The North vs South theme I proposed for Wine Blogging Wednesday provides bloggers with certain guidelines (use the same grapes, so you can compare), but also with a lot of leeway. Thousands of miles of leeway, really.
If you wanted, you could pick similar wines from the other side of the world. The antipodes, really. Spanish vs New Zealand pinot noir. Or Finger Lakes vs Australian riesling. That’s as far apart as it gets.
I wanted to raise the challenge for myself by bringing the North-South equation to a much smaller scale. Not as close as if I’d picked two different vineyards or crus in the same appellation (say, if I was rich and lucky, La Turque and La Mouline in Côte-Rôtie), but a lot closer to that than to the Antipodes.
I decided to compare two related and neighboring appellations in the west part of Touraine, a sub-region of the Loire, in France. Two appellations that specialize in producing solid, age-worthy cabernet francs: Bourgueil and Chinon.
Bourgueil is located about 16 kilometers (10 miles) North of Chinon. Bourgueil is North of the Loire, while Chinon is between the Loire and the Vienne rivers. And although the soils in Chinon are more diverse than those of Bourgueil, the best in Chinon, as most in Bourgueil, are planted over a thick layer of limestone.
Could just a few kilometers make enough of a difference to influence the taste and feel of two wines grown in each of the two locations?
To try and isolate the effects of the climate, I picked two wines that had characteristics as similar as possible: both from 100% cabernet franc (10% cab sauvignon can be added, but not for these), both from the same vintage (2005, to be precise), both on steep hills and limestone soil with a bit of clay and sand on top, offering comparable yields (25-30 hectoliters per hectare), and made using similar winemaking techniques (maceration and alcoholic fermentation in oak vats, pumping over and punching down, barrel-aging, etc.).
The search for similar wines narrowed down the list of 38 available Touraine reds at SAQ to two wines only. The Clos du Chêne Vert by Charles Joguet, in Chinon, and the Mi-Pente by Jacky Blot at the Domaine de la Butte in Bourgueil (sorry, French-only producer info on the Bourgueil, but here is some in English).
I opened both with a great amount of expectation, last night at dinner time. They were matched with a roast chicken my wife had prepared (thanks, honey, it was delicious!), and did very well with the dish: the ripe, full flavors, with fine, smooth tannins, and a fresh lift on the finish, rounded out the roasted flavors and the bit of fat on the meat.
I loved the dark fruit and red pepper flavors on both wines. The ripeness and intensity, again in both bottles, showed an exceptional, warm, sunny vintage – which 2005 definitely was. But there was no excess heat, nothing overripe, and plenty of structure that make these excellent wines solid candidates for many years of cellaring. And the quality-price ratio is excellent, for age-worthy wines: these wines sell for somewhere between 30-35$ US, which gets you much more fun for your dollar than many a more-vaunted Bordeaux cru.
But what about the North vs South thing, you say? Who wins? And where’s the heat?
Close call, as you can imagine. My wife liked the Joguet Chinon a bit better, I liked the Mi-Pente Bourgueil a tad better, especially with an eye to cellaring. The Chinon showed more open fruit flavors and a slightly more expansive set of aromas than the Bourgueil, which felt more tightly wound and had a slightly darker feel, with torrefaction and maybe a touch of peppercorn showing through. One could say that the Chinon felt a bit more feminine than the Bourgueil.
I would tend to attribute the difference to a bit more heat at the Chinon vineyards – an idea compounded by the fact that the alcohol on it is at 14%, while the Bourgueil shows 13.5%. Without a detailed chart of average temperatures for each site (I dug around, but didn’t find anything precise enough), it’s hard to prove beyond a shadow of a doubt. But it seems likely. Here, North seems to be North, both literally and figuratively speaking, as opposed to what happened in my trial run.
I’ll just keep sipping back and forth between those two delicious wines until I figure it out with all the necessary amount of certainty. And I’ll even cellar a few bottles to maker sure I prove it, if necessary.