Yannick Amirault Bourgueil La Petite Cave 2010
“A wine from Bourgueil charms with its perfume, its taste, where raspberry dominates, and its stimulating freshness. It is fruity, delicate, agreeable in its youth, generally at peak after three or four years in bottle; although some are full of early charm others, on the contrary, while a little hard in their younger years, are softening with age, such as certain wines from 1933 and 1934.”
– Pierre Bréjoux, Les Vins de Loire, 1956
Now and again, you will surely be surprised to learn, I find myself disagreeing with the words of other wine writers. Muscadet seems to be a problem area; the region has changed so dramatically in the past two decades that even a regular visitor to the Loire Valley, one who regularly tastes (and drinks!) the wines, would have to work hard to keep up. Old maxims have been overturned, and new appellations (or at least new crus within an appelation) have been born; my newly published multi-part guide to the wines of the Pays Nantais, including the latest details on the Muscadet Crus Communaux (an area that seems to cause particular confusion), should be informative for those wishing to get up to speed.
Another problem area is Bourgueil. Or Chinon, or St Nicolas de Bourgueil, or indeed any of the Loire Valley’s red wine appellations, although it is the first of this trio I have been focusing on this past year, with some new and revitalised profiles for Château de Minière, Aurélien Revillot, Lamé Delisle Boucard, Domaine de la Butte, Yannick Amirault and one or two others. Reading the words of Pierre Bréjoux translated and reproduced above (old wine texts can be truly enlightening, and Pierre Bréjoux’s guide from the 1950s is one I turn to with some frequency) I immediately had a moment of déjà vu as he seems to dismiss the wines of Bourgueil as light, raspberry-scented affairs, best drunk in their youth.
This is true of the entry-level wines of course, but the appellation is no more defined by these wines than St Emilion is defined by those of the sandy palus. In both appellations we should look to higher land, where we find the clay and limestone terroirs, to find what the region is truly capable of. Reading on, Pierre Bréjoux seems to have discovered these wines, judging by the fact he has encountered some wines from Bourgueil at over twenty years of age that are just beginning to ‘soften’. That definitely sounds like a wine from high up the slopes, perhaps from Le Grand Clos, La Butte or Les Perrières, rather than from down on the alluvial soils of the Vienne.
Another limestone terroir is La Petite Cave, as exploited by one of my favourite growers, Yannick Amirault (the domaine still goes by his father’s name, but these days it is definitely Benoît Amirault doing a large chunk of the work). The vines of this lieu-dit lie very close to the Amirault cellars up on the côte (i.e. not the cellars lower down at La Coudraye). Here they have 1.5 hectares of vines aged 45 years on average, planted on soils which are a sandy clay on the surface, but with deeper limestone. The 2010 La Petite Cave from Yannick Amirault will have seen out an élevage of 24 months in barrel before bottling, and after five years in bottle the wine still shows a dark, black-tulip core, and a claretty rim. The nose is filled with the scents of black cherry, smoked blackberry and juniper berry, with a note of gravelly freshness and rosemary, and a touch of wild garrigue smoke. The palate is fresh, cool, gently textured, very firm, with a sweetly textured layer of fruit resembling blackcurrant, blackberry and a sweet-sour cherry fruit, laced with charcoal. This feels rather austere and reticent at the moment, although the sappy-fruit finish feels a little more accessible. It needs time, and is still some way behind the ‘softening’ wines of Pierre Bréjoux I feel. I think I should give this another three to five years before I revisit it, but maybe, like Pierre’s 1933s and 1934s, it needs another fifteen? 16.5/20 • 93/100 (4/9/17)