Cellar Direct Winter Wines: Yannick Amirault “La Coudraye” Bourgueil

15 02 2020

By Raymond Lamontagne

[This bottle was provided as a sample for review purposes.]

After a short break, we are back with another winter run of Cellar Direct artisan wines, a further installment of our buyer’s guide for your reading (and hopefully drinking) pleasure. I’m particularly happy to be back in the Loire, and moreover, back with a Cabernet Franc in my hot little hands. As a friend once told me, these Loire Franc wines are quintessentially “Ray” wines. They are often linear and crisp, with well-defined crystalline fruit but additional herbaceous and spicy accents to ramp up the complexity. They can be delicate, rather lithe wines with little excess fat, unlikely to be mistaken for Bordeaux of similar quality, although a certain earthiness compliments the ethereal perfume, and some tannic structure should be apparent. Meaning yes, some of these wines can age. I relish this sort of vinous paradox, and “middle path” wines are typically where such contrast can be found. Loire Cabernet Franc is quaffable yet amenable to deeper analysis, rustic yet avant-garde. Although I am more familiar with Chinon, that most celebrated of Loire reds, here we take a look at the harder to pronounce yet equally impressive sister region, Bourgueil. But first, a little recap.

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You might recall my love letter to a legendary producer in Chinon, which provided coverage of Cabernet Franc’s flavour profile as well as some background regarding the Touraine sub-region of the Loire, which has found its quality wine footing via a match between Chenin Blanc and Cabernet Franc on the one hand and various admixtures of gravel, sand, limestone, and clay soils on the other. Much of what I said there applies equally well to the Bourgueil AOC, which was designated as such in 1937. Interestingly enough, the maximum permitted amount of Cabernet Sauvignon is only 10% in Bourgueil, versus the 25% allowed in Chinon. In either case, Sauvignon struggles to ripen here (Franc both buds and ripens about a week earlier). Chinon and Bourgueil are essentially mirror images of one another, occupying hillsides on neighbouring river valleys: the Loire itself for Bourgueil, and a Loire tributary, the Vienne, for Chinon. It is decidedly easier to focus on the similarities between the regions than it is the differences, although it seems my mind is on a never-ending quest to parse distinctions in the wine world, perhaps a fool’s errand in those cases where AOC demarcations are awfully arbitrary. Fortunately here, we can draw a few fine-grained distinctions.

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It is oft-repeated that Bourgueil yields red wines with more potent aromas (including more Bordeaux-like whiffs of graphite) and slightly greater tannins than Chinon. Curiously enough, Bourgueil does indeed enjoy more maritime climactic influences than the warmer, dryer Chinon region, with the Loire valley opening up to expose the vines to rainy springs, hot damp summers, and windy autumns. As Rajat Parr and Jordan MacKay explain in The Sommelier’s Atlas of Taste, this Bordeaux-like constellation of climate factors lends itself to less supple but potentially ageworthy wines with more structure, riding comfortably along a slower evolutionary track. Still, it will be a truly glorious day in my wine geek “career” when I can reliably distinguish Bourgueil from Chinon during a blind tasting…

2017 Yannick Amirault “La Coudraye” Bourgueil ($30)

When researching this bottle for this piece, I was immediately struck by the number of accolades bestowed upon Yannick Amirault, generally featuring statements like “undisputedly the greatest producer in Bourgeuil”, or “one of the finest red wine makers in the entire Loire”. This is lofty praise indeed. There seems to be a solid basis for these assertions. Amirault’s production is deliberately small, yields kept low, and meticulous care taken in both the vineyard and the cellar. Let’s take a closer look.

NousDomaine Yannick Amirault began four generations ago, founded by Yannick’s grandfather Eugène. The arrival of Yannick’s son Benoît in 2003 led to a further emphasis on respecting the environment, albeit not at the expense of quality in the cellar. The vineyard is divided among 13 Ha in Bourgueil and 6 Ha in neighboring AOC Saint Nicolas de Bourgueil. The 100% Cabernet Franc grapes are certified organic-farmed since 2009, although in practice have been farmed in this fashion since 1997. Currently the estate vineyards include some vines as old as 55 years, although most fall into the 25- to 35-year old range. The Amiraults use only their own hand-picked grapes in their wines. This is not because they believe their neighbours aren’t good growers — Bourgueil is known for a friendly camaraderie, after all, one that even extends to its erstwhile rival Chinon. Rather, the Amiraults are just obsessively focused on the authentic reflection of both vintage and terroir for their own sites. The French-language Amirault website is littered with references to minimalist winemaking, translation of the soil, respect for nature, and other natural-wine word buzzwords and phrases. Except you really do get the strong sense that these guys mean it, and actually live it everyday.

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The winery resides in a natural cave. Since 2003, the Amiraults have mostly returned to fermentation in neutral wooden vats. All such fermentations occur naturally, with indigenous yeasts and no sulphites added at any stage in the process. Acidity and sugar are never adjusted, so what the vintage yields stands on its own merits (or shortcomings). Wines are bottled unfined and unfiltered. The “La Coudraye” bottling hails from four lieux-dits, Les Sables, La Coudraye itself, Les Pins, and Les Perriéres, all totalling just under 5 ha. This mostly loam, clay and sand terroir lies on slopes close to the Loire River. Average yield is around 40 HL/ha, quite low. Fermentation occurs in wood as well as steel tanks, and the wine rests for a single year in large wooden tanks.

IMG-1561The La Coudraye is a darker than expected ruby in the glass, a visual that conjures up associations of crunchy fruits and perhaps a chthonic spicy depth. Here comes the paradox? Indeed, the nose is electric and punchy, popping with aromas of red fruits (red plum, strawberry hulls, sour pie cherries, pomegranate) and refined black (blackberries, blackcurrant, and raspberries of both colours). A classic cool-climate Franc signature of roasted red peppers pervades the proceedings, along with an additional spicy wreath of pink peppercorns, Fisherman’s Friend lozenges, and old dusty red chilli flakes. As I start sipping, a high-toned floral halo comes into relief, purple crocus and lilacs galore, and I soon dive down to a mineral bedrock of whetstone, gravel, drywall, and vitamin tablet. This is like a high-toned, zesty, savoury layer cake, that roughly goes floral (top layer) to fruit to spice mill and lastly to a crust of fresh earth and dried out watercolour paints. A buoyant fresh acidity buzzes around slightly bristly pipe cleaner tannins. This wine of the cave is well worth an expedition into its complexity… But you would not be remiss to just lean back and enjoy. I wholeheartedly suggest you try both experiences.

89+ points

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Cork Rating: 3.5/10 (hey, it does not say “mis en bouteille”!)


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