Le Rocher des Violettes Touraine Côt Vieilles Vignes 2017
At the end of a week which saw France’s Institut National de l’Origine et de la Qualité (previously known as the Institut National des Appellations d’Origine and still often referred to by many, including me, as the INAO) approve seven new varieties for the Bordeaux appellation, in part at least as a response to climate change, I thought this weekend I would take a look at a variety that may also become increasingly important as global temperatures continue to rise. That variety is Malbec, otherwise known in the Loire Valley as Côt.
Côt is one of a number of varieties you might associate with other wine regions (in this case Bordeaux, Cahors and various corners of Argentina) but it has also been planted in the Loire Valley since at least the 18th century. It is not, therefore, a new arrival, imported with climate change in mind. Exactly who first planted it here is sadly not known, although it I suspect it came up from Cahors (of which the Ligérian name Côt is a contraction) rather than via Bordeaux. As an aside, it is the same with Cabernet Sauvignon; this variety may also be useful as the climate warms, but it too is not a new arrival in the region. It has also been planted here for centuries, and when grown on the warmest, driest slopes of schist in Anjou it has been produced superb excellent, ageworthy red (it is also, of course, the variety behind the best examples of Cabernet d’Anjou).
At a lecture and tasting I attended well over a decade ago now, a learned MW stood up and told us all Côt would be the next ‘big thing’ in the Loire Valley. I was inclined to disagree, and many years later this is still my position. The ‘big thing’ when it comes to red wines in the Loire Valley is always going to be Cabernet Franc. Nevertheless I have shifted my position on Côt somewhat; whereas I once thought it might always be an obscure afterthought in the region’s mix of grape varieties, I can see it becoming increasingly important in the coming years. Its wines are full of colour and perfume, more so than some examples of Cabernet Franc, and when ripe it gives a very fine tannic structure to a wine. And despite an association with much warmer regions, the berries tend to reach maturity a little earlier than Cabernet Franc. No wonder it has long had a presence in the region.
Doubters who suspect I am weaving a fancy tale should perhaps check out the 2017 Côt Vieilles Vignes from Le Rocher des Violettes. Xavier Weisskopf has about a hectare planted with elderly Côt, the oldest of which date to the end of the 19th and early 20th centuries. The vines are planted on soils of silty clay over limestone, the fruit picked by hand, this particular vintage at a yield of just 25 hl/ha. The fruit went into the vats in whole bunches for the fermentation, the berries kicking off with some intracellular fermentation before the yeasts got stuck in, after which the new wine went into third-fill barrels of Allier oak. In the glass it has a vibrant black cherry hue, deep and rich. There is a wonderfully perfumed aromatic profile, true to the variety, with floral violet and cherry blossom scents, opening the door to an array of blackberry and black cherry fruit, with a touch of black pepper too. As if that was not enough, peeling back the fruit reveals yet another layer, of lightly chalky and gently perfumed limestone. This highly aromatic character persists on the palate, where there is blackcurrant and blackberry fruit rubbed on white stone, wrapped around a dry central spiral of tannins and a fresh acidity, which runs through into the finish. A supple wine, pretty, charming, and ultimately delicious. While I look forward to finding out how Touriga Nacional from Bordeaux tastes, I think in the Loire Valley I will stick with my favoured trio of Cabernet Franc, Cabernet Sauvignon and now of course Côt. 94/100 (8/7/19)
Read more in:
- The Loire 2017 vintage
- My guide to Côt and Other Red Loire Varieties
- My profile of Le Rocher des Violettes