Bourgueil is one of the three great red wine appellations of the Touraine region of the Loire Valley. The other two are St-Nicolas-de-Bourgueil and Chinon. Chinon's inexpensive, easily drinkable, but ageworthy and complex wines are probably the most critically acclaimed here. But many drinkers prefer Bourgueils for their unctuous thickness, deep, complex flavors, and distinctive dark berry fruit notes.
The Bourgueil AOC is named for the Indre-et-Loire village in which most of the wine is produced. At around 13 square miles, Bourgueil is quite large and has many vineyards. The five other designated villages for production, Benais, Chouzé-sur-Loire, La Chapelle-sur-Loire, Restigné, and St-Patrice bring the total land under vine up to nearly 3,000 acres. About 750,000 cases of Bourgueil are produced each year, translating to about 9 million bottles. Of those, only several hundred thousand are rosé. The great majority of Bourgueil wines are reds.
Like many of the old Touraine appellations, Bourgueil has a long history. It received its AOC status in 1937, along with the first appellations of the Loire. No major modifications have been made since.
Climate and Viticulture
Bourgueil's vineyards are situated on the river, which has a major influence on the style of the wines. It has been noted that vineyards closer to the water yield more mild wines, with Cabernet Franc's usual red fruit flavors. Grapes further away turn into wines with more intense, dark flavors of currant and black cherry.
The reason is that closer to the water, the soils are softer and more sandy, which makes for soft, fruit-forward wines. On the hills above the riverbanks, the soils are limestone, and make for much more pungent, powerful wines.
- Cabernet Franc: Called Cabernet Breton, Petit Breton, or just plain Breton in the Bourgueil region, Cabernet Franc makes some of its great wines here. An unfairly uncommon and underrated grape in much of the world, it makes diverse wines in Bourgueil. Lighter examples combine delicious currant flavors with an essence of ruby berries and some floral scents. The more intense wines (this is the style that Bourgueil is better known for) derive their power from nearly black berry and currant fruit scents and are more earthy. Like most Cabernet Francs, either style can be appreciated early. But the wines are better off aged 5-10 years, and have good long-term aging potential.
- Cabernet Sauvignon: Regulations allow 10% of Cabernet Sauvignon to be blended into these wines, evidently for the purpose of making them thicker and more complex. Most producers prefer to keep their Cab Franc pure, but since they aren't required to state the blend, it's difficult to tell who uses Cab and who doesn't.
Though this region's wines are considered very reliable, we can nonetheless recommend half a dozen producers who make especially good cuvées.
- Yannick Amirault: This producer has an impressive array of wines. The earthy, pungent, high-powered La Coudraye is an expression of the heavy-duty style of Cab Franc this region is known for. The Le Grand Clos is even thicker, with purple coloring and grandiose black cherry flavor. The other cuvées are also good. These wines are in the $15-$25 range and are well-priced at that, considering the complexity of their flavors.
- Catherine & Pierre Breton: Breton is a very prominent producer here. A wide range of wines are offered, most of them inexpensive. The basic Bourgueil is rich but ripe and spicy with red fruit flavors. The Clos Senechal is far more intense, with bitter but firm, solidly rounded black fruit and fresh earth aromas. Clos Senechal is over $30; if you're looking for a bargain, try the Trinch.
- Domaine de la Chanteleuserie: Aside from the basic wines, which are themselves pretty good, this domaine makes two cuvées of interest. The Alouettes is bitter has good flavors of red fruit and brown spice. The Beauvais is more intense, with thick, bittersweet licorice touches and darker, more anonymous fruit notes. Both are great wines for aging or drinking young.
- Domaine de Chevalerie: Even the basic wine here is better than most cuvées, for merely $15 offering pungent red and black fruit scents, as well as smoky earth notes. At around $20 the Galichets cuvée is fresher and lighter. Both wines could be drunk early or aged.
- Pierre-Jacques Druet: Although availability is a weakness for this producer, the wines are worth seeking out, especially the Vaumoreau. This luxurious cuvée is concentrated and has thick, dark fruit flavors and a bittersweet tinge. It is a classical style certainly made for aging.
- Fréderic Mabileau: This producer is much better known for their work in St-Nicolas-de-Bourgeuil, but in Bourgueil their Racines cuvée is also remarkable. Full of dark fruit and herb flavors, it strikes a good balance between the light and intense styles, and has a long finish without seeming overbearing.
St-Nicolas-de-Bourgueil is like a sister appellation to Bourgueil; it is neither a satellite nor a subregion, as falsely presumed. Bourgueil actually has no officially designated subregions of its own.