Domaine de la Garrelière Gamay Sans Tra-La-La 2015
Normal service is now resumed. For those who missed the announcement, I took last week off in order to finalise the purchase of a house in the Loire Valley. I wasn’t intending to go entirely silent, but this was enforced by the combination of no telephone line and no internet access, along with a long list of jobs and repairs to do. I think I have fixed everything in the past week; fences that flapped in the wind, fridge doors that refused to close, windows that wouldn’t lock, wardrobe handles that fell off. I was a one-man walking handyman, never going anywhere without screwdriver or glue gun. I even sorted out – eventually – a telephone line and internet access.
The house is some way (not too far though!) south of Chinon, not far at all from Richelieu. With the permission of Louis XIII, it was Cardinal Richelieu (1585 – 1642) who ordered the construction of this now historic town. To the south his architect Jacques Lemercier built an impressive château to rival most in the region, surrounded by gardens; today only the latter remain, the imposing château having long since disappeared, its stone recycled as building material during the early years of the 19th century. To the north Richelieu and Lemercier built a model village, laid out on a rectangular grid, with three monumental gates. And in the surrounding countryside the cardinal ordered the planting of vines. Well, who wouldn’t?
Sadly, today most of those vineyards have gone the same way as the cardinal’s château. As was also the case elsewhere in France, plantings in the Loire Valley contracted greatly after the phylloxera epidemic; those in more famous appellations recovered and stabilised, but in more peripheral parts the decline continued through the 20th century. Vineyards gradually disappeared, the proprietors turning to other forms of agriculture instead, often wheat or sunflowers. The land around Richelieu was once painted emerald green with Vitis vinifera, and some names – such as Faye-la-Vineuse, just to the south – reflect this, but today there is hardly a vine to be seen.
One valuable vinous survivor in this region is François Plouzeau at Domaine de la Garrelière, which is not far from Richelieu, and indeed not far from my new pied à terre. Running the domaine using biodynamic methods since he took over from his father Pierre in 1993, François turns out a range of charming and noteworthy wines based on all the local Loire varieties. The 2015 Domaine de la Garrelière Gamay Sans Tra-La-La (which basically translates as Gamay without fuss) takes fruit from vines planted on a mix of soils including limestone, clay, flint and sand. The fermentation is by indigenous yeasts, using carbonic maceration, with a cuvaison lasting up to four weeks. This particular vintage has a surprisingly pale and translucent hue, although it seems to darken and intensify in the glass. It has a delightful nose of berry fruits, cherry stones, white pepper and smoke. This builds on the palate into a beautiful fruit intensity, all dried cherries and stones, pebbles and gravel, charming yet tense and firm, an impression reinforced by the wine’s strong acidity. It is detailed by a little twist of peppermint, before it relaxes into a fresh, chalky, and sappy finish. Overall this is an appealing vin de soif, and one I suspect I might be drinking more of in future. 16/20 (16/1/17)