As broad and rich as Rosenthal Wine Merchant’s coverage of viticultural France is, there is one classic appellation whose absence in the portfolio we lamented for well over a decade: Chinon. Nestled along the Loire River’s left bank (to the south of the river itself) as it flows westward through the region of Touraine, Chinon is where the noble Cabernet Franc reaches perhaps its peak of digestibilité. Less brooding and powerful than those vaunted expressions from Bordeaux’s right bank; more generous and vivacious than its across-the-river neighbor Bourgueil’s versions of the variety; great Chinon combines freshness, depth, age-ability, and straightforward deliciousness in a way few red wines can approach. And, happily, we at Rosenthal have, at long last, found an exciting new partner in this beloved appellation.
The Chateau du Petit Thouars has an extraordinarily long and rich history. Built in the early 1500s as a sort of “low-key hunting lodge” (an amusing notion, given the house’s immensity and grandeur) for a wealthy family from the town of Thouars (hence the name “Petit Thouars”), the 150-hectare estate is run today by Sebastién du Petit Thouars, the twelfth generation to dwell here since his ancestor George purchased the property in 1636. George was a diplomat for the famous Cardinal Richelieu, and the generations who followed him managed to survive several centuries of remarkably turbulent French history; one of Sebastién’s forebears even fled the French Revolution and fought in the American Revolution.
Though records and physical evidence exist of wine having been made on the property centuries ago, it wasn’t until the late 1970s that the enterprise was revived—this time, by Sebastién’s father, who gradually planted fifteen hectares of Cabernet Franc (plus a little Chenin Blanc) immediately behind the house itself. Although Sebastién spent much of his younger years in Paris, he and his wife D’Arcy moved with their two young children to the chateau in 2013, and they have since made wine their foremost focus. This friendly, extremely energetic and intelligent couple combine a deep appreciation for their family’s history with a desire to push their wines and their vineyard management to their maximum of expression, and we are thrilled to begin our partnership.Chateau du Petit Thouars is located in the commune of Saint-Germain-sur-Vienne, in the southwest part of the Chinon appellation, along the south bank of the Vienne River (a tributary of the Loire), and immediately east of Saumur-Champigny—in fact, the limit of the Saumur-Champigny appellation is visible from the estate’s westernmost holdings. When the Chinon appellation was created in 1937, growers in Saint-Germain-sur-Vienne opted out, putting their money on the “Touraine” designation instead—probably the “wrong” call in hindsight, but understandable given Touraine’s broader name recognition at the time. In any event, the commune successfully lobbied for inclusion in the Chinon appellation after Touraine’s AOC laws changed in 2012 to forbid 100%-Cabernet-Franc wines, and thus from 2015 on Chateau du Petit Thouars’s wines are labeled as Chinon rather than Touraine.
In contrast to the sandy soils that predominate further east in the appellation, the vineyards around Petit Thouars are clay-limestone—giving the red wines impressive potential for structure and complexity (much like those from Saumur-Champigny, in fact), as well as being particularly suited to producing outstanding Chenin Blanc. Sebastién and D’Arcy have been working toward fully organic viticulture, having eschewed the use of non-organic treatments except as an ultimate last resort (i.e., when a crop is on the line). The vineyards and cellar are managed by Michel Pinard, a born-and-bred Chinonnais who worked for many years as the right-hand-man of Charles Joguet—one of the appellation’s most famous and respected vignerons. A true man of the land in both appearance and spirit, Michel uses his profound, bred-in-bone familiarity with the particularities of this cépage in these soils to craft beautifully balanced, classic, unforced Chinon of immense expressive power. His deeply-rooted mastery of craft marries wonderfully with Sébastien and D’Arcy’s youthful zeal and vision.
At the end of September, we will receive our inaugural shipment from Chateau du Petit Thouars, comprising three beautifully distinct cuvées of Cabernet Franc, as well as a splash of their outstanding Chenin Blanc. We are thrilled to share these with you, and we trust you will find them as true, honest, and satisfying as we do.
2017 “Le Clos” Chinon Blanc
Petit Thouars’s white wine comes from a 0.75-hectare plot of Chenin Blanc planted within the confines of an ancient wall immediately behind the chateau itself (hence the name of the cuvée). Chinon is known largely as a red-wine appellation (only a tiny fraction of its production is white wine), but the best Chenin Blanc from here can rival its more-famous cousins in Anjou for intensity and complexity. And, certainly, Petit Thouars’s 2017 Chinon Blanc makes a strong case for their limestone-dominated corner of Chinon as an outstanding white-wine terroir. Vinified and aged in used 225-liter barrels purchased from Chateau Giraud in Sauternes (formerly used for their esteemed dry wine, “Le G”), it carries 3.5 grams-per-liter of residual sugar but reads as adamantly dry on the palate. Its rich, assertive nose suggests tactile lusciousness, with classic varietal notes of honey and green apple vying for attention with an attractive musk-melon element. The palate—luscious as advertised—is broad and almost oily, yet it remains tensile and precise due to the wine’s notable acidity (malolactic fermentation did not take place). It finishes bold and clinging, with a strong impression of dry extract and a sense of underlying seriousness—quite an impressive effort, especially given the young age of the vines (they were planted in 2010).
2016 “Les Georges” Chinon Rouge
Sébastien named this cuvée in honor of his ancestors, nearly all of whom are named “George” (in fact, his real first name is “George,” too). The friendliest of the estate’s three red-wine offerings, “Les Georges” is produced entirely from the free-run juice of Cabernet Franc, and is vinified and aged in steel tank. Far from a simple gulper, however, “Les Georges” is classic Chinon in its marriage of vibrant fruit, honest tannins, and refreshing earth-mineral interplay. The extraction is beautifully judged, and the gentle structure and perky acidity operate in happy unison to create an overall impression of drive and freshness. It’s a real lip-smacker, with plenty of lovely spice and fruits that lean toward the red end of the spectrum. Michel employs a two-day cold soak before fermentation begins, favoring remontage over pigeage here in order to render suppler tannins. This cuvée comes primarily from “Les Plantes,” the thirteen hectares of Cabernet Franc immediately behind (to the west of) “Le Clos” which Sébastien’s father planted between 1980 and 1988.
2016 “L’Epée” Chinon Rouge
“L’Epée”—meaning “The Sword” and referring to the family’s long history of military involvement—is produced from two-thirds free-run juice and one-third press juice, from the oldest Cabernet Franc vines in “Les Plantes” plus a small portion of “Le Clos.” Depending on the vintage, “L’Epée” is vinified and aged in a combination of steel tank and well-used oak barrels, though it is never produced exclusively in barrels—and, in the lighter-framed, less powerful 2016 vintage it was indeed raised entirely in tank. More powerful and serious on the nose than “Les Georges” above, this wine reaches a deeper register of spice, with a sexy overlay of violets and a core of dark-red and black fruits. That said, L’Epée” does not want for lift, as the acidity here is just as crisp and ringing as its less-structured sibling, and its overall personality—while indeed more serious—is not at all brooding or severe. This is a remarkably classic, lovable Chinon whose ruggedness suggests it will age quite well yet whose scrumptiousness will make holding onto it a feat of will.
2010 “L’Amiral” Touraine Rouge
Made only in exceptional vintages, “L’Amiral” (“The Admiral”) is truly commanding. An homage to the utterly uncompromising, rugged, old-school Chinon of ages past, it is produced exclusively from the press juice of Cabernet Franc, and aged in used 225-liter barrels (third-passage oak purchased from Bordeaux) for a minimum of two years before bottling—although the imposing architecture of the 2010 vintage prompted Michel to give this particular wine a full four years. The 2010 “L’Amiral” (a Touraine in name but a Chinon in spirit) snarls and growls, a grainy transmission from another era. The deep, sanguine nose invites inward rather than explodes outward—a whirling mass of pipe tobacco, leathery spice, savory herbs, and iron. The classic Cabernet Franc varietal character so evident in the two wines above is muted but still present, a whisper of tangy red fruit and pretty violets beneath the visceral roar. While still bare-knuckled in its tannic thrust, this wine manages to avoid heaviness on the palate, which echoes the intensity and spice-driven blast of the aromatic profile. It is a testament to the estate’s commitment to classicism that they produce such a bold, full-throttle wine as this—one which fits beautifully within our portfolio alongside other such beloved outliers as Chateau Pradeaux in Bandol, Domaine Levet in Cote-Rotie, and Paolo Bea in Montefalco.