One of the Loire regions hardest hit by frost this spring (the worst since 1991, with some growers cropping as little as 5-10 hl/ha, a fraction of an increasingly rare ‘normal’ crop) the Nantais concluded its harvest in fine conditions after a growing season full of challenges to stretch every grower.
A wet spring and extended cold, damp flowering period compounded the in-some-cases gloomy start to the season. Heat and drought ensued in a summer that even challenged holiday makers with more than one period of exceptionally high temperatures. The only good news in this, other than sun tans all round, was that earlier disease pressure in the vineyards was stopped in its tracks, and there will not be much need to chaptalise this year either.
A fine late season, with a little rain at just the right time to revive the vines and restart maturation, and dry, sunny, often windy days and chilly nights allowed growers to bring in a healthy, if often cruelly small crop.
On my recent visit at the tail end of the harvest I saw – and tasted – healthy fruit, talked with sanguine (mighty relieved) growers and heard some pretty tragic stories that may see more Muscadet vignerons throwing in the towel.
And the wines? There will not be a consistent picture (it was a particularly tricky year for organic producers for example), but the best results will produce a richer style of Muscadet, perhaps somewhere between 2015 and 2003 in style.
Jo Locke MW
As the mercury lowers and the nights draw in, October’s Staff Choice is naturally… a rosé.
Hats off to Cellar Showroom manager Lisa Fletcher for reminding us, quite rightly, that drinking pink needn’t be confined to the summer months; and this well-priced off-dry wine from the exceptionally reliable Bougrier family is as versatile with weather as it is with food. Take a look at Lisa’s recommendation below…
I enjoy this delicious wine all year round. Light, refreshing and only 11% alcohol, it has bags of character for the price with delicious sweet (but never sickly) fruit flavours. Its off-dry palate and lovely delicate flavour makes it all-too-easy to enjoy on its own, but it’s also a surprisingly versatile food wine.
Recently it proved a big hit with salmon and some cold cuts; it goes brilliantly with chicken and even a mild Saturday night curry.
Another reason I always keep some of this in my wine rack is because it’s my ‘mother-in-law wine’: she enjoys off-dry rosés, and this always hits the spot!
£6.50 – Bottle
£78 – Case of 12
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Wine Society members cordially invited to attend a night of jazz and bubbles at Sparkling Saumur producer Gratien & Meyer’s headquarters in Saumur on Saturday 2nd July, 2016.
In the March edition of Societynews, Olivier Dupré, CEO of Gratien & Meyer in Saumur and Champagne Alfred Gratien in Epernay, mentioned in our interview with him that the company puts on a programme of summer events every year which are proving very popular.
Olivier generously offered to waive the entrance fee of 8€ for Wine Society members (take along a copy of Societynews or your List as proof of membership), in recognition of the long-standing relationship that exists between our two companies.
What more of a pleasant way to start your summer than with a glass of sparkling Saumur sipped slowly on Gratien & Meyer’s balcony overlooking the Saumur river, listening to some jazzy melodies from the exciting live acts set to perform?
The evening starts at 4pm and goes on until 9pm and this year’s programme looks as though it will be just as popular as previous years, with artists like the Rachel Ratsizafy Quartet, Three for Swing and the Patricia Ouvrard Quartet playing during the course of the evening.
• Rachel Ratsizafy is French of Madagascan heritage and her music is heavily influenced by the traditional Madagascan songs or ‘Kalo fahiny’ of her youth. She is supported by a talented backing band and guest vocalist Marc Thomas.
• Three for Swing are well-known among jazz lovers and were formed to revive the swing music made famous by the Nat King Cole trio. In order to do justice to such a jazz legend requires musicians with immense talent and personality, not to mention a singer with a voice like liquid gold!
• Patricia Ouvrard is a singer with an extraordinary talent for improvisation; she’s also that rare thing amongst female vocalists, a scat-singer. Supported by her trio of equally talented musicians, she will treat the audience to some jazz standards given a sensitive rendition by the purity of her voice.
If you like the sound of an evening of jazz and sparkling Saumur wines enjoyed on the terrace of our longest-standing suppliers, Gratien & Meyer, and you will be in the region next month, take a look at the event website for more details.
Saturday 2nd July 2016 from 4.00pm to 9pm
Caves Gratien & Meyer à Saumur.
Tarif 8€ per person, or free for Wine Society members
Gratien & Meyer
Route de Montsoreau
Tel. 02 41 83 13 32
I could have sworn I saw a swallow earlier this week; and with the onset of darkness now retreating to past 8 o’clock I feel I can dare to dream of more temperate times to come. Indeed, in The Cellar Showroom this week I have noticed a marked shift towards white wine purchases. Society members appear to share my optimism.
For me, no grape screams spring and summer like sauvignon blanc. Fresh, herbaceous, citric, tropical… the styles from around the world all seem to have an affinity to the time of year when hats and scarves can be mothballed.
Lovely as these wines are, though…
Recently I have been particularly taken with a number of sauvignon blanc blends.
Adding another grape or two to sauvignon blanc can temper the variety’s natural acidity and can complement sauvignon’s flavour profile with a splash of something different.
Four Sauvignons With a Twist• Member favourite Duo Des Mers, Sauvignon-Viognier Vin de France 2015 (£5.95) benefits from the fattening and softening influence of the viognier grape’s texture, whilst also bringing the characteristic apricot and peach aromas to the wine.
•Another popular French choice, Cheverny, Domaine du Salvard 2015 (£7.95), employs 10-15% chardonnay in the blend to give greater breadth and depth, but without masking the herbaceous scents of the sauvignon.
• Bleasdale Langhorne Crossing Verdelho-Sauvignon 2015 (£6.95) combines sauvignon blanc with another spring-and-summer variety: the vibrant verdelho, which introduces pleasant pear-like notes and tropical tones to the blend.
• In Spain, moscatel can add its floral aromatics and bring a more table-grape dimension to the fruit character, as is the case in Saleta Moscatel-Sauvignon Blanc 2015 (£5.95). This wine has excellent balance, with the sauvignon blanc moderating any of moscatel’s sweetness with its crisp acidity and ensuring the wine remains dry.
I don’t want to tempt fate but I shall be putting all of the above in the chiller in anticipation of the appropriate weather.
If not, I may just have to turn the thermostat up.
The Cellar Showroom
After a (ahem) dry January, our Staff Choice section returns for February, and will be updated every month with a new recommendation from our thirsty team!
February’s selection comes from our Marketing Team’s Gareth Park:
I’ve been a fan of this wine for a long time, mainly due to its honesty. It’s not a showstopper or flashy in any way but instead is a good juicy red that, at less than £7 per bottle, comes in at a very reasonable price.
I particularly like the way that there isn’t anything confected or false about the wine. It tastes like product of soil, sun and man all in balance; as they should be. A lovely example of Loire cabernet franc from a cracking vintage.
Marketing Campaign Manager
£6.95 – Bottle
£83.00 – Case of 12
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The downside of having a small cellar in another country is that it is generally only topped up once a year with Wine Society wines, and similarly audited, with the odd bottle passing its recommended drinking window.
This Christmas’ pleasant surprise was Bernard Chéreau‘s Muscadet Sèvre-et-Maine, Le Clos du Château L’Oiselinière 2003.
When I joined The Society as a buyer in 2004, 2003 was the vintage I was confronted with. At the time I struggled to get to grips with it, especially in the Loire, where the ‘norm’ is something quite different.
There have been warm, ripe vintages since (notably 2005 and 2009) and I have come to think of 2003 as atypical, rather than the Hyde to the regular Dr Jekyll.
The biggest fear at the time was that the wines would have insufficient acidity to maintain freshness even over the short to medium term. Unusually, permission was granted to add acid but, with little or no experience of doing so, few growers did.
The best wines found their balance and I have enjoyed numerous examples over the last few years.
The Le Clos was still remarkably good AND fresh, and complemented a buttery and flavoursome chicken admirably.
Jo Locke MW
The 2009 vintage of Muscadet Sèvre-et-Maine, Le Clos du Château L’Oiselinière is currently available for £10.95 per bottle.
In water ones sees one’s own face; but in wine one holds the heart of another. – French Proverb
Far be it from me to hinder one’s hydration but the day for love approaches. Wine considerations feature highly on this day: my partner and I decided many moons ago not to venture out on Valentine’s to subject ourselves to the set menus but to instead stay home and try and create our own feast using the money saved to add to a food fund and also a wine reserve allowing us to choose and purchase four bottles of wine…
…half bottles that is.
I mentioned some time ago that these perfect proportions allow you to be more indulgent and match your wine to a particular course should you wish to, without feeling guilty or feeling you are hampering your health.
Commencing with something sparkling is a prerequisite for us. The Society’s Champagne Brut NV (£14.95 per half) will do nicely and would suit most canapés you could throw at it – even, I am told, hand-cooked crisps.
Our starter more often than not is seafood based and our halves selection offers everything from mussels-friendly The Society’s Muscadet Sèvre-et-Maine sur Lie (£4.50 per half) or Riesling, Trimbach 2012 (£6.25), which is glorious with dover sole. If fish is not your thing the affinity Pouilly-Fume, Domaine Seguin 2013 (£7.50) has with goat’s cheese sets off a tart or salad starter brilliantly; or maybe mushroom risotto with Soave, Pieropan 2013 (£6.50).
For the mains, French trimmed lamb chops and the Bordeaux-esque spice of South Africa’s Rustenberg John X Merriman, Stellenbosch 2009 (£7.25), or maybe pan-fried duck breast with the full-flavoured Pinot Gris Tradition, Hugel 2012 (£6.95). A rich roasted vegetable ratatouille and Châteauneuf-du-Pape, Domaine du Vieux Lazaret 2011 (£9.50) also have a mutual attraction in my experience.
For dessert, whether it is cheese or something sweet, Samos Anthemis 2007 (£6.95) lends itself to both and permits a pleasurable ending to the evening.
Whether or not you celebrate Valentine’s day I hope this supplies food for thought.
Remember the bottle is not half empty, but half full!
I tasted some gorgeous wines with Nicolas Paget, and the generous forward style of his reds this year hopefully means some will be bottled early enough for summer listings.
The line-up at Bougrier in Touraine was an impressive one, representing just a little of their production across their three vinification centres: Nantaise, Angevine & Tourangelle. Olivier Mouraud was particularly enthusiastic about their rosés this year and proved a dab hand at putting together one or two smart-looking Muscadet and Touraine sauvignon blends.
In Vouvray mostly sec and demi-sec styles along with petillant will be produced, all of which need a little longer in tank and cask before they can be assessed fully.
The stylish new tasting room at Domaine Huet provided the perfect opportunity to re-taste the 2013s after close to 9 months in bottle, as well as the new 2010 Petillant Brut, soon to be released, which is beautifully refined and delicate after the richly impressive 2009 (£19.50) which is all but sold out. Clos du Bourg Demi-Sec 2005 was divine, showing that it is now safe to start opening this excellent vintage, and whetting the hungry appetite for a great 2015 vintage!
Jo Locke MW
When buying wine for drinking at home, I have become conscious of a feeling of guilt.
Not for the impending amount of alcoholic units that I’m about to stack up, nor even for the effect on my bank balance. No, my guilt comes from that creeping feeling that by choosing my select few I’m missing out on so many other great wines.
I would normally consider myself a decisive person but when this nagging feeling of missing out sets in I experience a type of paralysis. Am I wrong to have chosen my favourites again? Am I drinking myself into a rut, albeit a delicious one? Of what delights am I depriving my taste buds? Which regions have fallen off my wine radar just waiting to be rediscovered?Recently I’ve been lucky enough to have been working on a project involving the wines of the Loire Valley with buyer Jo Locke MW, a region which certainly hasn’t been on my wine radar for a very long time but after some exploration and education is set to refresh my list of usual suspects.
The odd thing is that, looking back, I always used to be a fan of these wines but at some point I simply stopped drinking them. Perhaps the tidal wave of good-value, refreshing whites from the Southern Hemisphere turned my head; or the start of my love affair with vinho verde and all things Portuguese cast a shadow over them. Whatever the reason, it has been some time since I seriously considered the Loire as a candidate for regular drinking.
But why should the wines of the Loire demand attention in a wine world where we have so many quality wines, wine regions and world class producers competing for our hard-earned cash? It seems as if not a week passes where the Chileans haven’t discovered a new valley perfect for one grape or another, for instance.
By contrast, the wines of the Loire don’t shout. They don’t scream of innovation or trends or of multinational branding. In most ways these wines are restrained – even understated.
That doesn’t mean they’re dull or out of date – far from it. I’d forgotten the staggering diversity available from the Loire. From bone-dry sauvignon blanc to great-value sparklers, fresh, fruity rosés (often with an appealing touch of sweetness) to full-blown luscious dessert wines, it covers a lot of ground, both metaphorically and physically (the Loire River runs for over 600 miles, after all).
Could be that this restraint is the Loire’s strong suit as well as its Achilles heel? When overwhelmed palates tire of overtly gooseberry-laden sauvignons or Fifty Shades of Citrus from the new world then the beautifully balanced flavours and precise purity of the wines from the Loire suddenly look very attractive.
I heard recently someone describe the Loire as producing ‘pretty much everything but monster reds.’ I’m quite thankful for this refreshing alternative, and whether looking for an energising white (think nicely chilled Muscadet) great-value sauvignon blanc (look to Touraine) or something classy and serious (top Vouvray and Sancerre), the Loire has most bases covered.
It’s just a shame that’s it taken me so long to remember!
Marketing Campaign Manager
The Society’s current online offering, Discover the Loire, is now available, featuring a wide range of wines to explore and a wealth of useful information on the region, its grapes and winemakers. We hope you’ll take the plunge and discover, or rediscover, this special wine region.
The Muscadet region has enjoyed some fine early spring weather and Laurence and Gérard Vinet (Domaine des Ratelles) report that the vines are in good health, with the embryonic ‘bunches’ well formed.
They – and we! – are hopeful that there will be no spring frost to plague the area this year and that the crop will be closer to normal volumes, which should ease pressure on prices too. Fingers crossed for quality as well as quantity.
Jo Locke MW