02 February 2011

loire road trip, pt. I: late for domaine guiberteau

I had the tremendous good fortune this past weekend to be invited by my friends J and C on a road trip to several enormous wine tastings in the Loire valley. It was particularly nice of them to bring me along given that I don't have a valid French driver's license*, which condition reduced me to the inessential role of ballast for most of the long hard driving. The Loire valley, I discovered, is vast, and mostly empty.

J, who is the wine director at 1er arr. restaurant / boutique Spring, had snagged us two excellent cellar-visits for that Saturday. The second, which I'll report later, was at the illustrious benchmark Saumur estate Clos Rougeard, in Chacé. The first appointment, for which we ran a bit late, was a few miles away at Domaine Guiberteau, in Mollay, where Antoine Romain Guiberteau makes acclaimed natural Saumur whites and reds that in retrospect seem somewhat palpably (and understandably) influenced by a certain nearby illustrious benchmark Saumur estate.

For our lateness that day, we had any of three excuses.

We'd had a dead battery, for one. The first nice lady who attempted to help us jumpstart the car had one of those unmistakeably European, squashed-looking, van-like sedans, which it turns out are totally incomprehensible beneath the hood and have no identifiable negative on the battery. We had to wait for another kind soul to pull over on boulevard Richard Lenoir before we could even get on the road.

Image jacked from wikipedia.

Later we took a scenic wrong turn somewhere near the Château de Villandry, where J insisted he remembered there being a good restaurant serving fried fish. We drove around single-lane roads built on the spines of old levees for about thirty minutes. J had just about conceded to the whole thing having been a fantasy or past-life experience, when on our way back to the highway we spotted the restaurant, shut for the winter.

Shortly after that we stopped and wolfed down steaks at a pokey hotel. With a half-bottle of manufactured Vouvray. This being the latest-occurring and most avoidable reason for lateness, we declined to mention it upon our (late) arrival, where we had also to grinningly apologize for accidentally greeting Romain Guiberteau by the unrelated prénom of Antoine on the phone.

By happy chance, M. Guiberteau's next appointment for the day was at the aforementioned Clos Rougeard cellars, where we were also headed. Guiberteau, a perfectly nice guy, is, however, an expert time manager, with the result that J, C, and I had to kind of bang through the tasting like a bunch of fraternity candidates. It was our own fault.

J and I have had disagreements on the Guiberteau wines. Not, like, knife-wielding disagreements; just teensy points of difference. He finds them all-round rocking. I find the whites all-round rocking. The reds, like the 2008 Saumur cru "Les Motelles" we tasted at Guiberteau's cellar, share a kind of enforced grace, if you ask me, as though their tannins have been sanded to a fine dust, at the slight expense of freshness and verve. They're supple and enjoyable and certainly well-crafted. I just think they taste too crafted.** The 2008 "Les Motelles" had a rubber / earth nose, and fresher acidity than I'd expected.

I'm a much bigger fan of Guiberteau's white range, which includes a basic Saumur blanc, and two lieu-dits, "Brézé" and "Le Clos des Carmes." We tasted the hay-&-honey-scented 2010 Saumur blanc, which had mostly finished fermenting in the big cuve outside in the courtyard. (Pictured above.) Then we tasted the "Brézé" from 2008, which was staggeringly lovely. A fine, complex nose of mineral, white flowers, and ham (good ham), followed by a sonorous, glowy palate. The same jeweler's precision that makes the reds feel a little overdetermined is, I think, more justified in the "Brézé," which after spending two years in new and used oak still possesses a shimmering, wild sort of peach fruit. I'd compare the house style, which can be attributed to Romain Guiberteau's assuming stewardship of the estate in 1996, to that of Japanese fashion designer Junya Watanabe, whose clothes for men are, at worst, fussy overdetailed semi-ironic workwear for OCD journalists -

- but whose clothes for women, while equally detailed and technical, are routinely astonishingly beautiful. It's something about having more to work with, I think.

We were expected to bring a few bottles to Catherine et Pierre Breton's party in Bourgeuil later that evening, so while at Domaine Guiberteau we asked to buy a few bottles. M. Guiberteau would have none of it though; he very kindly gave J two magnums and told us to send Catherine and Pierre his regards.

* As I understand it, the way this works is, some states in the USA accept French drivers' licenses, some don't. If you are American and licensed from a state that DOES accept French licenses, then you're golden. If your license is from California, which state inexplicably does not accept French licenses, then if you wish to drive you must pay dearly for months of remedial professional driving lessons, a reeducation that is almost certainly more galling and intolerable for you, a Californian, who was essentially born into a car the way certain nomadic tribes rear children on horseback.

** This is why J ribs me sometimes for only liking strange farmer wines. He's half-right. 

Domaine Guiberteau's wines are available at:

Spring Boutique
52, rue de l'Arbre Sec
75001 PARIS
Metro: Louvre-Rivoli
Tel: 01 45 96 05 72

3, boulevard Madeleine
75001 PARIS
Metro: Madeleine
Tel: 01 42 97 20 20
31, rue Sainte Marthe
75010 PARIS
Metro: Belleville
Tel: 01 42 01 08 51

Related Links: 

Domaine Guiberteau's entry in GaultMillau
A pretty excellent informative tasting with Romain Guiberteau @ WickerParker
A brief profile of Guiberteau @ LaContreEtiquette


  1. Only 15 states accept the French driver's license.

  2. Name them all. Go!

    But I do wonder whether those that accept French licenses are red states or blue states - if that's connected in any way. The whole "freedom fries" thing.

  3. Glad you liked the wines. We work with Romain in Chicago, and have a few videos with his father Robert posted over on our youtube channel. Here is alink for the story of the history of the domaine during World War II: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=oORG8VdJJ10


  4. No pattern that I could discern. I'd guess that it probably predates the freedom fry nonsense.

  5. @CandidWines: thanks for the link! great interview, fascinating story, too.

    @TWG: yes of course! in using the phrase i guess i just meant to refer to the general demonization of france in contemporary conservative thought in america.