Tuesday, February 24, 2009

WN: Frederic Mabileau 2006 Les Rouilleres

From the moment I poured the Frederic Mabileau 2006 Les Rouilleres into my decanter, I had a positive feeling this was going to be a delicious, fun wine: there was that unmistakable sweet, sweaty aroma of farm animals. No, a sheep hadn't pooped in the wine. This was wine with some serious in your face Brettanomyces funk. Definitely not a wine for everyone, especially if you like your wine as processed as Velveeta cheese, but the bouquet conjured up an image of picking ripe cherries in a country orchard with jasmine simultaneously in full bloom, some dry underbrush under foot, and a horse stable a few hundred meters in the distance.

But let me take a step back before I wax poetic further about why such a seemingly idiosyncratic wine is so very very right. Frederic Mabileau is a producer based in Saint-Nicolas-de-Bourgeil, a small appellation in the Loire Valley across the Loire River from Chinon and adjacent to Bourgueil to its the west. The Loire Valley is to Cabernet Franc what Burgundy is to Pinot Noir. If you want authentic Cab Franc, the Loire is the go-to option.

Of course, if you can't stand Brett, the Loire might not be your preferred destination. But the interesting quality I've found in several Loire Cab Francs is that the animale funk is entirely in the bouquet; the flavor of the wine remains unspoiled. Often times a funky nose is simply a precursor to similar shenanigans on your palate. But this was not the case with the '06 Rouilleres. As usual, the rustic nose gave way to a clean, cherry-driven attack with moderate acidity and just enough tannin to sustain the finish. This is an aromatic wine with floral qualities in the driver's seat, and livestock, herbs and ripe berries in the backseat that nonetheless has the body and even elegance to seduce.

And if that's not enough intrigue, there's also an utter lack of oak worth highlighting. A disturbing proportion of American red wines are simply abused with oak to the point that the vanillin leached from the barrel dominates every other aroma and flavor. Some folks get it right and treat oak like one would treat salt while cooking, as a seasoning to complement other flavors. Ideally, oak adds a bit to the aromatics while also adding some tannins for structure and to lengthen the finish. But far too many producers simply oak the crap out of everything in sight, then ask questions later. Well, Mabileau didn't mess around with this cuvee: it was aged in stainless steel and bottled only lightly filtered. What you get is the pure fruit in all of its glory with whatever Brett decides to tag along in the bottle for the cross Atlantic trip. This wine absolutely oozes character and craftsmanship, and is also a great value. Superb stuff that somehow manages to be both rustic and polished simultaneously.

Score: 90-92
Price: $14 from Winelibrary

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