Amboise, Touraine (Loire)
This was an impromptu visit at the cellar of Nicolas Renard, we didn't know if the elusive cult vigneron was there on a saturday but as Alex Bernardo was visiting me in my Loire retreat for the weekend we gave it a try and drove over there. you know from my story about Nicolas that he's having his own surface here in the Loir-et-Cher and very hopeful on the recovery of his large parcel in the middle of the woods. Alex Bernardo at Vineyard Gate in San Francisco is the only one (along with Mrs Yasuko Goda for Japan) to got to export his wines and for the American wine lovers (shipment soon on its way) who knew Nicolas from his years at Lemaire Fournier that is a rare priviledge. I'm not overdoing it because Alex has a banner on my site but he was indeed a precursor more than once, he was the first to sell Clos Roche Blanche on the West Coast back in 1999 and at the time it was a hard sell, people in the region weren't aware of CBR wines, he also discovered Jolly Ferriol for the California wine lovers.
When we arrived Nicolas was sitting at the door of the chai with two buddies, enjoying a pink pet-nat and chatting, among them Sylvain (pictured here) who from what I understand lives in Tours but knows pretty well the artisan wine people of the region, as for a living he works for different growers in the vineyard. Before driving to Amboise I had left a message on Nicolas' phone but he hadn't listened to the message and we were right to eventually try our chance at dropping unanounced at the facility. Nicolas waved at us when we showed up at the corner of the narrow street, and this was going to be a terrific improvised tasting deep in the limestone cellar under the hill.
__The first wine we tasted was a Sauvignon 2017 from the barrel, Nicolas has 2 barrels of this (low volumes in 2017). Keizou Ishida, chief brewer at the Matsunotsukasa sake brewery was there also, and I was impressed at how well he tastes and feels the qualities of the different wines; Keizou knows about natural wines quite a bit like many demanding wine lovers in Japan and he toured several wine regions of France with Alex, dropping at iconic or still-unknown artisan winemakers there. Nicolas Renard's wines have a cult status in Japan as they've been exported there for a long time, including for his previous stints at Lemaire-Fournier and Prince Poniatowski. I hadn't foreseen this visit so my hastily written notes are sketchy, sorry for that.
__ Chenin 2016, also from a barrel (he made only 2 barrels, and if I remember this was for his whole production of 2016). Vines 15 to 20 years old.
__ Chenin 2015, that's indeed a long élevage, and Nicolas has 9 barrels of this. He says it's ready now, he'll rack it soon and then leave the wine quiet for a full lunar cycle before bottling it. I think all these details count and explain much of the wine at the end, the main thing being of course his meticulous vineyard management including the use of weeds to fight disease. This wine has of course gotten no SO2, no sugar, no lab yeast. The wine is pretty mineral, on the nose you almost feel the rock.
__ Cabernet Sauvignon 2017, he has 3 casks of this this comes from his new parcel in the middle of the woods in the Loir-et-Cher, it's a big 3,5-hectare block on which he had a lot of work (pruning, soil management) and he's very happy about the progress, plus it's really in the middle of the wild with no pollution whatsoever (air or soil) in the vicinity.
This Cabernet Sauvignon was picked quite late, in early november and there was no rot at all. Like the rest he had to work on the vines, which are 40-45 years old. Peppery nose. He'l make a 24 to 30 months elevage here, more would be too much for this wine he says.
__ Côt 2015, from a barrel, Nicolas made 16 hectoliters or 8 barrels of it. He says now is perhaps the right time for this wine. I don't remember if he said that for this particular wine but he is influenced by Giuseppe Rinaldi the Barolo producer, who is a friend of his.
Beautiful fruit on the nose. The mouth of this Côt is splendid with a majestic feel on the palate, it illuminates the throat with thin its chalky tannins and incense aromas, also dry figs, plus very nice length, excellent. Not to miss if you're lucky to come across a bottle.
__ Chardonnay 2015, from a parcel located in Chargé, in the Loir-et-Cher, it's a plot of 9 rows. I don't remember why we tasted this white after the reds, but the wine was impressive with a sharp edge on the first mouth, the wine has a mouth touch of a superb intensity and length. New barrel by the Mercurey cooperage, the toast was tailored for Nicolas by Mercurey, it's a super-light toast, marked with the two letters CL on the barrel, Mercurey gave him the barrel for a try.
There are a few sculptures in the cellar, they were made on the spot by a friend of Nicolas named Emmannuel Berthelot (not sure of the spelling) who comes here from time to time, grabs a block of soft limestone (like the ones undeneath) and carves out enigmatic sculptures which he leaves there afterwards...
Nicolas then grabs a bottle from somewhere in the cellar :
__ Côt 2014, stayed 2 years in barrels and a little more than one year in bottle. Very nice Côt or Malbec with a very feminine mouth feel and peony, delicate flower aromas. Very thin texture too. No fining, no filtration, nothing added, like the rest. Amazing, it's so good. Nicolas says 2014 was a very difficult vintage. Speaking of bottle storage Nicolas says that in order to not oxidize a wine you have to store bottles at 15 C (59 F), not under. People think a cold storage condition (under 15 C) can't but be better for the wine but it's the opposite, cold temperature is the enemy of wine.
Then we get to taste the wine Nicolas and his friends were enjoying as we arrived at the cellar :
__ Pet' Nat rosé 2017, made of Cabernet Franc. Oddly that's Nicolas' first vinification of Cabernet Franc. The grapes were picked and destemmed, then macerated 12 hours and finally pressed. Nice sugar feel (about 8 gram of residual) and this terrific color, I love this natural sparkling, but Nicolas things there's too much of a red-wine feel here in the mouth and next time he'll bring the maceration time down to 6 hours. I think it's great the way it is but I trust him for eventually making an even better experiment. I was doing the driving on Alex' rented car that day and I must admit I didn't spit a lot, shame on me, but that was pretty safe nonetheless don't worry, and also our return trip to the area of Saint-Aignan wasn't in the hours favored by the breath-check squads...
While we were having this wine we eagerly waited for the return of Kanae, a Japanese trainee currently spending time with Nicolas, she had gone to Tours for the day if I remember but they had to work in the vineyard the following morning (a sunday, but Nicolas says that when there's pending work in the vineyard, there's no sacred day...) and she would certainly come back here any moment. It would have been great to see her, beginning for Keizou who would have loved to hear from her life experience here, but she didn't show up, at least before we left. Nicolas says he has other demands from Japanese who want to learn the vineyard management (Nicolas is certainly an expert on natural farming using no chemicals) but he can't do it all the time because he has such a small operation. Still he makes sure that Kanae training is well digested, that she understands the whys of everything he teaches her in the vineyard, because learning the practice and the technique is not sufficient.
__ Saint Peray 2012. This was odd to drink Nicolas' Saint Peray in his cellar in Amboise, and he was kind enough to open this bottle. Blend of 70 % Roussanne and 30 % Marsanne. He says it tastes well now after 2 years in bottle. Superb wine indeed, with delicious white tannins, don't miss if you see this one. I don't remember if it's on the market or will soon be.
An interesting tip for would-be investors : Nicolas still has some 3 hectares of unplanted parcels in a top Saint-Peray terroir at an altitude of 350 meters and I heard he can't do all the investment himself to replant it with the recent low-volume years here in the loire and his investment on restructuring his vineyard block in the Loire-et-Cher. I suggested him to do like Thierry Allemand (with whom he trained if I remember) who had Swiss investors help him develop new surface on top terroirs, he says he has little time to find people interested in that venture but I take the opporrtunity of this story to let potential investors know that there's certainly a rewarding opportunity here.