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During my first visit to Domaine Olga Raffault in 1990, wine-maker Ernest Zenninger would keep disappearing into the basement returning with older and older mouldy bottles of their Chinon "Les Picasses." While I was well acquainted with the wines of Chinon and Bourgueil at the time, this was my first experience of the remarkable complexity and delicacy of the wines at fifteen to thirty years of age. We have been collecting back vintages from this great estate over the past few years and are happy to offer a limited quantity of older vintages, as well as a vertical tasting accompanied by the wonderful cuisine of Chef Frédéric Duca at Racines NY.
The importance of the estate was established before World War Two by Pierre Raffault, who died suddenly before the harvest in 1947. From the Domaine's web-site: "Olga, then mother of two children, and conscious of her duty, was able to complete this exceptional vintage with the help of Ernest Zenninger (pictured), a German prisoner working at the estate since the end of the war.
This courageous and generous man had never understood the war, and quickly found his way through the profound friendship that he developed for his "protectors," the Raffault family. Through them he discovered a new vocation: to dedicate his life to the vines and to support Olga and her two children, a promise that he made to the dying Pierre Raffault." Ernest became a great winemaker and our tastings with him were always marked by his enthusiam, intelligence and humor. The estate is currently directed by Sylvie Raffault and her husband, Eric de la Vigerie, who have made dramatic improvements (the estate is currently under conversion to organic agriculture) while maintaining the very traditional style of winemaking. "We hope to conserve the historic path of Olga and Ernest through traditional vinifications with minimal intervention, giving the wine time to develop through long elevage in large barrels and vats" (four years for the "Picasses"), "waiting until the wine is ready before marketing, preserving the fidelity of the great lovers of Chinon." The Raffaults have great vineyard sites, principally "Les Picasses," a superb south-facing parcel on clay over limestone, but their "Les Peuilles," a plateau vineyard of clay/ silica soils and their parcels on sand and gravel soils near the Loire and the Vienne, give beautiful wines as well. We have always loved the great white Chinon, "Le Champ-Chenin," produced by the Raffaults - this unique and superb Chenin Blanc is scintillating and mineral when young and ages beautifully, perhaps best at ten to twenty years of age. We're sorry, but quantities of the older wines are very limited - all wines arrive by 11/01 and discount on case or mixed case purchases.
Since Olga Raffault’s passing, the estate has been run by her granddaughter Sylvie and her husband Eric de la Vigerie. Vineyard work and winemaking practices are very traditional: vineyard maintenance is done by hand, native yeast fermentations, and long, slow élevage in large, neutral oak (sometimes chestnut, a local wood in the region) barrels. Les Picasses is their top vineyard with 50-year-old Cabernet Franc vines planted in hard alluvial clay soils with a chalk limestone base on semi-steep slopes facing south. This is the perfect terroir to showcase classic Chinon aromas of black cherry, currant, cool blueberry fruit, white pepper, and a touch of tangerine. The palate is fresh and vibrant with juicy plum and black cherry fruit dotted with spice. Tannins are quite soft, yet present, and the finish is long and mineral with dark berry fruit. This is an outstanding example of what Cabernet Franc can be! 2010 is a great vintage for this wine, with the depth and structure for long-term aging. Tim Gagnon
Olga Raffault has always been one of my favorite producers, likely because it was one of the first great Loire reds I stumbled upon early in my wine life. The 2009 Les Picasses fits into my idea of that first real bottle of Chinon I had all those years ago. The nose leads with red plum and dark cherries followed by classic herbaceous notes, tobacco and just a touch of brettanomyces. The palate shows elegance with soft tannins and plenty of acidity even though the flavors are bold: red plums, turned earth, and a fresh herbaceous character without being at all funky. A great pairing for roasted chicken and herbed potatoes, seared salmon with salsa verde, or pork sirloin steaks. Open and decant now or age for another few years, then drink until 2030 and beyond, and above all else enjoy. Andy Paynter
Please join us on Nov. 15th at 7pm for this historic vertical tasting and dinner featuring ten vintages of the Olga Raffault "Les Picasses:" 1979, 1981, 1982, 1985, 1989, 1990, 2002, 2007, 2010 and 2012, along with the 2012 "Les Peuilles" and the 2015 "Champ-Chenin." (With a glass of Baudry Rosé to put us in the mood.) We'll enjoy a superb four-course meal prepared by Racines NY Executive Chef Frédéric Duca, who is creating some of the finest French cuisine in America. David Lillie of Chambers Street Wines and Juliette Pope of David Bowler Wines will provide notes and comment. $175, inclusive of wine, tax and service. Racines NY, 94 Chambers St. (212) 227-3400
The Olga Raffault "Champ Chenin" has always been one of the great white Chinons, often needing 10 years of aging before it would reveal its mysteries. Happily, the wine is now made in a more approachable style, without losing the intensity and ability to age of this lovely Chenin. The 2015 shows striking aromas of pear and apple liqueur, dried herbs and white pepper with hints of exotic fruits. The palate is elegant and firmly structured, with subtle white fruits, citrus peel and stone flavors. The finish is long, with lemony acids, stone and saline mineral flavors. This is a lovely and very distinctive Chenin Blanc from an excellent vintage that will accompany grilled fish, roast chicken and mild cheeses - or hold for five to twenty years and serve with fish or chicken in sauce. David Lillie
From a vineyard of clay/silica over limestone soils in Beaumont, the "Les Peuilles" is a bit more forward than the "Les Picasses," with bright red-fruit aromas and a more supple palate, but still marked by the acidity and structure typical of Chinon on clay. Serve cool if drinking now or hold for ten years or more.
Les Picasses is one of the greatest vineyards in Chinon - a south-facing slope of clay over porous limestone that retains water and nutrients, nourishing the vines. While the wine is amply fruited and enjoyable young, it has firm acidity and structure for long-term aging, up to 30 years and more depending on the vintage. 2012 was a quite successful vintage for Loire reds, which generally showed vibrant fruit, fresh acidity and moderate alcohol. Not a "big" vintage but one of very pretty, well-balanced wines. The 2012 Raffault "Les Picasses" is a surprisingly full-bodied wine, showing ripe strawberry, blackberry, and cooked prune with a fabulous earthy core of stone and mineral flavors. The palate is dense with blackberry, prune, citrus, earth, licorice and cocoa with a long fresh finish. Ripe and forward enough to drink now with anything from roast chicken to steak, the 2012 should age beautifully, perhaps best 2020 to 2030 and beyond...? David Lillie
A lovely young Chinon Picasses with the beautiful aromatic profile of this great vineyard — tart cherry, strawberry compote, earth and white pepper — really lovely. Earthy red and black fruits on the palate with the usual bracing acidity. Nice finish of "sous-bois," fruit compote and earth with juicy acids. A great food wine, perfect with roast chicken. We thank the young Eric de la Vigerie who is doing great work at Domaine Olga Raffault, and we remember wonderful tastings with Ernest Zenninger, partner and winemaker for Olga Raffault from 1947 till the late 1980s.
Another great vintage for the Raffault "Les Picasses," 1990 was the second of two hot, dry summers, producing wines that were lush, round and very ripe but lacking the perfect balance of the 1989s. Having said that, many people have preferred this vintage to 1989, finding it more velvety and forward.
1985 was a vintage for Loire reds that American reviewers happily called "green and herbaceous" and in this case they were right! However, as is often the case with less sunny vintages in the Loire, the wine has improved steadily over the years and showed beautifully at our dinner with the Raffaults last fall.
Tasted in 2004, the 1982 "Les Picasses" showed lovely red fruit aromas, and a medium-bodied palate of berry fruits with mushroom, animal, spice and earth tones. Certainly a good vintage, but overshadowed by the excellent 1978 and 1976 tasted just after. If anyone has some '78 or '76 lying around, please let us know...
Recent tastings of the Olga Raffault "les Picasses" going back to 1979 have consistently revealed light, very complex and beautiful old wines, still possessing a core of red and black fruits with lovely secondary flavors of mushroom, sous-bois, licorice, and graphite with herbal and vegetal notes. Serve with wild mushrooms, truffle omelet, coq au vin....