Domaine des Rochelles Anjou-Villages Brissac
La Croix de Mission 2014
This week I turn again to another Loire Valley red from 2014, the first of a quartet of really interesting vintages for the red varieties in the region. And like the recently featured 2014 Domaine Ogereau Anjou-Villages Côte de la Houssaye, but not the 2014 Serge et Bruno Sourdais Chinon Les Cornuelles or 2014 Château de Minière Bourgueil Vignes Centenaires de Minière, this is another example of a vigneron eschewing Cabernet Franc, the poster-boy variety for the region, in favour of Cabernet Sauvignon. Well, this is mostly true. In truth La Croix de Mission from Domaine des Rochelles is usually a blend of 90% Cabernet Sauvignon and 10% Cabernet Franc; committed Cabernet Sauvignon addicts desperate for a 100% fix will instead need to track down Les Millerits, also from this domaine, which features this variety and no other.
In my little report on the 2014 Domaine Ogereau Anjou-Villages Côte de la Houssaye I made some comment on the presence of Cabernet Sauvignon in Anjou, with particular reference to the erroneous belief that this is a recent arrival in the region and perhaps a response to climate change. Of course, Cabernet Sauvignon, the principal variety behind the age-old Cabernet d’Anjou appellation, as well as having a longstanding role in the wines of the Anjou-Villages (with or without the Brissac suffix) appellation, has been present in the region a long time. The question I have been asking myself over the past few weeks, however, is since when? Has Cabernet Sauvignon been here for centuries, initially confused with Cabernet Franc, as was probably the case in the vineyards of Bordeaux. Or is there more certainty about its arrival here?
A description of the varieties planted in Anjou during the 18th century, presented by Michel Renou in Les Pressoirs de la République, Les Vignerons de l’Anjou au XVIIIe Siècle (Cheminements, 2003), mentions Cabernet Franc, Pineau d’Aunis and Grolleau, which together accounted for 20% of the Anjou vineyard, the other 80% being Chenin Blanc. We should not be surprised at Cabernet Sauvignon’s omission given that the first descriptions of the variety only began to emanate from Bordeaux during the 1770s. Cabernet Sauvignon (and Gamay, although that’s a story for another day) arrived later, during the 1840s. Its principal exponent was Pierre Constant Guillory (1796 – 1878), a vigneron of Swiss origin with a vineyard in Savennières, founder of the Société Industrielle d’Angers et Agricole et du Département du Maine-et-Loire and a member of the Académie d’Agriculture de France. Having made experimental plantings in the little valleys (or coulées) of the region, he concluded that Cabernet Sauvignon was the best choice. It is probably due to the work of Guillory that a number of parcels in Savennières remain planted to red varieties today, and I suspect this work may have been a significant driver behind the spread of Cabernet Sauvignon across the entire Anjou region. And, I should point out, this is more than a century before anyone came up with the terms ‘climate change’ and ‘global warming’.
I suppose it is thanks to the inquisitive mind of Guillory that today we have wines such as the 2014 Anjou-Villages Brissac La Croix de Mission from Domaine des Rochelles. As I indicated in my opening paragraph, this is predominantly Cabernet Sauvignon, 90% in fact, with 10% Cabernet Franc, from vines planted on schist and sandstone. The lead variety needs a warm terroir to ripen well, and without it the wines tend to develop structure but not so much flesh. Schist (like that in Savennières, as Guillory established) will do the job. This cuvée usually sees a one-month maceration, with the vinification taking place entirely in stainless steel. The colour in the glass is dark, very pigmented right out to the rim, with a fairly saturated, glossy depth. Aromatically it is dominated by the scents of black cherry skins, sweet currant, soot and black bean, all touched with a violet perfume. This carries through on to the palate, which shows some sweet cherry and violet fruit, with a fresh and sinewy texture, all backed up by attractive acidity, nicely judged for a vintage in which acidity is in some red wines the defining characteristic, along with a wealth of rich, ripe, tightly grained tannins. There is just a very slight suggestion of blackcurrant leaf to it, fresh and adding complexity rather than distracting. Long and tannin-rich in the finish, and full of potential, this is one to leave slumbering in the cellar for five to ten years, at least. 94/100 (5/3/18)
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