WINERY: Domaine Pithon-Paillé
GRAPE: Cabernet Franc
Loire Valley aficionados know Jo Pithon as a mutton-chopped champion of natural winemaking and organic farming in the Loire, whose eponymous estate in Anjou was especially well-known for great whites from Savennières and Côteau du Layon. But Pithon, now partnered with his stepson, Joseph Paillé, can do reds, too. Their single-vineyard Chinon is, like the wines from some of the celebrated names above, a wine I would serve to Cabernet Franc skeptics—those who think of Chinon as rough-edged, “green,” rustic red wine that’s perfectly fine for a bistro steak but not for the cellar. I think Pithon-Paillé’s “Dessus Narçay” would change their minds. This is a Loire Cabernet Franc of great precision and elegance, a wine that’s on par with the greats in every way except price. We’re very excited to share it with you.
VITICULTURE & VINEYARD
Jo Pithon got his start in the Loire in 1978, building up his vineyard holdings over the years to more than 20 hectares across a number of appellations. He was an early adopter of organic viticultural practices and of what has come to be known as “natural” winemaking: using only ambient yeasts to inoculate fermentations; keeping any additions of sulfur to an absolute minimum; eschewing chaptalization (the addition of sugar to the must to raise potential alcohol levels); and fermenting and aging wines in used oak barrels. He was a natural winemaker before ‘natural wine’ was a thing, but he ultimately lost control of his domaine—after taking on an outside investor whose views on viticulture and winemaking differed from his own, Pithon walked away, leaving his own brand name behind in the process. In 2008 he and Joseph formed Pithon-Paillé with the help of Pithon’s wife (and Joseph’s mother) Isabelle and Joseph’s wife, Wendy. Theirs is a négociant business, with their partner-growers held to rigorous organic standards. This “Dessus Narçay” Chinon hails from a vineyard in the village of Cravant les Coteaux; average vine age is about 50 years and the vineyard enjoys a full south exposure, lending the wine great ripeness and depth.
The grapes for this 2017 were hand-harvested, fully destemmed, macerated from two to four weeks, put into tanks to finish alcoholic fermentation, and then racked into two- to six-year-old oak barrels to age for 12 months. A light filtration makes it possible to reduce the use of sulfur and avoid fining completely. One of the things we appreciated about the wine was how clean and pure it is—as has been discussed to death lately, many ‘natural’ wines can taste funky, either from dirty barrels or bacterial infections or other flaws, and they often contain some trapped CO2 as producers seek to minimize their sulfur use—lending the wine a little prickle, which is off-putting to some. While there is plenty of evident life energy in this wine, there are none of the attendant flaws. The fruit is pure and the texture is polished. This is elegant, aromatic wine that continues to improve with time in the glass.
Pithon-Paillé’s 2017 “Dessus-Narçay” shows off the generosity of the vintage in both its deep purple/ruby color and its ripe, dark-fruited aromas. Whereas much Loire Cabernet Franc skews in the bell pepper/menthol direction, this one keeps its “green” notes in check, leavening them with lots of black raspberry, red plum, mulberry, violet, and tar, as well as some Sauvignon-like hints of cigar box, graphite, and even a little cassis. The wine shows no perceptible oak influence: it’s all about pure, fragrant fruit, mineral savor, enlivening acidity, and quite velvety tannins. It is lip-smackingly good, superbly balanced wine, considerably deeper and with a longer, more fragrant finish than your typical 'bistro' Chinon. It is supremely drinkable now after about 30 minutes in a decanter, but I can see this aging 5+ years with ease. If enjoying this wine now, serve it in Burgundy stems at 65 degrees; it would be an amazing choice for your Thanksgiving turkey, but there’s no way you want to wait that long to try this wine. Try it with an herby roasted pork loin to bring out its savory, spicy notes and strongly consider grabbing more than one bottle. This is a truly memorable bottle of wine you’re going to want to revisit. I know I will. Cheers!
“Pithon-Paillé is the creation of Loire Valley eminence Jo Pithon and his stepson Joseph Paillé, whose talents with both Chenin Blanc and Cabernet Franc are considerable. This Chinon beautifully demonstrates how “natural” wine can also be polished.”
Domaine Pithon-Paillé, Dessus Narçay, 2017, Chinon, France
Winery: Domaine Python-Paillé
Appellation: AOC Chinon
Grape Varietals: Cabernet Franc