A vertical tasting allows to extend the scope of understanding about a particular estate : it helps you project the wines that you're interested in into the future and guess how they will age and behave and so on. Of course, when vintners change for the better their vinification techniques and farming management, a vertical tasting will not necessarily bear lessons on how the recent wines of the estate will behave after a few years : in-between, you have already the vintage personality, and a gradual change in the farming/cellar work which will also play a decisive role in how the wine will feel 10 to 15 years from now. Didier and Catherine of Clos Roche Blanche in the Loire turned to organic farming in 1992, dropping the cellar additives in parallel, except for the SO2 that they use moderaletly.
This estate vertical tasting was a project that both Jim Budd and Didier Barrouillet had in mind : organize a small, friendly tasting with different vintages of Clos Roche Blanche wines and see how older vintages taste. This was set up at the winery, and because of uncertain weather with sunny moments alternating with grey clouds and wind, the event took place right in the entrance of the deep cellar.
When I arrived that day, most of the guests weren't there yet. Jim was busy with Didier putting the bottles on the tables and opening them to check for cork taint, under the cool surveillance of the two dogs who were enjoying a nap outside as usual (the older of the two, the mother, looks frail these days, we're not sure she'll make it this year). Several of the older CRB wines that we would taste that day came from Jim's own cellar. Jim Budd, who lives between London and the Loire, writes about wine for several publications including Decanter (scroll down to the Loire-judge chapter) and he took part in the writing of Hugh Jonson's Pocket Wine Book for the Loire section. He spends lots of time visiting the vignerons in the region. He is the writer behind Jim's Loire, a wine blog devoted to the wines of the Loire valley.
This vertical tasting was utmost interesting not only for people who love CRB wines, but also because it is a rarity for an estate located in Touraine, Loire to have a vertical tasting of its wines. This region isn't like Bordeaux or Burgundy and you just don't come across verticales here.
__ CRB L'Arpent 2000. Chenin Blanc & Arbois. Catherine says that this was a very old parcelle (vineyard) with lots of missing vines and it was uprooted in 2002. This was a lot of work and the Chenin had trouble to ripen which forced them to leave lots of grapes behind. Beautiful nose for me, some honey and flowers with sugary feel too on the nose. Freshness. Noella and Laurent near whom I taste don't feel much aromatic notes in this wine, they also feel the alcohol. Seems quite balanced to me.
__ CRB L'Arpent 1999. Green reflections in the glass, something I hadn't noticed in the former. Didier says that these wines were filtered. Vinified with wild yeasts, as he turned to organic farming and non-additives vinification in 1992. He says that before 1992 he also used indigenous yeasts but he had occasionally to add lab yeasts because the fermentation didn't start or stalled. Now, with the life of the vineyards and on the grapes' skins, he doesn't have to help the fermentation. The mouth of this wine is more mineral and classy, I like this one even more. Jim says that it is a dryer wine.
__ CRB L'Arpent 1998. Darker color, like vibrant gold. I ask Didier about the élevage, he says it was done in old tonnes (big volume casks). Nice nose with ripe grapes notes. The mouth is perfectly in line, very beautiful. Lightly oxydative maybe also. Noëlla feels white truffles notes. Excvellent. We're sad these frail old vineyards are no more...
__ CRB Touraine Sauvignon 2001. The label is almost black from all these years in the cellar. Nice bitterness in the mouth.
__ CRB Touraine Sauvignon 2000. Green color. Sorry, no notes, this will happen more than once.
__ CRB Touraine Sauvignon 1995 [picture on left]. Not a "Sauvignon nose" for sure, as Catherine notes. More on the lychee side. Very nice wine.
__ CRB Touraine Sauvignon N° 2 2002. The "numero 2" and "numero 5" appeared in 2000 or 1999 when Didier began to make different cuvées of this variety. Nice nose. Mouth very pleasant, ricnness and a nice glide on the mouth's sides.
__ CRB Touraine Sauvignon N°2 2004. Feels a bit diluted to me. Someone speaks about malic acid problems here. I hear Didier saying that his Cabernet was harvesyed with a machine until 5 or 7 years ago.
__ CRB Touraine Sauvignon Numéro 2 (written in full letters on the label) 2002. Sauvignon nose for sure. Nice mouth. Noëlla says that the mouth is tendue (tight).
__ CRB Touraine Gamay 2005. The first red. Nose with white pepper. Nice mouth with still some tannins. François Chidaine feels some pickles notes.
__ CRB Touraine Gamay 1999. I don't like much the mouth of this one. Noëlla says that there's a drying feel in this mouth.
__ CRB Touraine Gamay 1995. Lightly turbid. Interesting nose with a discreet morello cherry aroma. The wine has in the mouth this life feel, it's vibrant and pleasant.
__ A "foreign" wine : Marionnet Touraine Première Vendange, Gamay 1990 [pic on left], the first sans-soufre (SO2 free) of Marionnet. A bit of History. The color is of the type of an evolved wine with lightly-brownish tones. The wine has peaked obviously, but there's still something to make out of it. When you drink that you wouldn't suspect that it's SO2 free. Didier says that Henri Marionnet is a very keen vintner and that he is particularly good at carbonic macerations. My feel is that this wine is not bad for a 1990 Gamay from the Loire, particularly for a SO2-free wine this old. Someone, I think it was Didier, says that once the guys of the SAQ (the Quebec monopoly) who didn't like this wine ordered some lab tests on its content, found out that there was no SO2 at all, and asked as a result that all the bottles be repatriated back to France. that's quite amusing when you think that common sense would ask for a reverse reasoning and logic...
__ CRB Touraine Cabernet 1996. Cabernet Franc. Interesting mouth, tannins.
__ Another "foreign" wine : Thierry Michaud Touraine Cabernet 1989. I think that like the Marionnet bottle, it comes from Jim's own cellar. The nose has a bit of reduction notes. Got some yeasts addings according to Didier. the mouth is rather difficult to describe, at least for me at this point.
__ CRB Touraine la Closerie 1997. Futs de chêne (aged in oak casks). Same blend. Beautiful nose. Pleasant mouth, I like this one. Didier says that the Gamay was vinified whole-clustered and the Cabernet was partly destemmed (50%).
__ CRB La Closerie 1996, oak casks. Same Gamay-Cabernet-Côt blend. The mouth is not outstanding, there's a drying feel.
__ CRB la Closerie 1995. Bottle with a Loire coat of arms, sort of, molded in the glass. A bit turbid. Nice nose. Mouthfeel with pleasure, nice length. Tannins are there but well diluted in the whole. Wine with still a future.
__ CRB la Closerie 1993. Gamay-Cabernet-Côt. Deposits inside the bottle. Nice evolved color. Not very balanced in the mouth, I feel.
__ CRB la Closerie 2006. No label. Fine.
__ CRB la Closerie 2004. Gamay-Cabernet-Côt. No label either. The nose is very Pineau d'Aunis-style. Nice wine, I like this one very much.
__ CRB la Closerie 2002. Fruit notes on the nose. Candied liquorice. Impression of concentration in the mouth. Very nice wine. Jim says that this was a good vintage, the summer was not dry but the yields were low.
__ CRB la Closerie 2000. High-alcohol feel in the mouth. Nothing particular to say about this one.
__ CRB la Closerie 1999. While the nose offers vividness and life, the mouth is a bit austere and tannic.
__ CRB Touraine Côt 1997. Not bad in the mouth, I like this one. Feeling lightly high in alcohol but good balance overall.
__ CRB Touraine Côt 1996. Mixed feelings, same for Noëlla. Laurent like it, good acidity.
__ CRB Touraine Côt 1995. Greyish label. Nice wine, pleasant mouth with a sugary feel. At this point of the tasting, I begin to saturate and sorting these different reds needs an effort.
__ CRB Touraine Côt 1987. Difficult wine. Jim says that 1987 wasn't a good vintage, the weather was very very hot that year in the early season like april, then the summer was rainy and cold.
__ CRB Touraine Côt 2007. Nice, pairs very well with the pork meat of the buffet.
__ CRB Touraine Côt 2006. This Côt is lightly perly in the mouth. Light sugary feel too with tannins. White pepper.
__ CRB Touraine Côt 2005. That's a concentrated wine, with intensity in the mouth. I'm not sure it pairs well with the wine but the thin slices of raw salmon baked in lemon juice with what looks like red pepper taste so good (Catherine's work).
__ CRB Touraine Côt 2004. No notes, sorry.
__ CRB Touraine Côt 2003. That's nice. There's a good acidity in this wine. Didier says that he noticed at the time that there was no loss of acidity between the harvest time and the juice stage, which is uncommon. He adds that in spite of the heat wave that year, there hasn't been any hydric stress on the vines. The stress was heat related.
__ CRB Touraine Côt 2002. Nice structure and balance. That's the 36th wine I taste and I'm beginning to saturate...
__ CRB Touraine Côt 2001. I taste that while eating the great cheese plate prepared by Catherine. That's a nice wine, pleasant mouth, stood well through its 9 years of age.
François Chidaine brought a couple of his Méthode Traditionelle Brut Chenin and that's how we finished the tasting.