le tasting room

Loire wine tours, tastings, day trips from Paris & short breaks organised by experienced English wine trade professionals.

Sunday, 29 March 2009

Food & Wine Matching

Completed our first WSET Foundation Certificate of 2009 on Friday which devotes quite some time to the subject of food and wine matching. We run through the basic principles looking at methods of cooking (poaching, steaming, braising, grilling, bbq, deep, shallow and stir-frying),ingredients, spices, sauces, seasonings, accompaniments, and examine the key flavours in foods (sour, sweet, salty, spicy, smoky). We then look at the main flavours and textures in wine (weight, sweetness, acidity, tannin, flavour and fruit character). Having discussed this we put this knowledge to the test using a carefully selected range of food samples that illustrate the main points. This is where it all starts to get complicated... Food and wine matching is so subjective. Of course there are certain things that shout 'no' such as tannic red with smoked salmon (but who would think of serving this wine with smoked salmon anyway?) and green apple, but above and beyond this it becomes very much a question of personal taste and preference. Living in the Loire, we are limited principally to wines from our region and other regions of France. Discussing food and wine matching with someone living in the UK gives so many other options to choose from as the availability of wines from elsewhere in the world is so much greater. This is not a complaint, just an observation. We are lucky enough to live in a winemaking region that produces everything from dry white to sweet, from light red to full bodied - with a range of grape varieities including Chenin Blanc, Chardonnay, Sauvignon Blanc, Romorantin, Pinot Gris, Pinot d'Aunis, Gamay, Cabernet Franc, Cabernet Sauvignon and Pinot Noir. That should be enough for a start.

Thursday, 26 March 2009

Le Pot de Lapin - Saumur

Le Pot de Lapin is a restaurant we've been meaning to try for quite some time but as it's not quite in the centre of Saumur it takes a bit of planning in advance and booking is essential.
To start with we had a carpaccio of monkfish marinated in lime juice served with a few dressed salad leaves and pressed rabbit terrine with prunes, also served with a few mustardy dressed leaves. Both were excellent - the carpaccio was light and fresh and looked stunning on the plate while the rabbit (although I call it a terrine, it was more like large pieces of cooked rabbit set in a soft stock jelly) exceeded all expectation. To follow we both enjoyed joue de boeuf, served provencale style with a gratin of courgette, aubergine and tomato. The beef was tender and was served in a richly flavoured sauce.
There's a very good choice of local Loire wines and also an extensive selection from South and South West France. We took the opportunity to share a bottle of Borie de Maurel, La Livinière, La Féline 2005, which turned out to be absolutely perfect with both the rabbit and the beef. It's two thirds Syrah with a quarter Grenache and some Carignan making up the blend. Full and rich with a rustic but classy palate, good tannin and full of the wild herbs of the garrigue - a little smoky and figgy - fabulous and a real change. On this occasion we had a bottle but there is also a good selection of wines by the glass (particularly useful at lunchtime to avoid post-lunch fatigue)
The portion sizes were large so we had no room for dessert although there was a good selection including profiteroles, oeufs a la neige avec Triple Sec, chocolat moelleux and a good cheese board. With coffee afterwards it came to around 30€ a head.

Wednesday, 25 March 2009

Pruning on the roundabout

Coming back from Angers last night I came off the duel-carriageway to find a solitary man carefully pruning the vines on the roundabout just by Brissac Quincé. Barely light, he was moving around them slowly, thinking carefully before making the right cut. It's no surprise that vines play such an important part of life in France.

Tuesday, 24 March 2009

Chez Bruno - Amboise

During our few days visiting wineries and vineyards, we dropped off for lunch in Amboise. It was a beautiful Spring day and having no official foodie guide to hand, decided to take a risk trying a small bistro/wine bar called Chez Bruno. Opposite the chateau, it has a small dining room on one side and a few additional tables in the other room where the bar is located. Tourists dropped in while we were eating to taste a few local wines and buy a few bottles as well as a few locals who obviously eat there on a regular basis. It was one of the best meals we had all week. I think this was partly due to the fact that we had been staying at a hotel and were longing for something simple and tasty. We enjoyed smoked sausages with green lentils and tartiflette (a dish originating from skiing country consisting of layered potatoes cooked with onions, white wine, lardons and cheese). Accompanied by some excellent bread and a glass of local Touraine-Mesland wine, it made for a delicious lunch. We'll certainly go back again.

Friday, 20 March 2009


Called in to see Domaine de la Charrière to pick up some wine while doing a whistlestop drive around some of the lesser known and smaller appellations around Tours. The vineyards of Jasnières are situated within the communes of Lhomme and Ruillé-sur-Loir and fall within the larger appellation Coteaux du Loir. Jasnières was one of the first appellations created in 1937 - the tiny surface area of 65 hectares was first developed by Cistercian monks and although popular during the Middle Ages, it saw a downturn in popularity re-emerging in the last 20 or 30 years. Many liken the wines to those of Savennières (being made solely from Chenin Blanc, planted densely and worthy of ageing) although the terroir is quite different. Vineyards are planted on steepish slopes and there is a preponderance of largish flint stones. The wines are golden in colour, have a honeyed character backed up by evident minerality and can last for decades. We picked up a selection of vintages including 2000, 2005 and 2007 (fuller descriptions of the wines were posted on le tasting room news following the Salon des Vins in February).
The Coteaux du Loir and Jasnières vineyards are the most northerly in the Loire region and are close to Le Loir (not La Loire). Apart from the scattered vineyards making up this tiny appellation, vines are not to be seen for quite some distance and one certainly has the impression of having moved away from the mainstream.
With the glorious Spring like weather on our side it was a pleasure to take the time winding our way through the communes and villages getting a feel for these slightly off-beat wines.

Saturday, 14 March 2009

Cuvée de Silex 2008 - Domaine des Aubuisières

Have enjoyed a bottle of Bernard Fouquet's Cuvée de Silex, Vouvray 2008 over the past two nights. Domaine des Aubuisières has 25 hectares of vines planted with Chenin Blanc around Vouvray, just East of Tours. 90% of harvesting is done manually in successive 'tries' and on arrival at the winery grapes are pressed pneumatically with the pressure adapted to the overall quality of the grapes. This wine is mostly fermented and matured in thermo-regulated vats although his more prestigious dry cuvées and all the moelleux wines are fermented in oak of varying ages (new to 4 years old). After alcoholic fermentation, the dry wines are aged upon their lees with regular stirring to add depth and complexity. The Cuvée de Silex is Bernard's entry level dry Vouvray. It comes from three parcels, les Perruches, les Girardières and les Chairs Salées. We first tasted the 2008 at the Salon des Vins in Angers in February and subsequently paid him a visit to pick up this, and some of his other wines in Vouvray a couple of weeks ago.
The nose is enticing, a little floral (but not tropical) with hints of honey and pears. On the palate, it's fresh with a taste of sherbet lemons - the fruit continues and it finishes with a crisp acidity but one that is not at all dominating (it has 6g residual sugar). It's absolutely delicious now but will probably taste better given a little time to develop. It went perfectly with the very old fashioned supper of boiled ham, parsley sauce, boiled potatoes and mashed carrot and swede. I finished it last night without food, as an aperitif.

Thursday, 12 March 2009

Living close to the river Loire

This morning I decided to walk down to the river with the dog. It's about a half hour round trip and about 10 minutes until I reach our nearest vineyard overlooking the river. The view is spectacular and one that I will never tire of. Comme elle est belle, la fleuve! Not a particularly beautiful morning but incredibly still, no leaves rustling, no cars driving by, no other sounds apart from the Woodpecker high up in a nearby tree. And I realise just how incredibly lucky we are to be living in this beautiful place, so close to the river Loire, surrounded by nature and vines and history. The little village of Le Thoureil sits alongside the river and although many of the old tuffeau houses are owned by Parisiens who frequent them only once or twice a year, it remains alive thanks to the Ecole Primaire located right on the riverfront next to the library. The 'cantine' has the best view one could wish for although I'm sure many of the children will only appreciate it much later on in life as they go about their day oblivious of the beauty of their surroundings.
Just above the river road and running parallel with it, is a track leading along to the cemetery. It runs along the back of the houses allowing a peek over their roof terraces, constructed when the houses were built by the wealthy merchants who used to sit and admire their wares toing and froing along the river. These days there is very little traffic on the water as the sandbanks make it impossible to navigate - even the boat that takes tourists out to see the rare birds embarrasses itself by being grounded from time to time.
This morning the river is still and glacial - no obvious sign of currents, nothing being swept along its way. Sometimes it seems more like the sea, with waves transporting branches swiftly down river. Most years, it floods (although it has not done so this year), halting traffic along the road and covering our nearby fields.
As I return back to our hamlet, I see the 'car' struggling up the hill to collect the school children, and my neighbour who has cycled out to the vineyard to continue pruning her vines. I realise I'm a million miles away from the economic crisis all around me (one that will affect our business as well I'm sure).

Wednesday, 11 March 2009

Quadrille 2001, Langlois Chateau

Feeling in need of some bubbles after a long day so decided to open a bottle of Langlois Chateau's Quadrille this evening. This prestige cuvée is so called because it's made from 4 different grape varieties (Cabernet Franc, Cabernet Sauvignon, Chardonnay and Chenin Blanc). The grapes are sourced from four different vineyards and the wine is aged for 4 years in the cellar. It has wonderful fruit on the nose and a depth on the palate that comes from the ageing period giving it complexity and weight that is not present in many other wines from the region. Excellent.
Unfortunately, as it was such a long day, didn't have the time to go shopping so had a store cupboard supper. Stir-fried a remaining faux filet along with spring onions, garlic, ginger, carrots, mushrooms. Added to this some massaman curry paste, fish sauce, shrimp sauce and coconut milk. Result, a quick, easy meal served with plain basmati rice that was tasty.
The Quadrille however did not go with the spice in the dish - not that we thought it would - they clashed but as the wine was opened long before dinner was on the table - not too serious.

Monday, 9 March 2009

Chateau la Varière 2002, Anjou Blanc

Decided to open a bottle of Chateau la Varière last night to go with pan-fried pork chops, roasted carrots and mash with spring onions and olive oil. It's a dry white wine made by Jacques Beaujeau who is based in Brissac close to the chateau. Chateau la Varière makes wine under several different appellations (Rosé de Loire, Coteaux du Layon, Bonnezeaux, Anjou Villages) but this particular one is an Anjou Blanc 'Clos de la Division'. Harvested from land in the Coteaux de l'Aubance, 2002 was a classic year with fine weather towards the end of the season. The wine is aged in oak barriques on its fine lees for a period of 18 months (using a mixture of new, 1 and 2 year old wood). Ageing Chenin Blanc in oak is not widely practised in the region but certainly adds a different dimension to the wine and one that we like. It has a full, rich nose with hints of quince, pear and wax with a vanilla background coming from the oak. The colour is rich and golden and the wine full, well balanced with good minerality on the palate. We thought it had lost a little fruit since we last tasted it but nonetheless it went extremely well with the dish.

Sunday, 8 March 2009

Welcome to le tasting room's blog

Welcome to le tasting room's new blog. By all accounts this will be a bit of a 'slow' blog as one of the main reasons for moving to France in the first place was to slow down the pace of life and not get too bogged down with technology. But, one has to embrace the tools that allow business to develop and keep in touch with the world - so, here we are.

I hope to post news of happenings in and around us in the Loire Valley, notably between Angers and Saumur where we are situated. Things that catch my attention, wines we've shared, good meals we've had, food and recipes that capture my imagination.....who knows what else. A snapshot of living in a small hamlet close to the river Loire in France.