This estate is truly beautiful and ticks all my boxes for how a proper Château should look.
Ancient Virginia creeper covered stone walls, half timbered outbuildings and a moat all go to make the place evocative and to give the visitor a sense of peace and tranquility that is strangely only enhanced by the scrunch of gravel in the drive.
So far so good; we were met by Marie Beujeau, the owner’s daughter, who was our host for this visit.
At first this seemed like a visit that would really work, and indeed it did, but not in the way I expected. It is a famous name with a long illustrious history and is stocked in Waitrose for heaven’s sake. How could it not be good? The estate is 95 hectares from which they produce a wide array of appellations:
Rosé de la Loire
Coteaux de l’Aubance
Coteaux de Layon
Quart de Chaume
They also own a small parcel of Bonnezeaux and they are just about to buy René Renou’s parcel of Bonnezeaux Les Melleresses to add to their own.
To this they add an impressive line up of grapes:
Chenin Noir/Pinot d’Aunis
Marie explained the terroir on the estate. They are sited where three different bedrocks meet, those from Brittany, the Paris Basin and deep gravel over schist – which suits their Cabernet Sauvignon. This explains their ability to make quite different wines on a single site. They have schist, clay and slate as well as tuffeau, which it turns out is a limestone and not volcanic tufa as I have always understood.
I did not really understand all this, so checked in James E. Wilson’s Terroir. He says the area is where the “Old rocks” of the Massif Armoricain, consisting of various schists and some limestone, meet the cretaceous Paris basin, mainly tuffeau here. A little to the south is the great Jurassic limestone of Côte d’Or fame. He does not mention gravel, so I assume that is a localised soil.
The barrel cellar for the top cuvées of their sweet whites was a lovely converted barn with a high tech glass door sealing the room that was kept at a constant 10˚C in order to stop the residual sugar from re-fermenting.
They have a similar store for their reds, but only the Cabernet Sauvignon sees time in wood and is kept at a constant 15-17˚C.
After a great deal of hanging around while our host disappeared we finally got to the tasting.
This was a comparison between the 2007, 2006 and 2005 Château la Varière Anjou-Villages-Brissac Cabernet Franc.
The 2007 was quite astringent with high acidity, green tannins and a harsh finish that lacked fruit.
The 2006 was much plusher and attractive with lovely fruit on the middle palate that was only spoiled by a green finish.
The 2005 was a monster at either 14% or 14.5% depending on which bottle you believed. The perfume was good, but huge, astringent and chalky tannins masked the fruit on the palate making the wine unbalanced.
In front of us we had their two price lists. At this stage I noticed that they do not make any of their ‘Prestige Cuvées’ from Cabernet Franc and I wondered why?
I also wondered why they did not use any oak on their Cabernet Franc, when the wines in front of me made me think they could be the better for it?
So, I asked the questions and two more wines were brought in:
Château la Varière Anjou-Villages-Brissac La Chevaliere 2005 Cabernet Sauvignon
The opaque colour was great, the nose was a hedonistic blend of cassis liqueur and tea, but ultimately the 18 months in new oak was just too much for it and the wine lacked balance.
To answer my question about what oak does to Cabernet Franc, Marie gave us a wine from their other domaine:
Domaine de la Perruche Clos de Chaumont 2006 Saumur-Champigny
had a beautifully perfumed nose with bright red fruit and delicate spice.
In the mouth it was round with fine grain tannins and smoky spice. It was supple, elegantly fat and beautifully balanced between fruit, oak and tannins.
For me this was the red wine of the whole trip and a great finale to this visit.
It showed that Cabernet Franc and oak can go together very well indeed and although it was not proof that the Anjou-Villages-Brissac wines would have been the better for some time in barrel to soften and smooth the tannins, it was a pointer.
All in all I enjoyed the visit, the beautiful location, the feeling of peace and felt that I had learned and experienced something very useful.