Tuesday, June 24, 2008

François Blanchard’s Brilliant Touraine

photo courtesy by François Blanchard

Last Friday night was another fun dinner at Day Break. Patrick made a delicious puréed cauliflower soup that was refreshing on that very warm night. I chose the entrée of pork roulade stuffed with raisins, wilted greens, and apple sauce, and afterwards finished off with a nectarine Melba with vanilla ice cream. Yumm! I could have gone for seconds.

The wines we drank were a mix of California, except for one—I’ll talk about this in a moment. Helen Turley’s 2000 Marcassin Alexander Mountain Chardonnay Upper Barn was fat and smoky, overripe with fading orangey flavors. The 2000 Pride Claret Reserve was in that opulent Napa style; sweet, chocolaty, and redolent of oak. The 1986 Johnson-Turnbull Napa Cabernet Sauvignon was drying out a bit, though still elegant and heavily infused with spearmint. Much better was the 1986 Laurel Glen Sonona Cabernet Sauvignon, which lacked bouquet but surprised us with its youthful concentration and grace. And finally for dessert, the 2004 Sine Qua Non Mr. K Straw Man Vin de Paille, a Semillon concentrate that must have contained a ton of sugar; unctuous and thick, with honey and fruity botrytised scents and lots of apricot flavors.

I really enjoyed the variety of these California wines, but the surprise wine of the night and one I have never tasted before was the Vin de Table de France, François Blanchard, a 2004 Sauvignon Blanc from the Touraine region of the Loire Valley made by François Blanchard of Château du Perron. Relegated to the lowest of the low, Vin de Table wines are not permitted to have any identity—no vintage, no varietal name, not even the region of origin on the label. It is practically death to any wine to receive such an ignoble designation. Yet, by force of personality this wine sparkled, figuratively and literally. Its ethereal fizz tickled the lips and popped on contact, leaving the palate with an almost off-dry, intense taste of cidered pear and apples with a tip of white pepper. Underneath the fruit was a layer of minerals that lingered solo in the long finish. I felt happy to have enjoyed this unique wine for the first time.

François Blanchard, Loire’s latest enfant terrible since Didier Daguneau, is a thirty-something local jazz musician in Tours. Just over five years ago he decided to resuscitate his family’s long-neglected tiny wine estate. He did little to modernize the winery, except to install electricity. The main improvement were the two manual vertical basket presses be brought in!

In the vineyard, farming has been organic from the outset (AB certified), though Blanchard doesn’t plow, and allow weeds to run almost amok in the vineyard and around the winery. His winemaking is totally artisanal and as natural as possible. He almost never uses SO2 and certainly never touches industrial yeasts or bacteria. He ferments in ambient cellar temperature without any temperature control in the vat. The cellar itself is maintained in ambient temperature with perhaps some adjustment if necessary. Blanchard believes that vinification should proceed with the season. Soutirage or racking is kept at the most minimum to preserve the carbonic gas created by the fermentation, hence minimizing the use of sulphites. I can tell you that after opening the bottle, the gas is intact and the wine is fresh and lively. The bottle, by the way, is enclosed in crown cap and sealed with a wax capsule.

Alas, François Blanchard’s wines are not exported. I would have to visit him soon, maybe next March and pick up a few bottles.

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