le tasting room

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

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.

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