Suzanne Blanchet, in her 1982 ‘Les Vins du Val de Loire’, wrote of Catherine Roussel, “Elle apporte le raffinement et le doigté que seule une femme sait avoir”1. Nearly three decades later, that remains true at one of our favourite estates, Clos Roche Blanche. Catherine, together with Didier Barouillet, is still making some of the most graceful, serene wines we have ever tasted.
Clos Roche Blanche sits on top of a hill halfway between the towns of Pouillé and Mareuil-sur-Cher, just off the banks of the river Cher. The drone of vehicles along the A85 to the south is only audible in winter, when there is less foliage; the vineyard is otherwise as peaceful and calming as the wines that come from it. Accompanied by one of their many cats, Seccotine2, we strolled around and between the various plots, picking up fossils, admiring the old vines (planted by Constant Ragot, Catherine’s ancestor, more than a hundred years ago), and digging up the soil with our bare hands.
O’s personal epiphany was a decade ago with the 1998 Côt (also known as Malbec elsewhere), which demonstrated how a wine did not have to be concentrated or extracted to be intense and deep. This time round, we had the 1999 towards the end of the tasting, which was still youthful, probably requiring another decade to reach full potential. Both wines, of course, are long sold out, but we think the 2010 vintage is ample consolation.
Since 2008, when they rented out part of their land (and the Chardonnay vines), they only make a couple of whites from old Sauvignon Blanc vines. The #2 zips across the tongue, without ever seeming harsh or tasting confected, while the #5 (from 2009) is rounder and softer from the extra year in old oak. The ‘Pif’ is a delightful vin de soif, with its Côt and Cabernet Franc (in1:2 proportion) teasing the best out of each other. It will mellow with age, but the fruit is so vibrant now that it can be drunk without regret. Similarly, both the Gamay and l’Arpent Rouge (Pineau d’Aunis) are fresh and lively wines; the former more floral and mineral, the latter spicy and exotic.
We hope others will find just as much joy in their wines.