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Domaine de la Butte Bourgueil Mi-Pente 2015

Domaine de la Butte Bourgueil Mi-Pente 2015

The notion that terroir, or at the very least soil and aspect (lest we get sidetracked by some argument regarding the definition of terroir), has some impact on the character and quality of its wines is not new. Armand d’Armailhacq (1789 – 1868), an agricultural engineer and proprietor of Château d’Armailhac in Pauillac, told us this much when writing in De la Culture des Vignes, de la Vinification et des Vins dans le Médoc (P. Chaumas, 1855). Quoting the renowned ampelographer Comte Alexandre-Pierre Odart (1778 – 1866), who was in turn recounting communications he had with a grower named Yendel, in Chinon, Armailhacq wrote of Cabernet Franc (under its much older name of Breton) as follows:

“The Breton is protean, changing with its locality; for example, in Champigny-le-Sec [nothing to do with Saumur-Champigny, but a commune much further south, close to Poitiers] where the vineyard is on limestone, the wine is without comparison. On sandy gravel over deeper clay, it gives a wine rich in colour which keeps well; on the lighter sands along the river banks the wine is light, cool and its ability to age is limited. Finally, on terres blanches over tuffeau, it is worthless; the grapes do not ripen, the wine cool, dull and without colour”.

More than 150 years later I discovered the Cabernet Franc terroir transparency for myself, by the well-worn approach of tasting, tasting and more tasting, long before I first came across the words of Comte Odart or his vinous pen pal in Chinon. And I agree with every word he says.

Domaine de la Butte Bourgueil Mi-Pente 2015

Well, almost every word. I am not at all convinced by the conclusion that Cabernet Franc produces light, colourless and frankly worthless wines when grown on tuffeau, a type of limestone common along the central mLoire Valley. Vineyards which feature limestone, usually in combination with clay, are some of the most highly prized sites for planting in Chinon, Bourgueil and St Nicolas de Bourgueil. In Bourgueil these vineyards tend to be set well back up the slope, close to the tree line, behind the broad terraces of gravel that border the Loire. Here is where we find Domaine de la Butte, where Jacky Blot has taken the relationship between variety and terroir to an even higher level. Dividing his slope up into three sections (low, middle and high) he produces three cuvées, Le Pied de la Butte (the foot of the hill), Le Haut de la Butte (the top of the hill) and Mi-Pente (midslope). Here, just as is also the case on the Côte d’Or, Jacky prizes the mid-slope section above all others.

The soils midslope are at their thinnest, meaning the underlying limestone – highly valued, regardless of what Monsieur Yendel may have thought – is closest to the surface. Jacky’s approach to viticulture is scrupulously organic, the fruit picked by hand, sorted, destemmed and transferred into the cellars beneath the vineyard via a vertical chute through the rock. Vinified in barrel, mostly second- and third-fill, Mi-Pente is undeniably one of the Bourgueil appellation’s top wines, and always set up for long cellaring. The 2015 Bourgueil Mi-Pente from Domaine de la Butte displays a polished, rather matt and claretty hue in the glass. The aromatics are very fine, a combination of classical Cabernet Franc character, all dried cherry skin, tobacco and green peppercorn, along with some elements of liquorice and black pepper. There is plenty of tension and taut substance on the palate, with tannic spice and energy giving the midpalate a real boost. It all comes wrapped up in a little spiced oak at the moment, and the finish feels laden with grippy substance and tannin, as well as a firm acid backbone. Tense and substantial, with convincing structure, this has excellent potential for the cellar. 95/100

So not “cool, dull and without colour” then. Strange that a grower should so misunderstand the value of the Loire Valley’s limestone and clay terroirs. Let’s just be thankful that Jacky Blot hasn’t. (5/8/19)

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