Les Cailloux du Paradis Cuvée des Etourneaux 2007
Following on from last week’s wine fairs in London, the RAW Wine Fair and the Real Wine Fair, surely it’s only natural (groan….sorry) that my thoughts and my drinking this weekend should turn to one such wine. And so I’m looking at yet another cuvée from Les Cailloux du Paradis, a domaine that to my mind typifies the natural wine movement, within the context of the Loire at least, and yet it doesn’t seem to have a great presence here in the UK. That is despite the fact that a good number of the wine bars in Paris that focus on this particular style of wine devote a lot of space on their lists to the wines of this domaine.
Look at the story of Les Cailloux du Paradis and Claude Courtois and you will see what I mean when I say this domaine is a typical ‘natural’ domaine. Claude came to the Loire in the 1990s, having lost his domaine in Provence in a forest fire. Vineyards in the Loire were relatively inexpensive (they still are, even in some of the more famous appellations) and were unlikely to succumb to wild-fires, and so he acquired an old domaine planted to Gamay and Sauvignon Blanc. Having been managed using ‘traditional’ farming for years, the soils underfoot had been stripped bare of life by years of chemical applications. Natural check-list #1: rescue an ‘abused’ vineyard. Although he has maintained some of the Gamay and Sauvignon Blanc within his portfolio, other varieties have joined the ranks, including Romorantin, Menu Pineau and Pinot Noir. Natural check-list #2: plant a diverse array of varieties, including uncommon, indigenous or plain obscure vines. Take up some vines and allow the land to lie fallow, to encourage wild plants to grow. Natural check-list #3: ensure local biodiversity. Then plant Syrah (yes, in the Loire!), or other unauthorised varieties such as Gascon. Natural check-list #4: challenge the accepted rules and authorities, and work around or outside them if it suits. Yes, it seems so far as though Les Cailloux du Paradis ticks all the boxes, and we haven’t even mentioned the non-interventionist winemaking and sulphur dioxide regimen yet!
Today it is not just Claude that runs this domaine, as he has two wine-interested sons, Julien and Etienne. The former has established himself independently, with a 5-hectare domaine close by his father’s. Etienne, meanwhile, is taking the reins at Les Cailloux du Paradis, and indeed on the label above it is his name that takes pride of place, not that of his father. The Cuvée des Etourneaux is made from Gamay, but of course there is Gamay, and there is Gamay. Here we have a blend of two Gamays. The first is Gamay Noir, the usual pale-fleshed but dark-skinned variety that springs to mind when we first think of Gamay, the variety associated with Beaujolais most of all. But there are other Gamays, red-fleshed or teinturier varieties, such as Gamay de Bouze – which I have most commonly encountered in the wines of Henry Marionnet – and the one blended in here, Gamay Chaudenay.
The vintage here is 2007, although we know that because of the lot number – L007 – rather than the year being declared on the label. Once out of the bottle the Cuvée des Etourneaux, named for the starlings that steal the grapes from the vineyard (as pictured on the label), really shows the benefit of decanting. Initially it is earthy and savoury, feeling rather dense and reticent with it, but happily it shows much more convincing freshness and also some fruit with an hour in the decanter. The fruit aromatics are very wild, with notes of wild cherry and plum, but above this there is a very convincing minerally crunch and freshness to it which I find very appealing. It remains dark and savoury, but also fresh and brightly defined, rather glassy even. With such a promising nose it is a delight to find that the palate is just as convincing, with a supple but fresh weight, the fruit just as characterful and interesting here, and the structure of the wine showing a lovely crunch like that suggested on the nose. This is sappy, vibrant, full of energy, with a grit-framed finish, overall a delicious and delightful wine. 16/20 (28/5/12)