Grapevine Archive for Loire
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
View Wine Details
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
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.
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
Members may have heard about the terrible weather conditions affecting many parts of the continent recently. We received the following dramatic first-hand report of the particularly devastating hailstorm that passed through the Tours region on the morning of 17th June. Philippa and Charles Sydney, who are based in the region, will be familiar to members who have attended our Loire tastings.
‘Just back in from Vouvray. Drove up in the sunshine this afternoon with the roof down in the soft-top, but had to put the roof up on arrival in Vouvray as the rain was just starting and yet more storm clouds amassing.
The road up from the centre of Vouvray to the vineyards at the top was a mass of bright colours – bright green leaves carpeting the road, bright blue tarpaulin covering damaged roofs, yellow flashing lights on tractors clearing the roads and towing away damaged cars, and glistening white piles of hail stones on the side of the road. Impressive.
Usually you just see the damage on the leaves after hail – here it’s the whole stems that have been ripped right off the vines. I spoke to two producers, one who estimated 70% crop loss and the other around 60%.
The storm was very localised on Vouvray itself. It started at around 5.30am and “only” lasted about half an hour – but that was more than enough to devastate the land. I was there at 15.00pm – almost 10 hours later – and the hail stones still hadn’t melted!
The problems for the producers are even worse than usual because as well as losing the actual crop, many have also had severe damage to their tractors, chais, cars.
Goodness knows how things will turn out. Let’s just hope it isn’t as awful as it looks.’
Grim reading and our thoughts are with all the vignerons affected.
Let’s hope they are persuaded to bring out a few stories for posterity, and for the enjoyment and benefit of those more recent recruits as well as all those who will remember those ‘old’ days of Wine Society bottlings, and when Chile was barely a twinkle in the British wine buyer’s eye!
One who remembers those early days well is Bernard Chéreau, supplier of Muscadet to The Society for nearly thirty years. On my recent visit to the Nantais, Bernard was recalling Sebastian’s first visit, to taste 1984 or 1985 he thought, a follow-up visit from Sebastian and Marcel Orford-Williams (who, coincidentally, shares Bernard’s birth year), and one from CEO of the time Edmund Penning-Rowsell.
Muscadet has ended up with a small but very good vintage 2012; indeed, one grower I spoke to recently claimed that it may be the best of the past 20 years, maybe as good as 1949 (presumably legendary?!).
A visit to the region comes highly recommended, even if you are only passing through en route to the south west or to Spain. If you can’t get there this year or next, look out for more news from this underrated region on Society Grapevine, in Society mailings, and elsewhere.
Jo Locke MW
During a written exercise as part of my job interview for The Society, I was asked to highlight some wines I felt were particularly good value, and why. In what was almost a reflex arc, for it is certainly what they call a ‘no brainer’, I selected Muscadet as the prime candidate.
Yet I then wondered whether explaining the reasons for my choice within the hastened environs of a timed exam would be a risk. ‘Many producers are struggling financially, the wine’s cheap, hurrah!’ did not quite encapsulate the impression I wanted to give of myself, and so I began to become slightly paranoid. What’s more, it is arguably that very attitude that led to many of the problems the region faces today, with bulk prices being driven to a depth that made many give up and left others clinging on by soil-covered fingernails.Two years on from those nervous stopwatched semantics, therefore, I am ambivalent that Muscadet remains my personal top pick for quality:price ratio in the world of wine.
That fashion has had a role to play in the region’s current problems is especially difficult to get one’s head around, particularly given that current white-wine-drinking trends in the UK almost read like a tasting note for classic Muscadet: clean citrus fruit, food-friendly acidity, freshness, versatility, low alcohol…
Grapevine readers might also like to take a look at an excellent article on the subject by Richard Hemming, published last month on JancisRobinson.com and now free for non-subscribers to view: The Muscadet of Reckoning. As well as providing a useful parallel to the Beaujolais region, the piece focuses rightly on the utterly superb quality of the wines available.
Muscadet’s predicament has not been helped either by the low-yielding 2012 vintage, in which quantities are down dramatically. For Society members, this will probably mean some modest price rises. More than ever, therefore, I would argue that now is the time to buy.
To name but three examples currently available from The Society: in our Benchmark Bottles offer, we list Chéreau-Carré’s Château L’Oiselinière de la Ramée, 2010, which offers remarkable sophistication and class for £7.75. Cuvée des Ceps Centenaires, 2009 gives us the verve of the fruit from 100-year-old vines with change from £10. The aged and distinctive Le Clos du Château L’Oiselinière, 2004 (£11.50), eulogised by one Hugh Johnson recently, is a fuller-bodied proposition and a satisfying and complex equal to many a fine white Burgundy sold at more than double the price.
So why not do your own small bit for a classic wine region that does not deserve its present malaise and add a bottle or two to your next order? Your palate will thank you and your wallet won’t regret it either.