Réthoré Davy Le Chapitre Pinot Noir 2015
King Arthur: [calling out to the battlements] Hello! Hello!
French Taunter: Hello? Who is it?
King Arthur: It is King Arthur, and these are his Knights of the Round Table. Whose castle is this?
French Taunter: This is the castle of my master, Guy de Lombard.
King Arthur: Go and tell your master that we have been charged by God with a sacred quest. If he can provide us food and shelter for the night he can join us on the quest for the Holy Grail.
French Taunter: Well, I'll ask him, but I don't think he'd be very keen. He's already got one, you see?
- Monty Python and the Holy Grail (1975)
In a search for the Holy Grail we have two choices. The first, a quest to the Holy Land, battling the Black Knight and the Knights who say "Ni" along the way. The second is perhaps more feasible; just drink a lot of Pinot Noir until you find a good one. I suppose it all depends on what your personal Holy Grail is.
There is a not a huge amount of Pinot Noir planted in the Loire Valley. The last time I checked there were about 580 hectares, a long way behind Gamay (maybe 2,000 hectares), Grolleau (probably also 2,000 hectares) or Cabernet Franc (an impressive 15,000 hectares). Most of the plantings are in and around Sancerre, which accounts for about 460 hectares, and it is also where the best wines are to be found. You can find Pinot Noir in Touraine, but here it tends to lack the direction and energy that the variety possesses in Sancerre, I suspect because of the gravelly, sandy soils on which many vineyards are planted. On the rare occasion you find one from a limestone terroir, the wine can be surprisingly good. But such encounters are rare.
West of Touraine Pinot Noir is perhaps more likely to end up as part of a blend in Crémant de Loire than anything else, but there are exceptions. I first encountered the wines of Réthoré Davy at a dinner a couple of years ago; Christophe Davy himself brought it along, and poured me a glass of his Le Chapitre Pinot Noir. The wine was a real treat, and certainly a surprise. It had richness, flavour, character, and most importantly it had both energy and acidity. It turns out Christophe, who is based in a viticultural no-man's land between the Muscadet and Anjou vineyards, is not beholden to accepted wisdom about what and where he should plant. Yes he has Pinot Noir. He also has Chardonnay, Pinot Gris and Cabernet Sauvignon (all Loire varieties in my mind), as well as Viognier and Syrah (these are, I admit, a little more unusual).
His Pinot Noir vines are planted in three parcels with terroirs of schist and quartz, which I suspect is perhaps significant in determining the wine's confident style. He picks by machine, but then selects rigorously. There follows a traditional fermentation effected by indigenous yeasts, using no carbonic tricks, with regular pigeage. The 2015 Réthoré Davy Chapitre Pinot Noir has a bright hue, with a raspberry-crimson rim, all very youthful and pure. It has a characterful nose, with sweet raspberry and cherry fruit dressed with an overlay of smoke, charcoal and black pepper. The palate is cool, lightly textured, with a lightly dusty and chalky backbone of tannins and fresh acidity, lending the end a slightly sour note to the fruit, touched with a rose-petal perfume. Long, chalky and bright, this still has a lot of primary character, but it is certainly promising. 16/20
It seems that first encounter with this wine, which was in a previous vintage (I have a feeling it may have been the 2013) wasn't a one-off. This is an interesting wine for fans of Pinot Noir to try. And you don't have to face the Bridge of Death of the Gorge of Eternal Peril in order to find it. (27/2/17)