François Cotat Sancerre Les Culs de Beaujeu 2004
This week a look upriver to the vineyards of Sancerre, prompted by this weekend’s wine, the 2004 Sancerre Les Culs de Beaujeu from François Cotat. The Cotat domaine was once the property of two brothers, Paul and Francis, who worked out of the commune of Chavignol, but with the passing of the domaine to the next generation, their sons François and Pascal, the domaine has been divided. One of the two cousins, Pascal Cotat, now makes his wine in Sancerre, whereas François Cotat has remained in Chavignol. It is the latter’s wine that is the focus of my attention here.
François Cotat’s wines are very special, and he is certainly worthy of an individual profile on this site – and I’m working on it! But for the moment this wine brings my mind to focus more on the vineyards of Sancerre, rather than the Cotat domaine per se. This is because François Cotat labels his wines not only as Sancerre, as he is required to do by appellation regulations, but also as Chavignol. Indeed, this has led one popular UK merchant to list the wines as products of this commune of the Sancerre appellation. In truth they are, I suppose, but it is erroneous to suggest that Chavignol has any legally defined status as an appellation. This wine is undisputedly Sancerre, an appellation for which there are fourteen eligible communes lying on the left bank of the Loire (the vineyards of Pouilly-Fumé lie more or less opposite, on the right bank). Five communes are authorised for white wine only (100% Sauvignon Blanc, obviously), and nine for red and rosé as well as white (the first two being 100% Pinot Noir). The first five are Bannay, Ménétréol-sous-Sancerre, Saint-Satur, Thauvenay and Veaugues, whereas the latter nine are Bué, Crézancy-en-Sancerre, Menetou-Râtel, Montigny, Sainte-Gemme-en-Sancerrois, Sancerre itself, Sury-en-Vaux, Verdigny and Vinon. Of note perhaps two of the better known regions of the Sancerre appellation, Chavignol – the origin of this wine – and Maimbray, which features in Reverdy’s Terre de Maimbray, are not listed communes in their own right. There is not the space for a detailed discussion of terroir in relation to each commune here, but broadly speaking the fourteen communes see a mix of three distinct types. First there is caillottes, chalky soils which are very typical of the region, then there is terres blanches, Kimmeridgian marly soils dominated by limestone and clay, certainly reminiscent of the soils of Chablis. Finally there is silex, or flint.
And so to this wine, which is from the Culs de Beaujeu, a site near Chavignol dominated by the Kimmeridgian limestone and clay. The term cul, you may or may not be surprised to learn, is yet another of the myriad of French words which relate to slopes or hills, although it has other ruder translations; thus it also plays a role in a good number of slang idioms, such as cul sec! (“bottom’s up!”) which, I assure you, is one of the more tame. The wine has a fairly rich hue for a Sauvignon, and this richness comes through on the nose too. The nose is intense, showing plenty of impressive, rocky minerality, and it is obviously tempting to relate that to the limestone soils. There is some delicious fruit too, although it is shifted towards the peach and stone fruit arena, and away from the green and grassy characteristics that Sauvignon often shows. There is a touch of lemon freshness too. The palate is full bodied, broad, with a lemon bite and mineral seam underpinning a fine, substantial, rich but well-defined palate. This is a very impressive, full-on wine with plenty of character and punch, and it is one that would probably do very nicely in the cellar for a few more years. Indeed, this ability to improve with age is a hallmark of Cotat’s wines, perhaps more so than any other producer in and around Sancerre. 17.5+/20 (9/2/09)