I met with Thierry Germain this week, who is on his first-ever trip to the U.S. Germain, 38, has turned his Domaine des Roches Neuves, located in Saumur-Champigny, into a benchmark estate for Loire Valley reds.
Though his family has a long history in Bordeaux, Germain struck out on his own and bought an existing property in the Loire Valley in 1991. He converted to organic methods shortly thereafter and began using biodynamic viticulture in 2003. Today he has 54 acres of vines and produces around 6,600 cases a year, with 20 percent of that coming to the U.S.
Germain was excited to be making the trip – his wines have been well received here, and he and some of his fellow Loire vignerons are starting to see a shift in American palates away from extremely ripe wines to those with more balance and finesse. Germain in fact now harvests two weeks earlier than he did a few years ago, looking to maintain freshness. He feels excessive ripeness masks the true character of the grape (in this case Cabernet Franc) and terroir. Germain has to play a delicate balancing act though, for if he picks too early, Cabernet Franc can produce green bell pepper notes, which Germain doesn’t want either. He's looking for purity and balance.
There are three red cuvées produced here. The basic Saumur-Champigny is made in stainless-steel tanks from the domaine’s youngest vines (10 to 20 years old). These vines are planted on sandy, gravelly soils, with some limestone deep underneath. The resulting wine is typically racy and fresh, with uncomplicated, pure, boysenberry and blackberry fruit.
The middle cuvée is the Terres Chaudes, sourced from vines averaging 35 years of age, planted on sandy soils that are shallower (again, limestone underneath) than the young vines. This cuvée see a touch of new oak – uncommon in the region – along with a mix of used barrels from the top cuvée (see below). Consequently, it shows a darker fruit profile, along with more tobacco, mineral and black olives notes.
The top cuvée is La Marginale, sourced from the oldest vines (50 years old) that Germain owns. The vines are planted directly on limestone soils, and the wine is typically aged in predominantly new oak barrels (though Germain dropped the percentage in the ’04 and ’05 vintages). It shows ambitious toast, but also has terrifically fleshy plum, boysenberry, cocoa and mineral notes to back it up, with a long and powerful finish. It’s a wine that should make you rethink what Cabernet Franc can be as a stand-alone varietal.
There is also a white wine produced here from 75-year-old Chenin Blanc vines. Called L’Insolite, it offers a mix of floral and fig notes with a bracing finish.
Let me know if you’ve tried the wines from Thierry Germain, and what you think. My most recent report on the Loire is in the current June 15 issue – if you’re catching on to this often over-looked region, let me know that too.
Jason Carey — willow, ny usa — May 20, 2006 8:08pm ET
Don Poston — Santa Fe — May 25, 2006 12:43pm ET
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