The hallmarks of Coteaux du Giennois are light-bodied, fruity and crisp, dry white wines. However, dry rosé is also produced on the appellation’s 195 hectares (482 acres).
Northeast of Sancerre, on the banks of the Loire River, Coteaux du Giennois is in the departments of Nièvre and Loiret. This appellation stretches over fourteen villages:
Beaulieu, Bonny, Gien, Briare, Ousson, Thou, Alligny, La-Celle-sur-Loire, Cosne-cours-sur-Loire, Myennes, Neuvy, Pougny, Saint-Loup and Saint-Père. The limestone soil is characteristically flinty.
Grape seeds found in archaeological digs in Cosne-sur-Loire date to the 2nd century. It was in 849 that King Charles le Chauve (the Bald) confirmed a donation of vines and property made by the Bishop of Auxerre to the college of the Church of Saint-Laurent in Cosne. Records from 1218 show that wines from the Giennois vineyards were purchased by the Royal Court of King Philippe II Auguste in Paris. The castle of Cosne was built between 1254 and 1262 by the Bishop of Auxerre, which included vineyards, as well as a vast wine cellar. In January 1566, Charles IX and his mother, Catherine de Médicis, stopped in Cosne, where they were offered bottles of the finest local wines.
The building of numerous abbeys in the region contributed greatly to the increase in the number of vineyards. The Cistercian Abbey of Roche in Myennes and the Commandery of the Templars were particularly influential. Around this time, Coteaux du Giennois vines were also cultivated farther down the Loire River, in the vineyards of the famous Fleury Abbey in St-Benoit-sur-Loire.
The grapevines are planted in flinty or calcareous soil along the hillsides of the Loire. There are also old terraces on the Loire at Gien and extensions of the Sancerrois and Pouilly geological formations, mostly limestone to the east of the Cosne Fault and siliceous to the west with deposits of flint dating from the Tertiary Period.
The “Vendanges” (grape harvest) in Centre-Loire begin between the last week of September and the first week of October, ending the last two weeks of October. Some grapes are still harvested by hand, particularly red grapes, though most are picked with mechanical grape harvesters. The grapes are sent to the modern wine storehouses for processing. In the Centre-Loire, three winemaking methods are employed.
White Coteaux du Giennois wines present notes of minerals, quince and white flowers. The reds are elegant and fruity, with hints of dark and red berries plus subtle peppery flavours. They are delicate, delivering aromas of vineyard peach.
At its most ripe, the harvest is pressed as soon as the grapes arrive. For 12 to 24 hours, the must is racked, before it's placed into a fermentation tank, where it will ferment at a temperature of 64°F. Temperature control allows for longer fermentations, which gives more intense and delicate aromas. Once fermentation is complete, a racking is made to remove the first layer of lees. The wine matures in tanks with a thin layer of lees. The first vintages are bottled between March and September, with some waiting more than a year before being bottled.
After the stems from the ripe grapes are partially or completely removed, the fruit passes through a crusher, then placed into maceration and fermentation tanks. The maceration allows contact with the grape juice and skins, which contain the coloring pigments. Temperatures of 77 °F to 86 °F must be reached in order to fully extract the color. Should there be a cooler-than-normal autumn, the grapes are heated in order to trigger the fermentation process.
To ensure homogeneity and optimum contact of the grape juice and skins, pumping and treading of the must is performed once or twice per day. When the desired color and body have been obtained, the must is drawn off and pressed. The press and free-run juices are then put into tanks or barrels. Once the alcoholic fermentation is complete, the malolactic fermentation begins, which results in a natural loss of acidity. At this point, a first racking is made. Maturing begins, with several additional rackings occurring during the various phases of clarification. The first wines are bottled in spring, while wines matured in oak barrels wait one year before bottling.
Rosé wines are created using two different methods:
The first method is known as rosé de pressée. It consists of pressing of the grapes as soon as they are harvested, just as for white wines. There is a short time of contact between the grape juice and the skin, and as a result, the color is lighter. The second method is called rosé de saignée. It begins with maceration, followed by racking until the desired color is obtained. This wine is stronger and more full-bodied.
The methods of maturing, stabilization and clarification are the same as those used for white wines.
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