May 1, 2022

On 24 March of this year, the night before my return to Berlin, Clement, Thomas and me drink a bottle of »Les Roches«, the domaine founded by Alain Lenoir. It’s a red Chinon, »Appellation Chinon Contrôlée«, from Beaumont-en-Veron, from… 1989. Chinon wines come from vineyards located near the town of Chinon. They are mainly red wines (although Lenoir also produces a Chenin Blanc). I had bought the wine two days before, for an astonishing 60€, during my shopping spree at the local wine shop »Amicalement vin«. I had never spent that kind of money on a bottle of wine before. The bottle had been placed in a separate fridge and it was Clement who had drawn my attention to it. Jérôme Billaud, one of the two owners, then told us that he had gotten the bottles – there were several vintages on offer, starting in 1983, I think –  from an agent who had recently visited the Lenoirs (a sensation in itself as the Lenoirs are known for being almost impossible to reach and never to be found at their winery): »What’s in that box?«, the agent had inquired. »Oh, some old wines«, the Lenoirs had replied.

Clement in particular was looking forward to our tasting: »Martin, I’m so excited! It’s going to be a great moment!« During the day, while we were pruning Thomas’s vines, Clement kept coming back to the wine: »It is practically impossible to buy one of his wines. I mean, especially an old one like that… I hope it did hold up well!« I was in a positive mood, having had a good experience with an older wine a few weeks earlier, a 1983 Bordeaux that I had bought on Ebay for something like €35. Two days before opening the wine, the bottle was supposed to be kept upright. I then was to decant it carefully to leave the sediments in the bottle. (These were the instructions given to me by the caviste.)

At around 9.20 p.m. the time has come. I open the wine and pour it into a decanter. We are supposed to drink it relatively quickly. It is often the case that such old wines, if they come into contact with the air and oxidize, rapidly ›tip over‹ and become undrinkable, even though they were in the best condition only minutes before. I’m surprised that the label and the cork are still in such good condition. Now and then Jérôme bottles old wines of his father’s that are still in barrels. That means, I’m repeating it here as to understand it better myself, that the 1989 had been in a barrel until, for example, the year 2005 and was bottled then. Only later, when the Lenoirs decided to sell it, eventually, it was labelled.

Thomas jumps up and looks for a book in which various winegrowers of the Loire are presented, including Jérôme Lenoir (»Vignerons nature de la Loire« by Laetitia Laure and Hervé Guillaume, published in 2010). Clement holds the book up to the camera. I quote, with a few omissions, translated into English by me: »The Lenoirs have been living in Beaumont-en-Véron since 1900. Following Alain, still active in the vineyards, Jérôme, after having dabbled in industrial design, is the fourth generation watching over the vines of the family estate. 3.5 hectares of old vines… at the confluence of the Vienne and the Loire. The small plot (only 23 ares) of very old Chenin vines, they are at least 115 years old, was bought in the 1960s. There were still fruit trees between the rows of vines… Jérôme continues the tradition… It is a tradition in the region to age the wines for a long time… Today, the 2001, 2002 and 2003 are on sale. The link between the vintages? The soul of Cabernet Franc… Always austere, tough when young, Chinon is by definition a wine to keep. Jérôme’s objective is to make a ›successful wine‹ – to drink very quickly or to forget for at least eight to ten years.

Red Chinon
Price: less than 10 €
Geology: clay-limestone, clay-siliceous
Yield: 40-45hl/ha
Yield of the appellation: 55 hl/ha
Grape variety: Cabernet Franc
Added sulphur: 40 mg/l after fermentation
Aging: a minimum of 3 years in ›fût‹ and ›tonne‹«

The big moment has come. Here we go! I decide to record our tasting with my phone and place it on Thomas’s kitchen table in record mode:

C: »Bert does the same!«
M: »Bertrand Celce, the man running the infamous ›Wineterroirs‹ blog? Without whom I would’ve never come across Thomas?«
C: »Oui!«
T: »You mean, record a conversation? Well, when he interviewed me he put a dictaphone on the table, that’s right!«

And this is, sadly, where the recording ends. No joke! The iPhone’s »Voice Memo« recording shows a total duration of 47 minutes, but the recording ends after a few seconds. What a shame. So what is it that I wrote in my wine notebook that I try to carry with me whenever I’m in France and with Thomas?

»Cherry, wild strawberry, rhubarb. In general: forest. Damp forest. Leather horse saddle coming through! Acidity still there! Incredible balance. A masterpiece. Evolves with every minute. Awesome. From 1989! That’s when Pet Shop Boys released ›It’s Alright‹! I was 14. Or 15! Imagine! Powerful and simple at the same time. Deep. Now… like the sweet wine from Banyuls we had recently! Licorice! Getting deeper! Unbelievable. We’re quiet. Almost religious. Calmness and silence.«

Les Roches, »Chinon«, 1989

Les Roches, »Chinon«, 1989

Clement presenting the book Thomas fetched and from which I quote above

Clement presenting the book Thomas fetched and from which I quote above

The Chinon's label, close-up. The font for the »Chinon« reminds my friend Norman of graffiti writing. In any case: a fantastic design, if you ask me

The Chinon's label, close-up. The font for the »Chinon« reminds my friend Norman of graffiti writing. In any case: a fantastic design, if you ask me

The cork I kept, the empty bottle I gave to Clement as a souvenir

The cork I kept, the empty bottle I gave to Clement as a souvenir