabernet Franc and Gros Cabernet.
But what of Cabernet Franc’s origins? These, unfortunately, are less clear. Its parentage of three classic Bordeaux varieties (I hope I am allowed to refer to Carmenère as a ‘classic’ variety), one of them in conjunction with Sauvignon Blanc, clearly tie it to that region. But its history suggests an origin elsewhere, as it seems accepted by all that it was planted in the Loire Valley by Abbé Breton in the early 17th century, thus taking his name (Breton is the local name for the variety). Today it is cultivated in Bourgueil by Catherine and Pierre Breton, and in Anjou by the Lebreton family of Domaine des Rochelles and Domaine de Montgilet, perhaps further clues to the significance of the variety here. Nevertheless, it seems most likely that the variety has come to dominate here after being imported from further afield, and despite Breton also suggesting nearby Brittany as an origin, the source is more likely to have been south-west France, or even the Basque territories of north-east Spain. Cabernet Franc has genetic relationships with two Basque varieties named Morenoa and Hondarribi Beltza, and so while it is possible that one of these is a parent for the variety at least one (and most probably both) are also the results of a cross between Cabernet Franc and an unknown variety. As these are both ancient varieties, it has been suggested that Cabernet Franc has a Basque origin. The Basque vineyards are also home to some very primitive clones of Cabernet Franc compared to those found in Bordeaux or the Loire, lending further weight to this theory.
When I taste Chinon, however, it always speaks much more of the Loire Valley than it does of the Basque country, or of Bordeaux, testament to the influence that climate and terroir can have on a wine (as well as winemaking of course). The 2010 Chinon Clos Guillot from Bernard Baudry is no exception to this rule, although behind the fruit there is a very deep, dark substance which speaks of a benevolent vintage. In the glass the wine has a fresh hue, dark but with a bright raspberry crimson rim. There follows a nose of tense and crunchy fruit, barely-ripe blackberries with a smoky-sooty character and also a little blackcurrant cream with some roasted herbs. The palate shows pure and crunchy black summer fruits, with a subtle and slightly leafy edge of greenness, although this fades somewhat leaving a huge depth of dark, savoury fruit. A very firm middle in terms of structure, showing bright acidity and lightly grainy tannins. Great texture, substance and depth, leading into a long finish of sappy sour fruit. It is a wine that grew on me gradually in its current youthful stage, but there is clearly plenty of potential here. 17/20 (26/1/15)