Grape(s): Sauvignon Blanc
Localization: Loire, France
Tasting Notes: This is full-bodied, impossibly mineral, and occasionally botrytis-tinged Sauvignon with the doors blown off. The palate is initially rich, with a real feeling of density and viscosity, but then the classic Monts Damnés minerality kicks in; the wine is fine, elegant and chalky with an intense freshness that leaves a clean and energetic finish.
The Domain: There's Sauvignon Blanc, and then there's Sauvignon Blanc as imagined by François Cotat. Devotees can tell you that what happens in this modest cellar in Chavignol is one part winemaking, three parts magic. Suffice it to say that Cotat Sauvignon has to be tasted to be believed.
The Cotat family has tended both Sauvignon Blanc and Pinot Noir on the slopes of the Monts Damnés in Chavignol since the end of the second World War; it was only in the 1990s when two brothers, Paul and Francis, handed over the family domaine to their sons, François and Pascal, respectively. Today there are two Cotat domaines—one in Chavignol, headed by François, and one in Sancerre, run by Pascal. What sets these cousins apart is less important than what they share—a passion for natural winemaking and a truly amazing touch with Sauvignon Blanc.
François runs a 100% organic domaine, tending and harvesting his vines by hand. Harvest is never rushed; in fact, François (as does his cousin Pascal) harvests more than a week after every other winery in the region. Needless to say, extra maturity on the vine means extra body and complexity in the wine. Vineyards are located on very steep slopes, requiring a hand harvest that has become a bit of a pilgrimage for Cotat devotees. The steepest plots can only be worked by sliding down with a cushion tied to your rear while you hold the bucket in front of you. The cousins invented this amusing system, and pickers come from all over Europe every year to volunteer for the harvest.
Soils in Chavignol share the same chalky heart as Chablis; this “terre blanche” imparts a steely, mineral-rich backbone to François' single-vineyard cuvées—“Les Monts Damnés,” “Les Culs de Beaujeu” and “Grande Côte.” Yet at the same time there are wines that show a glycerin-like texture in the mouth, a wonderfully fleshy sweetness that is seldom seen with Sauvignon. While François keeps an old wooden hand press in his cellar to remind him how his father used to make wine, he opts for a modern press—yet everything else is natural, from sugar fermentation in barrique to bottling wines unfined and unfiltered.
Cotat’s wines truly benefit from age. While these wines are irresistible when they are young, one of the unique pleasures of putting down a few bottles is to later discover a rich, custard-like wine that defies everything you would expect from racy Loire Valley Sauvignon Blanc.