A local wine bar sometimes pours a bottle or two of special wine by the glass on Sunday evenings. While I missed this particular Sunday session, there was still some available when I next visited, and I’m so glad I had the opportunity to taste this wine, the Bainbridge and Cathcart Cuvée Rouge aux Lèvres 2011.
So yes, it’s a new grape, pushing me that little bit closer to a Century of Wines. Today’s variety is Grolleau Noir, a dark grape of the Loire Valley, found in the rosé and sparkling wines of Anjou, Touraine and Saumur. It buds early and ripens midway through vintage, just after Gamay Noir. It is known for high yields and is made into light bodied wine with high acidity. While at one time it was widely planted, there was a significant decrease in the area under vine in the second half of the 20th century, though that trend seems to have slowed of late. I can’t find any indication of this variety being planted outside of France, or indeed even outside of the Loire. Curiously though, Wine Grapes says that it is known as Bourdalès in Madiran, quite some ways from the Loire, but doesn’t mention it being planted there.
Apologies for the especially poor quality of the photo, including the semi-detached nature of the label, but there is some detail that I hope you can make out. This wine is neither rosé nor sparkling. Grolleau Noir is not a permitted grape in red wines under the appellation rules of the Loire Valley, which should explain another detail visible in the photo, that this is a Vin de France. When I was initially learning about the Appellation d’Origine Contrôlée system within France, I thought it was too restrictive in terms of not allowing for innovation or experimentation. Since then I like to think that my opinion has become somewhat more nuanced. Producers within France are in fact innovating and experimenting, some within classic wine producing regions. However, in doing so they often have to give up the right to claim themselves as part of a particular appellation, and instead can only describe themselves as Vin de Pays or Vin de France. Given that many French appellations have long established reputations, I think it’s a reasonable trade-off in terms of allowing winemakers to do what they want, while protecting the brands of appellations.
So what we have here is a grape that’s increasingly rare where it originates and unknown elsewhere, made into a varietal wine contrary to the appellation rules, sent to the far side of the world and into the glass of someone on a quest to taste 100 different varietal wines. I hope you can see why I felt fortunate to have the opportunity to taste it. To top it off, one of the local names for the variety, Groslot, translates to jackpot. It’s as though they made this wine just for me.
This wine is the work of Toby and Julie Bainbridge. Toby, originally from England, and Julie, a native of Oklahoma, have been in France for 11 years, and have been working with Domain Mosse for most of it. In 2007, with the help of Ali and Rob Cathcart, they branched out to make their own wines on the side. They have 4.2HA of vines spread between Faye D’Anjou and Chavagnes les Eaux, roughly 18km south by south east of Angers in the Anjou and Saumur region of the Loire Valley, and I believe as of last year they’ve been able to give up their day jobs to focus on their own label.
It appears their vines are staked, or at the very least not trained on wires. There is some tilling by tractor, and they acquired a sprayer last year, but I would bet that most of the work in the vineyard is done by hand. They hand pick their grapes into buckets and small tubs, and use a traditional basket press. They grow Groslot (Grolleau Noir), Cabernet Franc and Chenin Blanc, and make varietal wines of each. They also apparently have an unfiltered, rosé, sparkling project, La Danseuse, from the 2012 vintage that was in riddling racks as of a few months ago, but I haven’t been able to dig up any further details.
Bainbridge and Cathcart don’t have a website as such, which is why there is no link in the first paragraph, but they do have a Facebook page with some photos and information in which they describe themselves as a natural winery. I’ve written on the topic of natural wine before, so I don’t need to get into it again here. Regardless of what I think of the term “natural”, I wholeheartedly support experimentation and innovation, which is clearly happening at Bainbridge and Cathcart.
Unfortunately, I can’t find any details as to their winemaking, so there’s some speculation in this paragraph. They put their wine under crown cap in clear bottles typically used for sparkling wine, and there is some CO2 in the bottle that one of their distributors describes as “a preservative”. The CO2 could in fact be added but I would think it’s more likely from being bottled unfiltered before fermentation is complete. The label also indicates sulfites, but some are naturally occurring during fermentation, so I can’t say if they add sulphur at bottling.
In the glass, this wine is clear and bright, with a dark purple colour and quick legs when swirled. On the nose it’s clean and youthful, with medium plus intensity, and peppery notes as well as brambles, plums, and red currants. On the palate it’s dry, with medium plus mouth coating tannins, medium plus acidity, medium body, medium alcohol, medium plus intensity, and medium length. There are notes of plum – some red and some green – as well as pepper, and a bit of stem, but the fruit is very fresh. There are also some violet notes on the finish.
I rate this wine as very good. It has a fair amount of concentration, and the combination of the tannins and acidity make me think of the bite of unsweetened cranberry juice (which is not to say that it tastes of cranberries, if that makes sense). The complexity of flavours is good as far as not just fruit but some lively spice as well. I can’t really speak to its typicity as this is my first encounter with Grolleau Noir. It reminds me a bit of Cabernet Franc, largely because of the stem notes, but it’s clearly a different variety. I enjoyed this wine slightly chilled on a warm day and it absolutely hit the spot.
Pin in the map is only accurate to the town/postcode level.