le tasting room

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

Saturday, 23 May 2009

Provence Caffé - struggling during 'les travaux'

Many of our friends have recommended we try Provence Caffé in the Place du Ralliement since we arrived but it's one of those places that didn't really appeal. Not helped by the fact that it appears to be part of the neighbouring hotel (wrong)it's located on the corner just across from Galerie Layfayette.
The decor is slightly jaded contemporary (lots of brown with soft orange lights), with crisp linen tablecloths and a great view over the old theatre opposite. We were there at lunchtime and took a table by the window - there was only one other table occupied.
To the food - it was very good indeed. We opted for a menu 'Business' (16€ for two courses) and a menu 'Saveurs'(27€ for 4 courses). Bruschetta with roasted peppers and marinated anchovy served with mixed salad leaves was simple but good, fresh pea soup with tiny steamed clams, beetroot and truffle oil was excellent - perfumed, fresh and interesting. To follow, pan roasted salmon with mediterranean vegetables and pasta (strong flavours but the salmon could take it)and dorade, lightly steamed and served with new season's vegetables (potatoes, asparagus, baby spring onions, baby carrots)with a buerre blanc sauce. We shared a tiny salad of freshly grated raw fennel with parmesan shavings dressed with a little olive oil and the pud, a coconut milk panna cotta with a top-dressing of marinated minted strawberries and a crumble topping. This was the only course we were not too keen on - mostly due to texture - a little too much going on with the smoothness of the panna cotta and the slightly gritty texture of the crumble (but then I think we're panna cotta purists so perhaps we're never satisfied on this front).
We had a glass of house Chardonnay as an apero (not exciting) and followed with a half bottle of Savennières Le Clos Saint Yves 2007 from Domaine Baumard - under Stelvin. A Savennières producer using screw-cap - we're big fans and where the wine is produced to be drunk early, a good solution.
A word about 'les Travaux'. Angers has been in chaos for the past two years whilst struggling to maintain commerce at the same time as installing the network for the new tramway, the first part of which is due to be finished by 2010. Over the past few months this has affected the Place du Ralliement - the main square by the pedestrian quarter. Work continues with the entire square in disorder, cranes and heavy machinery working all day and the city's most central underground parking facility suspended. Provence Café is not the only restaurant to be affected, the Brasserie du Theatre and several others are having to endure months of noise and ugliness while trying to keep their heads above water financially. So, this is a plea to you to continue to support Angers and its restaurants. Apparently, no compensation is being offered to businesses that are seriously affected by the disruption - I could be wrong.

With coffees, the bill came to 72€ for two.

Provence Caffé
9 Place du Ralliement
Tél:02 41 87 44 15

Friday, 15 May 2009

Domaine de Juchepie - Faye d'Anjou

We arrived at the domaine rather late on what was a dull unpromising day, overcast and threatening to rain. Pierre-Jacques Druet introduced us to the wines of Eddy and Mileine Oosterlinck-Bracke a couple of years ago after a long morning tasting tannic reds in his cellar – we shared a half bottle of Quintessence and I thought it was probably one of the best sweet wines I had tasted in a long long time. So, we were looking forward to learning more about Eddy’s philosophy and tasting the full range that he currently produces in the village of Faye d’Anjou in the heart of the Coteaux du Layon.

Mileine was busy in the vineyard – she and a helper were walking slowly behind the ‘decavaillonneuse’ (the machine used to pull earth back off the base of the vines put there in the Autumn). In a modern vineyard this would be unnecessary, but in this parcel the vines were planted in 1911 and the sensor on the tiny plough -like implement would do too much damage left unsupervised. It’s painstaking work and takes about a day to cover 1 hectare. The tractor can only pass through the rows because when labour in the vineyard switched from horse to machine, every other row was removed.

Eddy and Mileine moved here in 1985 – it was the location that sealed it. They had wanted to buy an old property surrounded by vines but instead found this house, built in 1977 and you can see why. Eddy explains that the landscape has five layers, firstly two hills, then some hills that merge, then a village nestled in the middle, the plain behind and then the hillside ‘les Gardes’ at the back – one of the highest points in Maine et Loire.

At this point it pays to talk a little about ‘terroir’. The vineyards are in a hollow, closed on three sides by the slope of the Layon and 2 hillsides. Only one side is open, the West side and the vines are planted facing South South/East. The soil of ‘Black Anjou’ (where there is no chalk in the soil) is littered with black blocks containing quartz veins (called phtanites). These, together with the spillites in the hills and rhyolite volcanic stones (all within a circle of 1km), bring bitterness and minerality , something that Eddy considers essential to the flavour profile of his wines.

If you look in the ditch just in front of the vineyard to the right of the house, you can see layers of purple slate (Bonnezeaux has a lot of this) and a little further along, green slate. On top of this lies a layer of heavy clay. This layer varies between 30 and 50cm in thickness, allowing the vines to retain moisture but not get waterlogged, allowing the roots to reach down and e

xplore the many rocks and minerals below.

The estate was certified organic in 1994 but was run along organic lines before that with 1993 the last year when any chemicals and herbicides were used. Juchepie became biodynamic in 2007. Eddy does not get carried away talking about the principals of this stating that he was working organically before being certified and more so now, he was paying attention to the moon before, more so now. The main difference is the addition of the tisanes that are applied to the vineyard. He collects rainwater to make liquid compost which is pumped into a large plastic container containing a small mesh bag of compost. Air is pumped through the solution so that it takes on loads of oxygen which in turn provides a living environment for the millions of micro-organisms. The temperature rises to 36 degrees, bubbles come out as it begins to foam and ferment and 24 hours later, it’s sprayed directly on to the vines as a foliar feed.

Two vertical presses take care of the grapes after harvest. There is a vertical press somewhere in the cellar but it has not been used since 1999. On average it takes 6 passes through the vineyards to harvest the grapes over a period of 6 weeks.

The challenge is not to try too hard to extract what tiny amount of juice remains in the grapes and to extract as much of the dry matter as possible (which carries with it minerals, sugar, bitterness and acidity). Delicate pressure is applied which forces the largest and juiciest berries to split. Eventually the juice spreads throughout the cake (for it’s more like a lump of solid matter than ‘must’) and a 5mm trickle appears. Pressing takes around 24 hours – the resulting juice is orange in colour.

All the different juices are put together into a vat and then into barrels. There is no addition of enzymes, no cultured yeast and it can take days for the ferments to start and months to finish. The wines are left to undergo malolactic fermentation as and when they decide to and if they don’t well ‘tant pis’. Eddy thinks that the stage at which man should intervene is to stop the wine when it has finished. He ‘listens to the wine’ and he ‘waits’.

And finally, to the wines we tasted – all served at cellar temperature which on this particular day was perfect. Not too cold and still able to reveal all their different elements.

Cuveé Les Monts 2004

Beautiful colour, deep golden with a tinge of peach. On the nose, intense, concentrated

marmalade aromas with a caramelised note. Although I knew this wine would be dry it would not have been be a surprise if it was sweet (maybe due to the high levels of botrytis in 2004). It has just incredible length, something that Eddy puts down to fermentation in barrel. (10.50€)

Cuvée Le Clos 2006

From the vineyard on the right hand side where the clay layer is at its thinnest.

Again, great rich golden colour with peachy reflections. More citrus notes on the nose, evident flinty minerality and a slightly oxidativ

e note (that we loved). Softer and more gentle on the palate than the 04 and with an earthy overtone.

This was our favourite of the two dry wines. (13.50€)

Les Churelles de Juchepie 2006 (57g residual sugar)

Deep intense golden colour with orangey reflections at the rim. Rich and full in the mouth I even sensed a little tannin which provided a good balance to the sugar in this Moelleux. Great acidity at the end and a large note of minerality. This would be a great food wine – how about pigeon cooked with raisons, duck with orange, grilled sweetbreads. (16.00€)

We discussed the importance of balance in wines with high residual sugar. Eddy says ‘sugar is like scenery – it can be big and even overwhelming but it should not dominate the players. When it dominates, it’s out of balance’.

Les Quarts de Juchepie 2004 (108g residual sugar)

Aged for 18 months in oak barrels this wine has a deep amber colour with peachy/orange notes at the rim. Lovely dried raisin, fig and marmalade aromas with some butterscotch, caramel and a touch of wax polish on the palate. Lovely length and freshness in the mouth despite the high residual sugar. Excellent and our favourite Moelleux. (19.50€)

La Passion de Juchepie 2004 (150g residual sugar)

A liquoreux from the same vintage as Les Quarts aged for 18 months in oak of which 50% is new. An even deeper amber colour with rose and peach tints. Although oak is evident on the nose, the wood certainly does not dominate the wine. The most striking thing is the lightness

on the palate – no hint of greasy cloying stickyness. The sugar is of course very evident but it is absolutely not overwhelming, managing to stay out of the limelight and allow the other qualities to sing for themselves. A long lingering finish with some candy and butterscotch notes makes this a real pleasure and our favourite. 26.00€

Quintessence de Juchepie 2003

This wine is supposed to represent the quintessence of the vintage. Vinified uniquely in new oak barrels where it spends 18 months it has a deep ginger amber colour with golden, orange reflections. There was very little botrytis in 2003 making this a wine predominantly affected by

passillerage (shrivelling of the grapes concentrating the sugars and evaporating the water content). Rich and unctuous but not cloying it’s full of dried fruits with raisin and honey aromas. Soft and velvety backed up with a punch of acidity on the finish. Delicious. 34.00€

He also makes a small quantity of red from the Cabernet Franc. CF de Juchepie 2008 is light and fruity with sweet raspberry fruit on the nose. It has very low tannins and is easy going, young, fresh and easy drinking.

Looking to 2009, the vines are looking healthy and the risk of frost is receding. This is good news for Domaine de Juchepie as the frost in 2008 reduced yield to 6hl/ha and in 2007 to 10hl/ha. Does this encourage them to allow the vines to overproduce a little this year to compensate for the two bad years before? Absolutely not – although he thinks there will be many around him who will be counting on it.

Visits to Domaine de Juchepie are by appointment and cost 10€ per person to include a tour of the vineyards, wine tasting and a selection of fresh canapés prepared by Mileine. www.juchepie.com We can take you to see them as part of a Loire Wine Tour visiting inspirational vignerons in the region.

Sunday, 10 May 2009

New vines spring forth

A couple of photos to show how our newly planted vines have sprung through their protective wax layer and are now proudly showing healthy buds and the beginnings of leaves. Now that the main threat of frost is over (see Jim's Loire), our fingers are crossed that they will establish themselves well this year. It's a constant source of amazement how something that appears to be so dead during dormancy can spring into life within a couple of weeks.

New planting is going on all around us in the vineyards at the moment. Vines that have died due to disease or just faded away with old age are pulled out and replaced and new vineyards are planted.

It's a good time to have a really close look vine development. Why not come and join us for a one day wine tour and we can show you what's going on in our local vineyards.

Saturday, 9 May 2009

Savennières Dimanche 17 Mai 2009 Fete du Gout et du Patrimoine

If you would like to visit Savennières yourself why not take the opportunity to join the festivities on 17th May. Various activities are taking place during the day including une randonnée pédestre (vin et terroir). Sentiers d'un jour sur les coteaux et domaines privés de Savennières pour vous permettre de découvrir des points de vue exceptionnels sur la Loire - this walk around the hillsides starts between 08h30 and 11h30 and there are three options 6, 12 and 14km. Cost is 3€ and includes a glass of wine vin d'honneur (free for children less than 12 years old).

Lunch can be taken in the parc du Fresne (sale of tickets by the ramble departure point) for 9€ to include crudité starter, hot main course, cheese and tarte or you can buy a sandwich. Alternatively, if you fancy something a bit more formal, Domaine du Closel is offering a special lunch 'Saveurs de Printemps' - asparagus, sandre de Loire et fraises d'Anjou for 30€ a head (12€ for children less than 12) - reservations are required for this so call 02 41 72 81 00 to book a table.

There will be music in the wineries during the morning and during the afternoon, activities for children, facepainting, games, wine tasting, music, art and photography exhibitions.

If the weather is fair Savennières is expecting several thousand - there should be a great atmosphere.

Wednesday, 6 May 2009


le tasting room was in Savennières yesterday - one of the most prestigious yet least known appellations here in the Loire valley. Close to the city of Angers, the appellation was created in 1957 and applies to approximatley 145 hectares across 3 communes; Savennières, Bouchemaine and la Possonnière, all located on the right bank of the river. There are two smaller appellations within this that are famous in their own right, La-Roche-aux-Moines (33ha) and La Coulée-de-Serrant(7ha).

Although it is possible that the Romans had a keen eye on the area, vines were probably first exploited by the monks and those at Coulée de Serrant were planted by the Cistercians in 1130 making 2009 the 879th vintage at this historic vineyard. Planted on exposed hillsides perched over the river Loire in shallow soils largely made up of sandy shale, the vines are influenced by the Loire and storms usually bypass them falling on the other side of the river. This contributes to the area's ability to produce dry whites from exceedingly mature, ripe grapes. These wines are 'vins de gardes' - wines for keeping, that improve, develop, mature, gain complexity and elegance with age. Not that they can't be enjoyed young - we buy from a relative newcomer in the region Loic Mahe who makes fabulous wines that are dangerously easy to enjoy in their youth but evolve and take on new characteristics in the cellar.

A large majority of growers in the region practise organic or bio-dynamic viticulture, influenced by Nicolas Joly, probably the most well known advocate of bio-dynamics in the region and indeed in France. Whether one believes in it or not, it's certainly a joy to see the spring flowers growing between the rows, to observe the birds and butterflies appearing, to see the bees buzzing around. It has to be a good thing to preserve the surrounding environment and not to spray off vegetation with chemicals and pesticides, to allow the natural order of things, for natural predators to fend off those that damage the vine.

There are 4 loops that wend their way around the Savennières vineyards ranging from 5km to 21km (between one and a half and five hours). The circuit we walked was the 5km Les Coulées. It starts in the village of Savennières, takes you up and through the forest to the Petites Coulées where the vineyards are steeply terraced and then back around to the village again. The last 2km of the walk is not pretty (much of it walking alongside the railway line by Behuard), so we have invested in an OS map to find a prettier route back.

On the way up we diverted off plan to visit Loic's vineyard at Les Fougerais. We currently have his 05, 06 and 07 vintages. His wines show wonderful fruit aromas in their youth (notes of lemon, mandarine, grapefruit), puntuated by hints of brioche, wax and lanolin. As they age they take on complexity, the primary fruit aromas receding and the secondary ones coming in to play. They are quite modern in style - a long way from the very oxidised style of Savennières (that we also love) but they too take on this mature, appealing quality that is a little reminiscent of beeswax polish with honey. Loic's top wine - Sectillis Terra 2005 (Essence de la Terre du Gué d'Orger) is a magnificent wine aged for 18 months in futs de chene. It has incredible depth, weight of flavour and will last a couple of decades if we can persuade ourselves not to drink it before then.

Having built up an appetite we were hoping to find somewhere good for lunch. This can be surprisingly difficult in the Angers area, especially outside Angers itself. Amusingly, there was a coach parked in the car park in Savennières itself offering a set menu for 13€ - I would have taken the gamble but there was a distinct lack of support from everybody else, so we headed in to Angers for an excellent 2 course menu at Chez Remi on Boulevard Foch.

Sunday, 3 May 2009

Moderation & Bottle Sizes

Reading Robert Joseph's post on bottle sizes prompted me to think more carefully about the issue this morning. Most wines these days are automaticaly bottled in the standard 75cl bottle (the size of a standard lungful of air for the average French glass blower long ago as explained by RJ). As with many traditions attached to the production of wine - history seems to drag its feet, keeping progression firmly away from the door in an attempt to retain what? The romance, pleasure, correctness of wine?
We are increasingly under pressure to moderate our alcohol intake with each piece of new research indicating that consumption is linked to longevity. That I can limit my wine intake to half a glass or less a day (the level required to increase my life expectancy by 5 years according to the latest report), is unlikely, nigh impossible, but I am increasingly aware that what I drink affects my health and I have started to make more of an effort to limit my own consumption, be it having one or two days off the wine altogther each week (not always successful) or choosing a 50cl bottle in preference to a 75cl. The 50cl bottle is not widely available - we regularly drink Couly-Dutheil's Chinon Les Gravières which does come in this size. It's a useful size at lunchtime between friends if we just want a small glass and it also moderates our own consumption in the evening when chances are we have had an aperitif before dinner and would like some red with the main course and cheese but not a full bottle.
But, I know there are problems with these smaller bottles, the 37.5cl in particular. Over the past 20 years I have worked with a number of wholesalers who specialise in supplying wine to the UK hotel and restaurant trade. There is little demand for smaller sizes and those who do put pressure upon the suppliers to provide them, rarely take the quantities they predict so the wholesalers get left with supplies of halves that age quickly and can't be sold. The lack of turnover of these halves in restaurants (except for the most enlightened) means they are generally a bit tired and don't reflect the normal quality that one comes to expect. Vintages move on giving a disparity between bottles and halves and so we go on. This is where the 50cl bottle would be a distinct advantage.
Personally I feel having a good choice of halves is a distinct bonus - to have the chance to try a different wine with each course without having to commit to purchasing a 75cl bottle gives the freedom to suit the wine to the dish and does not leave one feeling obliged to finish a bottle rather than choose something more complementary. I am encouraged to see more restaurants offering a better selection of wines by the glass but this too requires strict stock rotation and quality control (I think back to ordering a very expensive glass of Bordeaux in a chic London Hotel a couple of years ago - clearly nobody else had ordered it for days and it was oxidised and flat).
On the subject of moderation, I'd like to see pubs and restaurants serving wine in carafes rather than passing over an absurdly full 175cl or even worse a 250cl glass that makes me feel daunted before I've even taken the first sip. Pouring a small measure of wine into a large glass offers many benefits - the ability to enjoy the aroma before tasting, the pleasure of pouring a little more as and when, the capacity to keep the wine at its correct serving temperature. And I'd like to get away from the notion that giving people a full glass is 'generous', that anything less is being stingy. This is something that happens in social situations - it's not as if the bottle is going to run away, glasses can be regularly topped up even if only a little is served at a time.
I know the practicalities of change are often so much more complicated than this, but I am convinced that we, as educators and professionals in the trade, have a responsibilty to lead the way, to educate and provoke change as best we can.
At le tasting room, we deliver the WSET Foundation and Intermediate Certificates. A significant and increasing part of the syllabus is devoted to social and professional responsibility. Whether we like it or not, society has a problem with moderation. While I can't claim to have all the answers, I'll attempt to keep myself in check and make it my job to assist others in doing the same thing. Restaurateurs, hoteliers, producers, supermarkets and educators all have a role to play.

Friday, 1 May 2009

Asparagus & Sauvignon Blanc

I managed to find some green asparagus this week. In France, we are surrounded by the white variety and although I have tried desperately to prefer it to the green, I just can't. The asparagus season is short and something that I looked forward to hugely in the UK when I would cook it in just about every which way until the last stems faded from the shelves and markets. Here, I have to make do with the odd bunch but in some ways this just makes it more enjoyable.
So, to this bunch - I think I may griddle it and serve it with some parmesan shavings and a little roquette drizzled with some old balsamic, or maybe I'll make some homemade hollandaise sauce or maybe I'll wrap the spears in pancetta and bake them, then serve them with a softly boiled egg and dip them in like 'soldiers'. Whatever I choose, finding the right wine can be quite difficult as asparagus has a tendancy to make wines taste metallic. But, I think I have one that will go very well - a Quincy from Jacques Rouzé. We tried the 2008 a couple of days ago and it has fresh elderflower fruit aromas (not verging on tropical) backed up by a lovely touch of minerality and fresh but not searing acidity. This will work well with the asparagus I think.