The Peerless Pinot Noir of Philippe Gilbert

Posted on Posted in Domaine Philippe Gilbert, Rosenthal Wine Merchant News, RWM Contributor

Introducing Two Spectacular New Cuvées of Menetou-Salon Rouge

Philippe Gilbert produces Pinot Noir as one who understands the variety to its core—its charms, its challenges, and its ability to display utmost finesse. Some eastern Loire Pinot Noir suffers from a “Burgundy inferiority complex,” with extraction and oak employed to compensate for the terroir’s tendency toward leanness; other examples display the opposite, with a simple, curt elevage overstating Pinot’s relative simplicity in these zones vis-à-vis the Côte d’Or. Philippe, on the other hand, finds a deeply satisfying middle ground, capturing both Pinot Noir’s general innate complexity and the particular mineral-drenched exuberance his home appellation can show when produced with sensitivity and skill.

Two decades ago, Philippe was derailed from a successful career in theater by his father’s looming retirement and the attendant possibility that the family domaine—part of the Gilbert lineage since 1768—would have to be sold. A deeply thoughtful, intelligent, and hilarious man, Philippe slowly and deliberately found his path, becoming the first biodynamic producer in Menetou-Salon (certified since 2017 but practicing since the mid-2000s), and refining his approach in the cellar increasingly toward non-interventionism. He is fortunate to have a sizable swath of superbly tended old vines to work with, largely in plots planted by his grandfather in the early 1960s, and his cellar approach today yields wines of real vivacity and complexity from these phenomenal raw materials.

We are thrilled to debut two new cuvées of Pinot Noir from Philippe, alongside the 2019 Menetou-Salon Blanc and replenishments of the delightful 2018 basic Menetou-Salon Rouge. Both wines offer remarkable complexity and reveal new sides of this endlessly fascinating variety as voiced through this underappreciated appellation.

2018 Menetou-Salon Rouge
Philippe’s flagship Menetou-Salon Rouge offers mesmerizing purity of fruit, with a silken, vibrant texture complementing a sense of mouthwatering sappiness. Fermentation (spontaneous, of course) and aging take place in a massive 90-hectoliter tronconic oak cask, whose large size and relatively low porosity allows Philippe to use a bare minimum of sulfur (40 milligrams per liter in total) during the elevage. The chalky thrust of the terroir asserts itself particularly strongly in this 2018, which wears the warmth of the vintage effortlessly; biodynamics has allowed Philippe to gain full ripeness at significantly lower degrees of alcohol—a boon in the post-climate-change era, to be sure.

2019 Menetou-Salon Rouge “Hors-Série” [NEW] “Hors-Série”—which translates roughly to “special-issue”—comes from a parcel of Pinot Noir planted in 1980 by Philippe’s father. Fermentation and aging occur in a large 90-hectoliter tronconic cask, with no sulfur added at all during the elevage (20 milligrams per liter are added just prior to bottling); neither fining nor filtration are employed. If the “35 Rangs” below showcases the depth Pinot Noir can achieve in this appellation, “Hors-Série” presents the dizzying heights: lifted, luminous red fruits, exuberant spice (this was vinified with 50% whole clusters), and sizzling, cleansing acidity make for a remarkably kinetic drinking experience. Only 25 cases are available for the US market.

2015 Menetou-Salon Rouge “35 Rangs” [NEW] “35 Rangs” is produced from 35 rows of Pinot Noir planted by Philippe’s grandfather in the early 1960s in the iron-laced Kimmeridgian soils of the Champaloin vineyard. He employs 40-50% whole clusters in the vinification, which lends the wine an upper register of savory spices that beautifully complements its ripe, tangy cherry fruit. Aged for 18 months in well-worn 600-liter barrels, the 2015 “35 Rangs” offers surprising depth for a Pinot Noir from this zone, with rippling energy that speaks of ultra-healthy fruit, and enough lurking power to suggest at least a decade more of upside in the cellar. Only 20 cases are available for the US market.

2019 Menetou-Salon Blanc
Philippe’s stellar Menetou-Salon Blanc is unfailingly mineral-driven, yet without the straitjacketed citrussy rigidity more conventionally and commercially minded Loire Sauvignon Blanc frequently displays. A sense of lusciousness–one that is distinct from viscosity—provides a texturally attractive counterpoint to the rapier-like acidity, and nods ever so glancingly to its upstream Chenin-Blanc-based cousins, yet this is unmistakably Kimmeridgian-grown Sauvignon Blanc through and through. Fermentation occurs spontaneously, and aging takes place on the fine lees in stainless steel for one year, with total sulfur hovering at a modest 60 milligrams per liter.

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