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Olga Raffault Chinon Les Picasses 2010

Olga Raffault Chinon Les Picasses 2010

Some parts of the Loire Valley seem never to change. The river winds its way through landscapes of wheat fields, vines and bocage, some of which are must look today just as they did several centuries ago. The vignerons, chasseurs and pêcheurs that trod these riverbanks may come and go, but those here today walk much the same paths as their forebears.

Parts of Chinon, however, most certainly are changing, and I am not just referring to the restoration of the town’s famous château, parts of which are now covered with new slate roofs which certainly weren’t there when I first set eyes upon it back in the early 1990s. The appellation itself is changing, with a number of communes previously excluded recently admitted, elevating their wines from mere Touraine to Chinon. And on the road heading northwest out of Chinon towards Bourgueil and St Nicolas de Bourgueil, one which I have travelled quite frequently in the last two weeks, things are also moving on. The little town of Avoine, once nothing more than an eyesore that loomed over the road, has been spruced up and the village square now bursts with late-summer blooms. The Centre Nucléaire, the great plumes of steam that rise from its cooling towers ethereal yet long-established landmarks in the region, has been mooted for closure in the press. And along the side of the road here heated and illuminated greenhouses of behemoth proportions are multiplying, their proprietors attempting to meet France’s presumably insatiable taste for tomatoes.

Olga Raffault Chinon Les Picasses 2010

Very close to this road is Les Picasses, a lieu-dit in the commune of Beaumont-en-Véron which is best associated with Olga Raffault, although there are a handful of other vignerons working this particular corner of the appellation. The soils here are comprised of a hard limestone, with superficial sandy soils, and the vineyard is named for the picasse, an old two-headed pick that viticulteurs would once have used to break the ground. The vineyards here are on the highest point on the narrowing isthmus of land that sits between the Vienne to the south and the Loire to the north, and as such it is blessed with both north- and south-facing slopes, although none of these gentle inclines are anything like the impressive côtes you find bordering the Vienne, like those behind Cravant-les-Coteaux. The wines tend to reflect this, being classical in style, at their best silky and elegant, much admired, but to my mind never offering the substance you find in the wines coming from Chinon’s première côte.

I haven’t tasted many wines from this domaine in recent years. The last time I visited, about a year ago now, I was en route to the airport and had no time for anything more than a brief pre-harvest rendez-vous with Sylvie Raffault in the vineyard. It was a good opportunity to photograph the crop of 2016, waiting on the vine to be picked, and to find out how the growing season had progressed, but sadly there was no time to taste. And the last time I featured the domaine among my Weekend Wines was just shy of ten years ago, with the 1990 Les Picasses. This ten-year gap between wines isn’t a slight by the way; I get through fewer than fifty weekend wines per year, and there are some domaines I like very much I have never featured. The 2010 Les Picasses from Olga Raffault has an elegant, cherry red hue, bright in colour but with a little less intensity and concentration than I was expecting from this vintage. The nose is delightfully perfumed with the scents of peonies and blackcurrant leaf, detailed with notes of aniseed, cast against a backdrop of sour cherry and cranberry fruit. The palate is medium-bodied, tense and reserved, quite taut, with dry cherry skin fruit dusted with a little black tea leaf, all underpinned by a sappy undercurrent. This all focuses down into a long, bright, acid-tense finish. Overall, this is a precisely poised example of Chinon, with a sense of classicism, perfume and purity. The region, its château and its greenhouses may be changing, but I think wines such as this are here to stay. 16/20 • 92/100 (2/10/17)

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