The town of Bourgueil lies on the northern bank of the Loire not far from Chinon. Saddled with an unpronounceable name (say boorgoy), and lacking a famous son like Chinon’s Rabelais, it has had to content itself with making possibly the finest of all red Loire wines. It has had a lot of practice – wine has been made here since Roman times. However, it was with the coming of the monasteries that the vineyards began to flourish. Abbot Baudry of the Benedictine Bourgueil Abbey did more than most to promote the local wine – his generosity and his parties were justly famous!
With the latitude of the Côte de Beaune and the longitude of St-Émilion, Bourgueil is ideally situated for making fine wine. Although the whole area enjoys a temperate microclimate, well sheltered from the prevailing northerly wind, it is the precise location of each vineyard that affects the quality and style of the wine. The Bourgueil appellation covers seven communes and the soil is of two distinct types: sand and gravel near the river, clay over tufa limestone on the slopes. Domaine de la Chevalerie occupies 32 hectares at the centre of the appellation, where the clay and flint subsoil gives the wine a more robust character that helps it age well.
The farmhouse sits on the slope overlooking the vines, and as you enter the courtyard, a dark tunnel, its entrance half covered with vegetation, leads down to the family cellar. Hewn into the rock beneath the farmhouse, the cellar is so huge that you cannot help fearing that the house itself might fall in upon you at any moment. Here lies the inheritance. Row upon row, stack upon stack of unlabelled pleasure!
The domaine was established in 1640 and brother and sister duo, Emmanuel and Stéphanie Caslot, are the latest generations of the family to nurture these precious vines – many of them dating back 70 years or more. The vines are planted on classic soils of limestone and clay, which provide the perfect environment for Cabernet Franc to express its floral, fruity nature. The domaine’s wines are perfect examples of the importance of terroir. Harvesting is conducted by hand and each plot is vinified separately; consequently each nuance of soil type, vine age and microclimate profoundly influences the style and character of the wine.
The Caslots now adopt a biodynamic approach to viticulture so they use no chemicals or fertilizers and they carry out vineyard work according to phases of the moon and planets. They are extremely progressive and make the most of nature, technology and tradition. Although the wine is vinified in modern stainless steel, this is followed by a period of ageing in the local chestnut barrels, which allows the wine to develop without masking the fruit.
The young wine has a fresh, floral bouquet and a dominant raspberry or blackcurrant flavour with just a hint of characteristic earthiness. Drunk cellar cool on a summer’s day, it is the perfect partner for a pâté and cheese picnic. The older wines develop a much more complex flavour with hints of cherry, liquorice and nuts and are good with all meat dishes.