Grapevine Archive for Loire

Tue 19 Feb 2013

Savennières: An Appellation To Watch

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In the Loire last week, on the occasion of the 27th Salon des Vins de Loire (one of the very few remaining specialist regional trade wine fairs), the Savennières appellation was celebrating its 60th anniversary.

President of the Savennières appellation, Evelyne de Pontbriand

President of the Savennières appellation, Evelyne de Pontbriand

I learned from appellation president Evelyne de Pontbriand of Domaine du Closel that last year was the true birthday but they chose to wait, they hope, for a more favourable year in which to celebrate.

And there is much to celebrate. There is a degree of unity across this small appellation which is rare in France and they are working hard both on quality and PR. On my last couple of visits I have met bright, thoughtful young winemakers determined to build on the modest success of recent years to shake off a rather fusty old image and establish – or re-establish – Savennières as one of the great appellations of the Loire, and of France.

The grape is the sometimes challenging chenin blanc, here usually creating wines of substance and potential longevity and complexity. The wine style has changed, and indeed is still changing, making it a fascinating place to visit. The austere wines of old, which needed years in bottle before becoming anywhere near palatable, have largely disappeared.

Many producers are working organically, or at least using environmentally friendly methods, producing modest yields, and the goal is to make great food wines, even if this means prices are high. These are serious, even cerebral wines, so will not be for everyone. Chenin blanc enthusiasts in particular take note, however: Savennières is an appellation to watch.

Jo Locke MW
Society Buyer for the Loire

Savennières wines currently in stock:

Domaine du Closel, 2010 (£14.50 per bottle)
L’Enclos (Eric Morgat) 2007 & 2008 (both £25 per bottle)

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Tue 22 Jan 2013

Loire 2012: The Wonders of Nature

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One of the joys of my most recent visit to the Loire was seeing a red squirrel, a deep, rich red brown, scampering across the road. They are smaller than our grey ones and a joy to behold. One of our Loire suppliers has one that does acrobatics in a tree just outside their kitchen window and I always feel disappointed when he does not appear to perform when I am visiting.

The Loire has had its share of disappointments this last year. As already reported on Society Grapevine, the weather threw all it had got at them throughout the 2012 growing season. This time, ironically, they – and the harvest – were saved not by an Indian summer but by rain.

The good, the bad and the ugly: chenin blanc vines, all within a few rows of one another, photographed on a visit to the Loire in August 2012.

Already low yields (due mostly to mildew and poor flowering) were not ripening, when early poor, wet weather was followed by drought in August and September. Alain Cailbourdin (Pouillys Boisfleury and Les Cris) explained that in Pouilly-sur-Loire the rain came too late for his newly planted vineyard, which had not just suffered but had lost many of its leaves, vital to feed the vine.

The more mature vines, however, fared better and were revived by the rain, and the maturation process could begin once more.

There’s no getting away from it being a challenging year: quantities are down, sometimes by as much as 50%, and we fear many more Loire producers will throw in the towel this year. But many of those hanging on in there have made memorable and excellent wines this year. Prices are likely to go up, but in a region where so many have been static in recent years, and where some exceptionally good wines have been made, any increase is a small price to pay.

Against all nature’s odds, there will be some delicious 2012 Loire wines.

Jo Locke MW
Society Buyer for the Loire

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Le-Mimosa-300x193The occasion was a last dinner at the Mimosa, one of my favourite eating places and an essential part of the Languedoc experience. Everything had been superb but Mimosa’s cheese board is something else. I was with Louis-Marie Teisserenc, himself no idle bystander when it comes to sauvignon, and Sylvain Fadat of Domaine Aupilhac.

I hadn’t given the cheese course much thought but Sylvain evidently had and out came a bottle of 2005 Grande Cote from Domaine Cotat from Chavignol.

The effect was sensational, the crispness of the sauvignon refreshing the palate and the weight of this wonderful wine working brilliantly with the cheese. Perversely, I shunned the Crottin de Chavignol but the Brebis des Pyrenees was magical.

And memories too came flooding back, memories of my first visit to Chavignol. It was jolly cold in February. Looking back, I’ve only ever been there in winter. The air was full of frost making it almost hard to breathe.

Chavignol is very close to Sancerre but very different. Sancerre is on top of the world, surveying the land around for miles. Chavignol sits in a little valley that is surrounded by vineyard and they include some of the best in Sancerre with wonderfully evocative names: Grande Cote, Monts Damnes and Cul de Beaujeu, all fabulous sites, steeply slopping in the hard, chilled chalk.

Marcel Orford-Williams
Society Buyer

Tue 16 Oct 2012

Moulin Touchais Vertical, 1953-2003

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Moulin TouchaisIn a recent Grapevine post I mentioned attending an extraordinary tasting of Loire chenin blanc, in the company of Gary Jordan of Jordan Estate in Stellenbosch plus a number of other committed chenin blanc enthusiasts. The tasting, a 30-wine vertical of Coteaux du Layon Moulin Touchais, was organised by fellow Master of Wine Richard Kelley (visit his website if you are a Loire enthusiast) following a recent visit to the property.

These are not the finest or purest expressions of Loire chenin, but Moulin Touchais is unique in giving its wines a minimum of ten years’ bottle age before release. Thus the youngest wine we tasted, the very good 2003 vintage, will only be available from next year. Many of the older vintages, including three from the 1970s are still available for sale. Sadly in most cases, the wines tasted from the 50s and 60s are not, though the oldest wine, the 1953, only sold out this year.

Moulin Touchais wines are also unusual in that they are reasonably, if rather unpredictably, priced, with prices set based on the volume of wine available and how they themselves rate the quality.

Moulin Touchais 1975I am not sure what collective term would be appropriate for the small group of leading Loire wine writers in attendance. A tributary, perhaps. Sarah Ahmed, Jim Budd and Chris Kissack all wrote comprehensive notes on the tasting and the wines which you will find on their websites (just click on the links from their names). My personal favourites were the 2002, a vintage characterised by high levels of acidity and great purity, which was as fresh as a daisy, 1975 – probably the wine of the tasting – and 1971, with many unexpected highlights in between.

The wines are traditionally vinified, using only natural yeasts, no cold stabilisation and no oak, and are bottled early, normally in April following the harvest. Extreme ripeness and heavy botrytis are avoided, and the residual sugar is normally 80-90 grams per litre, ie not high, and often feeling lower still after long years in bottle. Production volumes vary enormously, according to the quality of the vintage, thus around 200,000 bottles were produced in 1959 (perhaps not showing at its best on this occasion), and none at all in 2008. The wines all clearly expressed the differences between vintages.

Moulin Touchais Tasting

It was a rare and fascinating tasting and we are likely to see Moulin Touchais start appearing on UK shelves (virtual or physical) again in the not too distant future. Said ‘shelves’ may or may not include those at The Old Bridge Hotel at Huntingdon, the lovely venue generously provided by owner John Hoskins MW, who admits to being less of a chenin blanc fan himself, but joined us for the tasting nevertheless. After all, a 30-wine vertical does not come along every day!

Joanna Locke MW
Society Buyer

Wed 05 Sep 2012

Cellar Surprises

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Friends in France were indirectly responsible for my decision, back in the 80s, to join the wine trade. Showing a little interest opened the door to some wonderful learning experiences and enjoyable bottles.

Modest wines tended to be bought direct, or mail order, from the producer, or sometimes from travelling salesmen, and some were even home-bottled. They would then be cellared for a number of years until deemed ready for a family Sunday lunch or celebration.

Having a cellar seemed an essential part of life in rural France, including one half-dug into a cow pasture, with separate areas for a few bottles laid down as starter cellars for when each daughter set up home and would need their own (though in those days both girls usually added water to it!).

French friends have continued to serve such wines, often producing some real surprises, including on our latest whistle stop in Lyon, a 2002 AC Bordeaux, which had stood the course remarkably well, and a 2005 Vouvray Brut from a co-op. The latter, from a good, healthy vintage, was delicious, and was the result of a private standing order going back three generations.

All of which added to the enjoyment of a nicely matured bottle among friends. It is always safer to try before you buy from a source you do not already know and trust, but this latest experience was certainly a further reminder to me that you don’t have to spend a fortune to benefit from laying wines down for a few years.

Jo Locke MW
Society Buyer

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Wed 08 Aug 2012

Last Day In The Loire

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Less fairytale than the view from across the Loire, the Château de Saumur up close is nevertheless one of the Loire’s most striking and romantic attractions.

Château de Saumur

The few ‘show’ vines that add context here admirably demonstrate the mixed picture that is the Loire in 2012:

Lovers of Loire wines will need to keep fingers crossed for more favourable conditions from now to harvest.

Joanna Locke MW
Society Buyer

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Mon 06 Aug 2012

In The Loire: The Good, The Bad & The Ugly

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The good, the bad and the positively ugly: chenin blanc vines all within a few rows of one another. Strict selection will be less a choice than a necessity this year.

Changeable weather today but still mild enough to eat supper outdoors.

And what better end to the day and to a week of Loire visits, than luxuriating in local specialities, starting with a glass or two of Vouvray Brut from Domaine Vincent Carême. From Vouvray’s incomparable charcutier / traiteur, Hardouin: mini boudins au raisins (baby black puddings made with grapes, first introduced to me by Charles & Philippa Sydney, English ‘courtiers’ who are responsible for promoting many of the Loire’s best wines) were a velvety delight.

Sainte Maure cheese

More photogenic is this part of the Loire’s famous goats’ cheese, Sainte Maure. I love Sancerre’s chalkier Crottin de Chavignol, across its full spectrum of pale and soft through to positively hard and wizened. And I still have wonderful personal memories of my time in the Loire as a student enjoying Madame Gervais’ fresh, light, melt-in-the-mouth version. This was made from her own goats’ milk, ranged on shelves in one of many small sheds (most housing something edible and delicious!) in little plastic, flower-pot-shaped pots, studded with holes through which excess milk would escape, until deemed ready.

I didn’t even like goats’ cheese before I met the wonderful Annette, and nothing will ever beat hers, with the happy memories of youth that go with it. But smooth creamy Sainte Maure comes closest.

Joanna Locke MW
Society Buyer

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Thu 02 Aug 2012

In The Loire: A Bit of Loire History

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Potentially misleading from a distance, Sancerre has faced just the same challenges as the rest of the Loire this year.

9.30 am: eaten alive by mosquitos which were prowling an otherwise enchanting alley that runs up from the village of Rivarennes (Touraine) to the surrounding vineyards. Home to eighty or so old cellars hewn into the rock, mostly abandoned. Chances are, with the complexities of French inheritance laws, many will not even know they own this little bit of Loire history.

Old vines in Touraine

Polyculture was the norm not so long ago and a few lovingly tended old vines had their place alongside other fruits, especially apples and pears, which are still grown in the region. These three rows of vines pictured (with moped!) are planted little more than a tractor track away from the much younger vineyard, with vines trained to head height to maximise ripening potential.

Young grower Nicolas Paget (Touraine Azay-Le-Rideau) has already been through the vineyard removing leaves around the fruit to open up the canopy to allow better circulation of air around the bunches (more necessary than ever in a year that has brought so much rain and inevitable disease pressure).

This year, yields have been reduced naturally due to the impact of frost, hail, and poor weather at flowering, so both vineyards stand a better chance of harvesting ripe grapes, but today’s young growers no longer leave the potential quality at harvest to chance.

Nicolas Paget

Some upcoming events in the Loire
Members passing through or holidaying in the area might like to drop in to Menetou-Salon’s ‘Caves Ouvertes‘ this weekend (4/5th August), including a tour of local tonnellerie (cooper) at 10am on the Saturday morning. A smallish appellation deserving of a wider audience for its fine sauvignons and pinots noirs.

The 50th ?Foire aux Vins? will be held in Vouvray on 11-15 August at Caves de la Bonne Dame, rue de la Bonne Dame, 9am to 7pm. Entry to this large tasting is free.

The 1st and 2nd September also sees ‘Vignes, Vins Et Randos‘ take place: a weekend programme of 14 walks covering Muscadet to Touraine, with tastings and often music too, many geared for families. Free to under 12s. Can pre-book (cheaper that way) or pay on arrival (in which case cash only).

Joanna Locke MW
Society Buyer

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Wed 01 Aug 2012

In The Loire

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Cloudless blue skies and 27C by mid morning driving through the Pas de Calais did wonders to lift spirits, and expectations, for my few days in the Loire – my first visit since January.

Chinon vineyards, 9.30pm

Northern France has suffered some of the same weather we’ve had through much of spring and summer, to the extent that I have warned my colleagues of possible unexciting vintage prospects in the Loire this year, potentially foregoing a Loire offer in 2013. Which I now regret, of course. It’s amazing what a little sun can do!

More updates to follow.

Joanna Locke MW
Society Buyer

Categories : France, Loire
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There?s a lot of good wine out there. Missing out on a great one is understandable ? particularly in the case of the Loire Valley?s wines, boasting as they do an extraordinary array of grapes and styles ? but none the less tragic for it.

Society buyer Joanna Locke MW?s latest efforts to bring members the cream of the Loire?s remarkably varied crop can be found in our current offer, and it has been heartening to see the UK wine press giving plaudits to several of the wines therein.

Grapevine readers may already have seen the praise given to Mourat?s wines; to ensure that no other gems slip under your radar, we include below an assortment of other Society Loire offerings to have been given favourable mentions. Please note: our current Loire offer closes on Sunday 20th May.

Jancis Robinson recommended a further four Loire wines (?VGV? and ?GV? meaning ?very good value? and ?good value? respectively):

Robert Sérol, Vieilles Vignes 2011 Côte Roannaise 16.5/20 Drink 2012-2013
Lively and lifted. Rather stylish label. Light but true and savoury. Quintessential French country wine made with great facility. Silky texture, great persistence. Troisgros house wine by the way. VGV 12% £7.95 The Wine Society

Frédéric Mabileau, Les Rouillères Chenin Blanc 2011 Anjou 17/20 Drink 2012-2016
Lovely pure, fresh, appley aromas. Lots of tension and terroir. Finishes dry. This wine has just so much energy and typicity. Great stuff. Whistle clean. GV 13% £10.95 The Wine Society

La Claux Delorme 2011 Valençay 16/20 Drink 2012-2013
Very fragrant and floral. Gentle and off dry. Nice texture. Firm spine. Long. Well constructed. Good value. 13% £8.95 The Wine Society

Huet, Le Haut-Lieu Sec 2010 Vouvray 16+/20 Drink 2014-2018
Deeper flavoured than the Chenin des Rouillères 2011. With more honey and more wet wool. Lots to get your teeth into but awfully young for the moment. 12.5% £14.95 The Wine Society

Anthony Rose (The Independent) included a nod for the following wine in his article about The Wine Society:
?Frédéric Mabileau’s 2011 Chenin des Rouillères Anjou Blanc, £10.95, is a terrific expression of Loire Valley chenin blanc combining vivid appley freshness with a mineral-dry finish.?

Last but not least, The Wine Gang, made up of some of the best palates in the UK wine press, reviewed a ?budget selection? of Society wines. The Gang gave a timely reminder of the virtues of Muscadet, recommending a Society favourite in the process, as well as a relative newcomer to our range:

Domaine des Ratelles Muscadet Sèvre et Maine Sur Lie 2010
Muscadet doesn’t get a very good press these days. In fact it doesn’t get much press at all and its grape variety, Melon de Bourgogne, gets even less, but a good Muscadet ? the antithesis of a showy wine ? is a useful thing for washing down simple fish, seafood and salads. This one, with its delicate salted-nut and zesty citrus flavours, is as brisk as a swim in the Serpentine but much less masochistic. £6.75 at The Wine Society

Domaine de la Semellerie Chinon 2010
Youthful Loire Cabernet Franc with the signature sweet whiff of potato peelings, juicy raspberry and blackberry fruit and touches of spice, leather and liquorice. Light tannins and a nip of acidity complete the medium-bodied picture. £8.50 at The Wine Society

Categories : France, Loire
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