Esvres, Noble Joué (Loire Valley)
Time for a glass of rosé wine...
While the Noble Joué Appellation is very recent (2001), this wine has a long history and was known to be a favorite of Louis XI (1423-1483), the only french king who made Tours (Plessis les Tours) his residence. There are also written documents dating from the 9th century about this rosé blend. This rosé wine was called then "Noble de Joué" : Noble because it was a blend of 3 Pinots, and Joué because the nearby village of Joué les Tours was its historical birthplace. Also very popular in the 19th century, it suffered from the Phylloxera (it was not replanted) and from the Tours suburban sprawl. This is the smallest french Appellation in terms of surface (about 35 hectares) after the Coulée de Serrant monopole (also in the Loire).
We discovered this dry-but-rich pink wine at the Loire Wines Fair in Angers, when we tasted it at the stand of the Rousseau Frères winery, and it seemed to us that it was an unfairly little-known wine, much more than a generic rosé. Few writers refer to it, but I found this article by writer Rita Erlich about the small appellation.
The father of Bernard and Michel Rousseau was the first to replant in the area with the help of oenologist Jacques Puisais in the mid 1970's. Now since 2001, the Appellation is officially recognized (not too late for such and old traceable wine...) and it sits on a very small number of wineries : 6 altogether. Of the 35 hectares of the total Appellation surface, the Rousseau Frères winery owns 15 hectares, plus 4 hectares on non-Appellation land.
What is exactly the Noble Joué wine ? it is a rosé (pink) wine, we should even say "vin gris", as it is made through direct pressing with more or less time to get the colour. The 3 varieties are harvested (Pinot Gris being the earliest) and vinified separately, then blended, with a typical repartition of 55% Pinot Meunier, 35% Pinot Gris and 10% Pinot Noir.
The vineyard here is worked with sustainable farming principles (lutte raisonnée), with priority for a non-chemical approach, keeping grass
between the rows and lots of work in the vineyard to get the appropriate yields and quality of grapes, like thinning of the leaves.
After the press comes the stage in fiberglass-vats for decantation, then the stainless-steel vats for fermentation. Indigenous yeasts only, that they prepare with a "pied de cuvée", meaning that they harvest 150 liter 10 days earlier to inoculate the first vat (the other vats follow suit by chain-reaction, the air in the vathouse being full of yeasts). This is a slow fermentation, because it is natural (indigenous yeasts), and only 20% of the wine gets its malolactic fermentation. Very little SO2 added because this is a reduction milieu with stirring of the lees. The only SO2 added is before the filtration and at bottling. Filtration is made through CBL3 and "pauvre en germe" (0,65 microns) filtration. So, very little SO2 on the whole, and no anti-fermentation product like Sorbat.
Michel Rousseau (picture upper left) who shows us around, says that he is more on the chai and vinication side, while his brother Bernard is more on the vineyard side, but the two brothers can work both sides if necessary. We speak of the merits of filtration versus non-filtration (I am beginning to think that filtration is a reassuring norm for restaurants but that it harms many wines) and he is opening new windows on the merits of a soft and gentle filtration...
Noble Joué is not only a still rosé, but it can be a sparkling wine. At Rousseau Frères, they make Noble Joué traditional method in white and pink, in a separate vathouse to prevent a mix-up of the yeasts. The wine is bottled at the end of the fermentation, somewhere around january 12-13th this year, with 18-20g of residual sugar (natural sugar of the wine) plus yeasts, and stays lying for 6-7 months on its lees, sealed with a crown cap for the second fermentation.
This 2005 sparkling rosé will go to the riddling tables when the 2004 will be sold-out after a 18-month laying-down altogether. Michel shows us the typical stripe-shaped lees of the traditional method : the stripes are called "griffes" in french (claws) and are caused by the CO2 crawling up along the glass. He says they make natural sparkling (without sugar adding) since 1999 as they reach a good potential with their grapes, thanks to the good work on the vineyard side.
We walk to a 3rd vathouse, where the reds are vinified, and where the tastings also takes place :
__1 Noble Joué 2005 [picture of the glass upper right]. Nomacorc closure. They had lots of TCA problems before, as the rosé wines are easy to get the TCA taint. This is a dry pink (clear onion peel) wine with richness in the mouth. 13,2°. Each of the Pinots brings something of its own to build this wine: the Pinot Meunier has the freshness, the Pinot Gris (also named Malvoisie here) brings the richness. The Pinot Noir is said to add some finesse in the blend. The low acidity of the wine is because of the silex soil. 4,1 Euro a bottle. A steal...
__2 Brut Sensation (2004, but not on the label because this a vin de table) Rosé. Sparling pink with 100% natural sugar. Extra Brut (no dosage). A little bit of residual sugar. He says the english who bought homes in the region buy cases of it to bring back in the UK. Not a lot of acidity here also. 5,4 Euro.
__3 Brut Sensation (2004 unmarked) Blanc (white). Sparkling white (traditional method). Nice mouth, very different from the former. 12,5-13° alcohol, he says. 3-4g residual sugar. No dosage added here too. Good to drink with a meal. 5,4 Euro.
__4 Touraine Pinot Noir 2005. 4-5000 bottles/year.12,5°. Nose : Morello cherry. Fermented in stainless steel vats. Not very powerful, finesse. This is Pinot Noir on a silex terroir. 4,1 Euro a bottle.
__5 Touraine Cabernet 2005. Liquorice on the nose. Reds are destemmed here. Only indigenous yeasts. Cabernet Franc majority with about 30% Cabernet Sauvignon. Nice mouth, substance. 3 to 4000 bottles a year. 3,9 Euro a bottle.
__6 Touraine Cot 2005. A little less than 1 hectare. Capricious variety. Leaves thinned out in the vineyard, like for the Cabernet. Very nice mouth indeed. Not too tannic (Cot is often very tannic) because they do low-temperature fermentation (20°) with pumping-over, sometimes during a month. The colour can be long to stabilize. And when the harvest arrives in the chai, they drop the temperaure to 8°C for a prefermentation maceration.. 13°. 4 Euro a bottle.
__7 Malvoisie 2004 (white). Malvoisie is Pinot Gris. Sweet wine (moelleux) 60+g residual sugar. From 2 separate pickings, early- and mid october. Passerilled grapes (very little noble rot here). Very clear colour. The 60+h are'nt felt really. He says that Pinot Gris, in this way, is very different from, say, sweet Chenin Blanc. Very refined and light. 12° (15,5 potential at the harvest). They work this 2-hectare vineyard with strict pruning, debudding and thinning to limit the yields. Peach aromas, B. says. Labelled as a "Vin de Pays du Jardin de la France" (I always wonder who invented such a name..) with a blue tax stamp (AOCs are green). 6,9 Euro.
__8 Malvoisie 2005. In 2005, they asked to the pickers to leave one cluster per vine and harvested these clusters end of november. They took risks, but the late season was beautiful that year. The harvest was 17° potential. The wine is 13° with 82g residual sugar. Noble rot. The mouth is sweeter indeed, while still refined. Good for aperitif, or Foie Gras. Restaurants serve it blind, by the glass. The late-fall weather will decide if they keep doing this type of wine. 7,1 Euro.
__9 Cuvée P.M.G., he laughs. Mean "Pour Ma Gueule", in short : not for sale. Late harvest, what was left after the birds took their toll. 20,5° potential. Only noble rot. Wonderful nose indeed. Mouth : Williams pear, corinth grapes. 10 people harvested this, putting their hand under the clusters before cutting them (they were falling apart). There had been 5-6 consecutive days with morning freeze without harm. 120g residual sugar. 13,5°. It was winter, and they had to bring the vat in the office (which was at 17-18°C) for the fermentation, which was over end of december.
They also sell Gamay and Cabernet in bulk (1,9 and 2,2 Euro per liter).
Great tasting, Michel...
The work staff : the 2 brothers, their mother, Michel's wife and an employee. They also hire temporary workers for the vineyard.
These wines are alas hard to find out of the region, even in paris. They sell 60% of the wines locally to individual customers, 25% to restaurants and 15% to cavistes. A few bottles are exported (Switzerland, Holland).