Pierre Jacques Druet Bourgueil Les Cent Boisselées 2009
Is it just me, or did the days seem not just longer but also warmer when we were younger? I have memories of long, hazy summer days, the air warm and still and yet also fresh, heady with the sweet scents of summer. The playing fields adjacent to the primary school where I was held prisoner for seven years were guarded on one side by a huge earth bank, and a council worker would cut the grass on the bank using a mower attached to a long rope. From the summit he would let out the rope, thus rolling the mower down the slope, before then pulling it up again, one strip of grass duly cut. After taking one step to the right the process was repeated, until the entire bank had been shorn. It’s not a very romantic image, but the aroma of fresh cut-grass that would waft down over us as he worked locked it into my brain forever. Even now, any hint of the same aroma, even just a little sniff of the greener side of Pouilly-Fumé, brings back this memory.
When dreamy summer weather returns, even if the scent of cut grass isn’t quite as sweet as it used to be, it is only natural to reach for an appropriate wine. And the past weekend has been as close to summer as we get in Scotland, the warmth of the sun’s rays beating down (this is rare, we have some sunny weather but true warmth is hard to come by) and the garden was lapping it up. As indeed was I. In such circumstances it is of course customary to retrieve the barbecue from the back of the summer house. I once joked with Philippe Foreau, who was commenting on my hardy resistance to the cool temperature of his cellars (we had been down there for several hours, and I did only have a t-shirt and shorts on) that to a Scot his cellars were warm enough for a barbecue. That’s not quite true I suppose, it does perhaps need to be a touch higher than the very steady 12ºC you find in the limestone caves of Vouvray, but this weekend the mercury burst through this figure without difficulty.
I swithered between white and red, eventually settling on the latter. The fact that I was about to load up said barbecue with a dozen home-made beef burgers (recipe on request) pushed me in this direction. Ideally, it should be something pure and suitable for summer; memories of the Verdier-Logel Côtes du Forez Cuvée des Gourmets 2014 filled my mind, but that was my only bottle, so there was no hope there. The Picatier wines from near Roanne that I tasted last week (notes not yet published) popped up next. Forez….. Roanne….. you can tell I have a thing for the Gamay and granite of the Upper Loire at the moment; there’s something very special about this combination. Some of the most enticing wines I have tasted in the past year come from the Côtes du Forez and Côte Roannaise, two regions which most people haven’t heard of and half of those who have think they don’t even qualify for the Loire Valley ‘umbrella’. But with no bottles of the Picatier to hand either, the next best option was this Bourgueil from Pierre Jacques Druet. Different variety of course, different terroir too. And a very different approach to the vinification.
Les Cent Boisselées is a curious cuvée. Look at the wine’s story and many elements scream ‘summer red’. Its origins are sand and gravel, the lesser terroirs of Bourgueil (especially sand); the serious wines, those that age best, tend to come from clay and limestone. It is machine-picked, the fruit kicks off with a cold soak at 6ºC or thereabouts, it is fermented in steel, and it sees no oak. Bottled young, it should be brimming with pure summer fruits. Taste it, however, and you will find more than that, and more interest than you usually find in a sandy cuvée. It is hard to know why, but perhaps Druet’s famed ‘experimental’ approach to vinification (after more than twenty years perhaps we could accept it as established rather than experimental?) in conical vats, narrower at the top than the bottom, is at least partly responsible. The shape of the vats help to keep the cap submerged, and Druet allows the fermentation temperature to rise to as much as 60ºC at the top where the skins are, while at the bottom it remains quite cool, Druet says often around 12ºC. Such high temperatures surely add to the degradation of the skins, and different flavours perhaps? Already you are doubting the presence of the pure, summer fruit aromas we seek, aren’t you?
And you would be right. In the glass 2009 Bourgueil Les Cent Boisselées from Pierre Jacques Druet has a bright pure hue, but the nose is more interesting, dark, rather reminiscent of damson skin, with a firm vegetal edge from the Cabernet, even in this very warm vintage, vaguely reminiscent of smoking oil. Along with this are complexities of black bean and mushroom, while more tense cranberry and redcurrant notes fill in behind. The palate has all this tension, is loaded with a bright acidity very welcome in this vintage, but it also has a little texture supporting the nuances of chestnut mushroom and black bean that swirl around the darker fruit. A very appealing wine, bright and tenser (and summery?) in terms of its structure, but in terms of flavour quite savoury, dark and showing the interesting greener twists that Cabernet Franc does so well. In some respects it is more autumn than summer, with its slightly mushroom-tinged fruit, a feature that feels to me quite Pinot-like in style. All in all it is an evocative vin de plaisir, perhaps not the ideal ‘summer wine’ but a very good thirst quencher that offers more interest and complexity than many. It’s good with burgers. And it’s good with the scent of freshly cut grass in the air. 15.5/20 (25/5/15)