Guide to the Loire regions

Chinon

In the Cellar

Wine Styles

Red Wines

‘Il n’est ni chargé en tanin comme le Bordeaux, ni délicieusement toxique comme de Bourgogne. C’est un vin pour intellectuels.’ 
                                                        
- Jules Romains

Generally speaking, the three soil types of Chinon produce two different styles of wine: léger (light) and corsé (full-bodied). The minimum natural alcohol content for Chinon rouge is 10.5% and a maximum of 13% - if the wines have been chaptalized (something that hasn’t occurred in Chinon since 2002, and even then it was modest).

The lighter styles are generally selected from young vines or come from the sandy terrasses close to the Loire or Vienne. They will receive a seven day cuvaison in tank and are bottled around Easter, which is why the term Cuvée des Pâques is used so widely by the growers when defining the style. Whilst carbonic maceration has been a weapon in the winemakers armoury, it does have a tendency to exaggerate any herbal notes if the bunches are not fully ripe. Trials have also indicated that specific selected yeasts combined with low fermentation temperatures can also reduce the herbal profile so often associated with these wines.

The corsé examples invariably come from either the more silicious soils or off the clay-limestone slopes and plateaux. Invariably, these wines will have seen a longer cuvaison with greater extraction before being committed to wood of one type or another. Friendly local rivalry between the Chinonnais and the vignerons of Bourgueil once rumoured that the former would rub the inside of their casks with raspberries to reproduce the characteristic aroma of Cabernet Franc. Even as recently as the last 1980s, these casks were in fact 400-600 litre fûts, traditionally made of chestnut. These were eventually abandoned due to the bitterness caused in the resulting wine. Today, the use of the ubiquitous oak barrique or foudre is common, with Bernard Baudry claiming to have been the first in the appellation to adopt small wood when he started in 1975. Barriques were certainly frowned upon at the time by fellow vignerons who considered the resulting wine as atypique. For this commentator at least, the introduction of the barrique has been one of the causes in the appellation losing it way. On the whole, Cabernet Franc from these parts is too delicate to handle the wood and only serves to mask the origin. 

There is something of a third category; a sort of half-way-house compromise between the generalization of the above, where certain growers elect to blend the wines from the plain and the slopes to arrive at an homogenous medium. Some see this as the best overall expression of the appellation, combining the assets of the two wine styles to create a blend that is greater than the sum of its parts.

Rosé
Current figures offered by Jean-Max Manceau, president of the grower’s syndicate, states that 13% of the Chinon harvest is vinified as rosé - up from 10% from a few seasons ago - and indicate the current fashion for all things pink. The production from year to year depends, essentially, on rate of sale of previous vintage since no grower wants to be sitting on stock after the following summer.

The legislation dictates that there should be no more than four grams of residual sugar per lite in the finished wines. The rules for the method of production, however,  are less prescriptive with growers allowed to use pressurage direct, saignée or maceration (or a blend of these techniques) to achieve the end result. Some producers do use more than one method, whilst others will switch from one year to the next. Saignée particularly depends on the conditions of the season and is used when there is the prospect of a large harvest, whilst in more concentrated vintages such as 2003 and 2009 this technique is not really viable.

Cabernet Sauvignon is more likely these days to be dedicated for rosé production, since its ripening abilities for making red wine have been called into question. Some growers also seek to encourage the wines to go through malolactic fermentation; or at least partial malo.

Blanc
There is no single interpretation of Chinon Blanc, since growers have their own philosophies on how the wines should be made. The only legislation that they must adhere to (apart from a potential minimum alcohol of 10%) for the appellation is the finished wines must contain less than 6 grams a litre of residual sugar. Beyond that, drinkers can expect to encounter examples raised in tank and designed for early consumption, whilst others take the Burgundian route of barrel fermentation and either partial or full malolactic fermentation. Some growers elect to use selected yeasts, with at least one recent commercial example tasting more like a Sauvignon Blanc than Chenin. Those wines produced in a more durable style are capable of ageing for a decade or more, although despite a similar exposition and soil profile, the wines fail to exhibit the same style or sheer quality one can find in the local benchmarks of Saumur, Vouvray or Montlouis.

Those growers who exceed the 6g/l limit for the residual sugar level have the right currently (until the appellation laws change to make Sauvignon Blanc the sole white grape variety allowed to use the name) to declassify to the generic Touraine appellation. There are some who actively set out to produce a moëlleux style and will, for the moment at least, happily downgrade their production from Chinon Blanc.

Declared production

2009 – 110,605hl
2008 – 110,694hl
2007 – 110,604hl
2006 – 109,672hl (1,368hl blanc)
2005 – 109,734hl (1,501ha blanc)
2004 – 120,700hl (inc 10,780 rose) (1,450hl blanc)
2003 – 99,668hl (954hl blanc)
2002 – 108,609hl (1,100hl blanc)
2001 – 109,138hl (1,044hl blanc)
1998 – 111,119hl (1,083hl blanc)
1992 – 124,661hl (838hl blanc)
1990 – 103,889hl
1989 – 103,290hl (599hl blanc)
1988 – 86,059hl
1986 – 68,870hl (rouge), 447hl (blanc)
1985 – 69,039hl
1979 – 30,000hl (150hl blanc)

1970 – 16,000hl
1960 – 18,999hl (155hl blanc)
1959 - 9,909hl (103hl blanc)
1958 – 11,226hl (125hl blanc)
1957 – 4,608hl (74hl blanc)
1956 – 12,250hl (139hl blanc)
1955 – 10,599hl (173hl blanc)
1954 – 12,533hl (157hl blanc)
1953 – 15,241hl (166hl blanc)
1952 – 9,165hl (123hl blanc)
1951 – 8,456hl (102hl blanc)
1950 – 14,078hl (186hl blanc)
1949 – 7,752hl (152hl blanc)
1948 – 9,789hl (211hl blanc)
1947 – 10,760hl (140hl blanc)
1945 – 122hl (12hl blanc)
1944 – 11,603hl (473hl blanc)
1943 – 11,491hl (444hl blanc)
1827 – 171,480hl


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