Domaine des Tilleuls Chardonnay Belle Aisance 2019
Chardonnay is the variety everybody loves. Or everybody hates. It depends who you ask, I guess.
That Chardonnay has become one of the most prominent and ubiquitous of international varieties is perhaps not surprising; it has many attractive features that have endeared it to winemakers and wine drinkers alike. Listing them all here seems almost as useful as me offering advice to Olympic silver medal-winning sprinters on how they might improve their performance. Having said that, the variety’s ability to perform well in a variety of climates, from cool Chablis to arid Australia, its attractive aromatic profile and its consistently positive response to oak whether used for the vinification or élevage are just a few of the characteristics which have seen it propelled to stardom and which cannot go unmentioned (my advice would be to really try to run a bit faster, if you were wondering).
Despite (or perhaps because of) the variety’s broad success I have tended to pop an Olympic-standard eye roll when I hear of it being planted in the Loire Valley. After all, it is not as if local vignerons don’t have enough high-class indigenous varieties to choose from, led by Chenin Blanc and Sauvignon Blanc, without resorting to this Johnny-come-lately interloper. Note, however, that Chardonnay is not a new arrival in this region; this much it has in common with that other international variety, Cabernet Sauvignon. Both have had a presence in the Loire vineyards dating back centuries rather than decades, and both have a role to play in any number of local appellations. For Chardonnay its most prominent role comes around Anjou and Saumur, where it has a home in the Crémant de Loire appellation, often as a blending partner but there are some exemplary pure-Chardonnay cuvées. It has also long been a part of the blend in the Cheverny, Saumur and Anjou appellations, not to mention Saint-Pourçain, where it partners with the indigenous Tressallier.
At the valley’s two extremes Chardonnay is planted for use outside the appellation system. It sits alongside Pinot Blanc (here known as Pinot Beurot) and Pinot Noir in the vineyards of the Côtes de la Charité, a stylistic stepping stone between the wines of Pouilly-Fumé and those of the Côte d’Or to the east. Chardonnay also has a role in the vineyards of the Upper Loire, where it jostles with Pinot Gris and Riesling for dominance among the whites.
In recent weeks, however, the best examples of Chardonnay I have tasted have been grown at the other end of the river, in the vineyards of the Nantais, where many vignerons plant a mix of varieties including Chardonnay in order to add some diversity to their portfolios. I was taken aback by the appeal found within the Chardonnay from Frères Couillaud I tasted recently, and this week’s wine is another in this little run of charming Chardonnay successes. Domaine des Tilleuls is home to the Houssin family, who are based in La Regrippière (almost next-door to the Couillaud family, in fact), on the very periphery of the Muscadet Sèvre et Maine appellation. Their Chardonnay they planted in 1988, on soils of clay over micaschist, and the Chardonnay Belle Aisance is the more upmarket of two cuvées produced, vinified in cuve but with partial aging in French oak barrels. The 2019 has a moderate straw-gold hue in the glass. The nose is just delightful, a finely polished blend of subtly expressed sweet pear and stone fruit, nuanced with touches of quince, orange citrus zest, and a little thread of oaky oatmeal. This continues on the palate with the same juicy core of citrus fruits touched with gentle oatmeal and a hint of cashew nut, delivered to the middle of the palate by a fine central spindle of acidity. It has a seamless presence, with a little pithy substance, but on the whole it feels harmonious and complete, and overall it is a very impressive Loire Chardonnay. The declared alcohol is just 12.5%, and it is sealed with a DIAM-3 closure. 92/100
The end-point here is an obvious one. I shall have to take up some sport other than eye-rolling. If you ask, count me among the lovers. (16/8/21)
Read more in:
- My guide to the Nantais
- My report on the Loire 2019 vintage
- My guide to Less Common White Loire Varieties