Chateau de Chaintres

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One of the more exciting developments at Rosenthal Wine Merchant in recent years has been the expansion of our efforts in the Loire Valley. The “garden of France” is a vital part of our DNA, of course: our partnerships with Lucien Crochet and Philippe Foreau date back to the early 1980s and constitute some of our most important relationships, and we have worked with others there for nearly as long. In terms of our more recent discoveries, last year we debuted the pure and classic wines of Château du Petit Thouars to immediate acclaim, our clients seemingly as excited as we were to once again represent a great source of Chinon. And now, we are thrilled to introduce to the US market our newest partner: Château de Chaintres, in the heart of the lovely appellation of Saumur-Champigny, perched high above the Loire River just to the west of Chinon.

The Château de Chaintres itself is stunning: a mid-17th-century mansion that combines bucolic charm and gentle majesty in a manner quite particular to this part of the Loire. In 1675, the Oratorian monks of the Notre Dame des Ardilliers constructed a wall around fifteen hectares adjacent to the château, in the sunniest and most favorable terroir in the immediate area. This clos is situated on a subtle but notable slope and contains a variety of different soils within its confines, including tuffeau chalk, clay-limestone, and sand. The de Tigny family has owned the property since 1938, having revived viticulture in the clos upon acquiring the estate; in fact, a good number of the vines planted back then are still in production. Fortuitously, our paths crossed in 2017, when the family hired our friend Jean-Philippe Louis as their new cellar master. Rigorous, intelligent, and deeply committed, Jean-Philippe was the long-time right-hand man of none other than Philippe Gilbert in Menetou-Salon—a keystone of our Loire Valley portfolio for many years. In fact, it was Jean-Philippe who encouraged and facilitated Gilbert’s adoption of biodynamics, and he has already begun converting the vineyards of Château de Chaintres in that direction. He expressed unbridled enthusiasm about the possibilities inherent in terroir of Château de Chaintres from the get-go, and our two visits have only confirmed his assessment. Jean-Philippe’s precise, intuitive, non-interventionist hand in the cellar has already greatly improved the quality of wine here in just one and a half vintages (he oversaw the vinification and élévage of the 2017s but was not present during the growing season), and the future here looks very bright indeed.

Whereas grass was previously retained in the clos, Jean-Philippe works the soil in order to aerate it and to stimulate microbiological activity. Harvest is conducted entirely by hand—not necessarily the norm in the central Loire—and fermentations from 2018 on will proceed spontaneously. A variety of vessels are employed for the vinification and élévage, but the ultimate aim is to allow for the purest expression of terroir and to capture the fruit’s inherent mineral-driven vibrancy. Indeed, these are wines of energy and freshness, with even the longer-macerated, more structured cuvées showing remarkable drive. The property’s tuffeau makes for Chenin Blanc of vigorous acidity and penetrating precision, and the ever-transparent Cabernet Franc thrives in the heat-retaining sand that covers the limestone in many parts of the clos. Notably, Cabernet Franc from this appellation—a small and particularly gifted appellation within greater Saumur—can possess a complexity and longevity that belie its fresh, finesse-driven demeanor, and we are fortunate enough to be able to offer a scant quantity of library wine to prove that point (more on that below).

Our first shipment from Château de Chaintres will reach our shores in early September. The 2018 vintage—comprising the bulk of the incoming wines—was warm and dry overall, and favorable harvest conditions yielded exceptionally clean fruit which allowed Jean-Philippe to work with a minimum of added sulfur in the cellar. Overall yields were 40 hectoliters per hectare (the appellation maximum is 57), and the finished wines display excellent tension between ripeness and acidity.

2018 Saumur Blanc “Clos des Oratoriens”: Chenin Blanc currently comprises only a hectare and a half of the total of fifteen within the clos, but Jean-Philippe plans to plant more over time, as the tuffeau here is particularly suited to producing Chenin of acidity and precision. This cuvée represents the property’s oldest Chenin—between 40 and 50 years of age—and the 2018 was vinified in stainless steel, and aged eight months in a combination of steel and terracotta egg. Malolactic fermentation is not actively blocked, but it only rarely occurs here, and indeed the 2018 did not undergo malo . No sulfur dioxide was applied until just prior to bottling, at which point Jean-Philippe added a mere 20 milligrams per liter. This is a Loire Chenin Blanc of great elegance, driven by brisk acidity and with a superb concentration of elements that never threatens to bog down the wine. It’s bone-dry but not exactly austere, as subtle floral and honeyed notes burble out from a citrus-dominated electric hum, and the salty tension on the finish suggests years of positive development.
2018 Saumur-Champigny “Les Sables”: “Les Sables” is the estate’s primary cuvée of Cabernet Franc, with the oldest vines going to the “Vieilles Vignes” bottling below. Grapes are harvested by hand and entirely de-stemmed; fermentation takes place in stainless steel and occurs spontaneously; and extraction is obtained primarily via remontage during a 10-to-12-day maceration. As with the Chenin Blanc, sulfur dioxide is applied only at bottling and only minimally. The 2018 is remarkably fresh, with fully ripe, snappy red fruits and beautifully integrated tannins—a testament to this appellation’s capacity for producing elegant Cabernet Franc. This wine epitomizes a favorite descriptive term of Jean-Philippe’s old colleague Philippe Gilbert: “digeste”—meaning, literally, “digestible,” but with a strong connotation of appetizing harmony. It’s the kind of wine that just feels good to consume.
2018 Saumur-Champigny “Vieilles Vignes”: The vines that plunge the deepest into the tuffeau below are bottled separately, with the “Vieilles Vignes” cuvée comprising parcels ranging from 50 to 80 years of age. Maceration is extended here up to 30 days (the 2018 underwent 25 days), and aging occurs in a combination of stainless steel and used barrels of varying shapes and sizes (demi-muid, cuve tronconique, various foudres). Despite the expected increase in concentration and structure with this wine compared to “Les Sables,” the same sense of freshness permeates this wine—making it “très digeste” indeed. Tannins are again graceful, but the underlying sense of minerality is more assertive here, contributing a salty-savory edge absent in the more fruit-driven “Les Sables.”
1989 Saumur-Champigny “Château de Chaintres”: It’s not every day we are presented with the opportunity to purchase 30-year-old Saumur-Champigny, perfectly stored since its inception, at a very reasonable price. This wine, from the great 1989 vintage, is truly a transmission from a different era. In those less technologically equipped times, wines like this were more common: wines unabashedly wild and structured, unafraid to intimidate those presumptuous enough to open them before significant cellaring. Far more press wine was used in the final blends back then, contributing a granular, analog heft as well as a boatload of tannins that only years can tame. This 1989 was aged in enormous old foudres which still line a chamber of the château’s impressive underground labyrinth, and it has been resting in bottle at a constant ambient temperature for nearly three decades. It’s a living testament of Loire Cabernet Franc’s ability to rival in power and longevity its urbane southern cousin, Bordeaux, and its intoxicating swarm of secondary and tertiary aromas is both awe-inspiring and true to its terroir. In fact, the family was kind enough to give us a bottle after our second visit, and we opened it the next day with Philippe Foreau—but served it to him blind. After about 30 seconds, Philippe, a legendary taster, bulls-eyed the wine, correctly guessing both vintage and appellation. We were duly impressed, of course, but it also reassured us that this well-aged soldier still wore its place of origin clearly, with fruit still vigorous and precise. Perhaps unsurprisingly, supplies are painfully limited, but it is a profound pleasure to be able to present a wine as such this.
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Introducing Chateau de Chaintres

One of the more exciting developments at Rosenthal Wine Merchant in recent years has been the expansion of our efforts in the Loire Valley. The “garden of France” is a vital part of our DNA, of course: our partnerships with Lucien Crochet and Philippe Foreau date back to the early 1980s and constitute some of our most important relationships, and we have worked with others there for nearly as long. In terms of our more recent discoveries, last year we debuted the pure and classic wines of Château du Petit Thouars to immediate acclaim, our clients seemingly as excited as we were to once again represent a great source of Chinon. And now, we are thrilled to introduce to the US market our newest partner: Château de Chaintres, in the heart of the lovely appellation of Saumur-Champigny, perched high above the Loire River just to the west of Chinon.

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