Samur lies toward the western third of the Loire River valley, where the limestone soils and continental climate of Touraine clash with the Igneous Atlantic Coast. It is a whirlwind of soils, patchwork of micro-climates, and cauldron of innovation. The result is one of the most unique wine regions in the world, capable of producing red, white, and sparkling wine at the highest level.
Domaine Le Fief Noir Cocagne Val de Loire 2019 $22.99 ($18.40)
Domaine Le Fief Noir is based in a sub-section of Samur called Anjou-Noir, so called after the black slate soils that populate the region. It was started by two friends, each of who came to winemaking as a way of escaping the urban rat race. They met in Corsica, each on their first professional winemaking job, and saw that their values, natural farming and ambitious winemaking, were very aligned. So upon leaving Corsica they went in search for vineyard land together, landing in Anjou-Noir.
Alexis Soulas and Dominique Sirot of Le Fief Noir
While a big part of their project is very ambitious dry Chenin Blancs, they are also one of the estates in the region to invest the most in Grolleau, a grape that is native to Samur, but has almost entirely disappeared from the region, replaced largely with Cabernet Franc, which is much easier to grow and to make wines with higher Alcohol. Nowadays what is left of the grape in Anjou is largely made into Rose, often sweet, but Le Fief Noir has started making a dry red wine with their plantings, one of the only 100% Grolleau reds in the world, and the result is one of my absolute favorite summer reds! 100% Grolleau red wines are not permitted under the Anjou-Samur DOC, so the wine is labeled as Val de Loire, despite it coming from a single vineyard in the heart of Anjou-Noir.
The Cocagne is bright red fruited, with notes of strawberry, cherry, and raspberry, but also bundles of white pepper and dry twigs. The palate is extremely fresh, yet also has a suppleness of texture that gives it a very sexy and satisfying texture. Serve chilled on the rooftop.
Domaine Aux Moines Savennières-Roche Aux Moines 2017 $42.99 ($34.39)
Domaine Aux Moines makes one of my favorite Chenin Blancs in the world. I used to be able to buy as much as I wanted of it, and indeed I personally would get a case every year, in addition to what I bought for the store. But now the word is out that they make a wine that that, on any given vintage, Domaine Aux Moines can compete with Nicholas Joly’s Coulée de Serrant, perhaps the most famous Chenin Blanc in the world (and coming from just down the river). Luckily I can still get enough for the Grand Crew!
Domaine Aux Moines makes one wine, Roche Aux Moines, of which they own the majority (still just 12 hectares). The estate was founded in 1981, although there are records of vines being planted at Roche Aux Moines since the middle ages. It is planted on a single hillside directly overlooking the loire valley on a soils of Schist and Sandstone. The estate works hard to not waste an ounce of the quality given to them by the land. The mother/daughter team that runs the estate does everything by hand to the strictest organic standards. Even more extremely, the harvest is done in 5-6 tries, the same method used in producing the best Sauternes, in which each row is passed through multiple times, with only the perfect bunches being harvested each time, ideally with a bit of botrytis. The wine is fermented and aged for about 18 months in a combination of cask and tank before bottling.
Tessa Laroche, patrolling the vineyard with her Mother.
The 2017 vintage is an absolute knockout. Yields were severely cut due to hail, but what grapes remained gave incredibly concentrated and incisive wines, with a depth and power of minerality that is simply superlative. The wine starts off with beautiful anjou pear, daffodil, saffron, and truffle. On the palate the acidity is very persistent, yet with just enough phenolic bite to balance it out. A rock salt minerality lingers on the finish along with those pomaceous fruits and seductive spices. Superb!
Thierry Germain Bulles de Roche NV $36.99 ($29.59)
Thierry Germain is becoming another rockstar of the region. His Cabernet Francs are often compared to Clos Rougeard, made by his former mentor Charly Foucault and easily the most famous (and expensive) wine made in all of the Loire. But virtually all of the wine being made by Thierry is outstanding, and his sparkling Bulles de Roche is perhaps my favorite made in the region.
Thierry Germain, working hard with his horse drawn plow.
Whereas most Champagne method sparkling wines are made with under ripe grapes, given body by their multiple fermentations and the addition of sugar before their final bottling, the Bulles de Roche is made with grapes at a similar level of ripeness as his dry white wines. The base wine is then aged in 228L barrels for 3 months, again a rarity in Champagne method wines, where the base wine is usually aged in stainless steel to preserve freshness. It is then fermented for a second time in a bottle using unfermented juice, where it ages for the rest of the year before releasing relatively young for a sparkling wine (most Cremant is aged for 3 years before release). The result is a wine that is essentially a great single vineyard dry Chenin Blanc, but with the texture of a great Champagne.