le tasting room

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

Monday, 30 November 2009

Coteaux du Layon Tasting - Angers 28th November

We attended a tasting of selection de grains nobles wines from the Coteaux du Layon and its villages on Saturday. Full details and tasting notes have been posted on the News section of le tasting room's webiste.


Monday, 23 November 2009

Wines for Thanksgiving & Christmas

With Thanksgiving coming up this week and Christmas not far away I've been turning my attention to wines that match these traditional meals.

We seem to turn to the classic wine regions for special occasions - maybe an acknowledgement that many of the finest food wines tend to come from the Old World. Of course New World wines have their place too and can be superb when matching with the right dish, it's just that living in the Loire makes me a little biased on this front.

The traditional Thanksgiving or Christmas dinner is no easy affair when it comes to wine. If it were just a case of finding a red or white to match a simple roast then our task would be simple. It's the many accompaniments that change everything.

I have been reading your Tweets and researching recipes for the festive season. What seems clear is that the word 'traditional' means many different things. Family traditions hold firm in the kitchen. What is considered 'de rigeur' in the Loire, is different from that in Kentucky, London, New York and around the world.

A typical Thanksgiving dinner (if I dare use the word typical because there is little typicity) will probably include a roast turkey and several side dishes to include anything from sweet potatoes cooked with maple syrup, cranberry sauce, corn, Jello-O made up with whipped cream, nuts and cherries, and herb stuffing. What recommendations on the wine front then?

Well, to find a wine that will go with everything from starter to pud is probably a bit difficult but there are one or two wines from the Loire valley that I would certainly suggest.

Food and wine matching is a very subjective issue. Many would choose a white wine with roast turkey, many would choose a red. There are no hard and fast rules but first and foremost choose a wine that you like!

Gamay based reds from the Touraine region such as Henry Marionnet's Vinifera 08 would go well. With lots of summer fruit, raspberry notes and lightish tannins, the wine would partner the fruity accompaniments.

Soft elegant Cabernet Francs from Bourgueil are wonderful with a roast. Pierre-Jacques Druet's wines are elegant, with silky integrated tannins. Try the Fiefs de Louys 2005 or for a real treat go for the Vaumoreau 2000 with it's blackberry fruit and smoky cigar box notes.

Chenin blanc from Vouvray is excellent if you prefer something fresh and sherbetty with hints of pears and a little residual sweetness. Very dry wines can taste even drier if the side dishes served alongside have a touch of sweetness whereas a wine with a little residual sugar on the palate can be very complimentary. Try Bernard Fouquet's Cuvée Silex 08 or Les Marigny 07 (slightly sweeter).

Pumpkin pie, pecan pie and Christmas pudding all call out for a luscious sweet wine. Try a Coteaux du Layon or a Bonnezaux from the Loire. These wines are made from Chenin blanc grapes that have been left on the vines until they are supermature. Often affected by 'noble rot', which gives them wonderful marmaladely aromas and flavours, they are fabulous wines. We love the wines of Eddy Oosterlinck-Bracke in Faye d'Anjou. The Passion de Juchepie 2003 is superb. Rich and unctuous with wonderful aromas of dried apricots, nuts and marmalade, velvety on the palate but not in the least cloying.

And to start off your celebrations - look no further than the Loire for a glass of sparkling wine. Why pay big bucks for a Champagne (ok I know it's being discounted in the UK at the moment) when you can enjoy a wonderful sparkler from Saumur for a fraction of the price. Don't think of this as second best. Would you expect the wines from Bordeaux and Burgundy to taste the same? The Loire makes a wide range of traditional method sparkling wines that are excellent in their own right. Try Langlois Chateau's Quadrille Extra Brut 2002 - made from a blend of 4 different grape varieties, it's full bodied with lovely toasty notes and real depth.

Not all the wines I recommend are available worldwide but the styles and grape varieties give a good indication of what to look for. Above all, happy Thanksgiving (can't quite bring myself to say Happy Christmas just yet).

If you have an interesting recipe for Thanksgiving or Christmas or have found a great wine that matches one of your dishes I'd love to hear from you.

Wednesday, 18 November 2009

Pruning in the Loire valley

Now that grapes are gathered in, leaves are starting to fall and winter is approaching, vignerons are beginning to think about pruning the vines in readiness for next year's harvest.

As a rule, it's better to wait until the vines are completely dormant before pruning as the sap will have receded and generally it's better for them to have a period of complete rest with a good dose of cold weather to kill off any lingering bugs and diseases. In some vineyards, pruning begins within a couple of weeks of vintage - leaves still clinging to the canes. I'm rather critical of this practice as when it comes to producing quality wine, delaying pruning is one of the criteria. Not only does it give the vines a chance to rest but the later the pruning, the later the vine bursts back into action the following season. Stands to reason in a cool climate region such as the Loire that this makes sense - less chance of problems around budburst and flowering, decreased risk of frost damage at a tender stage of development. But, the reality of pruning here in the Loire is a different issue.

A couple of years ago an initiative was launched to encourage the unemployed to be trained by competent vignerons in the art of pruning. I know of several producers locally who embraced the idea. A skilled pruner arrives with a team of 'trainees' and they prune together. The problem with this is that not all trainees have the 'eye' required to make the right decisions. The end result is a badly pruned vineyard and while the vines will continue to produce fruit (like most plants, vines bounce back), they often produce too much, the fruiting zone can be in the wrong place, the crown of the vine too high.

So, in an ideal world, a competent team will sweep through the vineyard during the winter (typically end of December onwards) but the reality is often far from this ideal. Vignerons firstly have to find willing seasonal employees who have the ability to make the right decisions and ensure that pruning is finished in time. Which is where we come back to early pruning - many producers start early because they don't have enough people to wait until the time is right.

It has become increasingly difficult to find skilled labour when it comes to pruning vines in the region. Methods are dicated by the appellation and it does take a certain amount of skill to make the 'right cut'. It requires quick and efficient analysis of the vines one at a time, moving quickly through the vineyard.

We'll be doing some pruning in Anjou in the new year so will take some precise before and after shots and post them on the blog. Until then - we'll be holding off. Maybe you'd like to come and join us in the Spring and have a look for yourself.

Thursday, 5 November 2009

An English Oenologist - Custom Crush

We had the pleasure of catching up with some of our old contacts in the UK wine trade last week and spent an afternoon with Emma Rice at her new lab in Sussex. We met Emma while studying viticuluture and oenology together at Plumpton College. She, like me, was one of the few people on the course to have an exisiting wine trade background and the WSET Diploma. Since graduating, we have all taken different paths but Emma decided to set herself up as a consultant oenologist having spent a year in California.

Emma taking samples to test for malolactic fermentation

The English wine industry has taken off considerably during the past 20 years having previously been the subject of scorn by many who consider England a joke when it comes to wine. But, the emergence of some really good sparkling wines made by producers such as Nyetimber, Ridgeview, Camel Valley and Breaky Bottom as well as increasingly interesting still wines has made people have a rethink and we have seen a lot of new producers entering the fray as well as investment coming from elsewhere. This is where Emma comes in.

Setting up the equipment to test for Sulphur

Most producers in France manage their vineyards and wineries themselves but they often look for outside assistance when it comes to analysing their wines. This is because winemakers are not always chemists and the equipment required to run standard tests is expensive and requires skill to operate. They may do rudimentary tests to check the levels of sugar during fermentation and use a simple kit to test for sulphur but where real accuracy is involved, an outside lab is routinely used. Samples are dropped off or collected, the tests run and the results delivered back to the producer.

There are few people in England who offer this kind of service and Emma saw an opportunity. She works closely with a number of small producers giving advice during winemaking, collecting and analysing samples for them and being on hand to offer assistance when needed.

Testing for Sulphur by the aspiration method

While we were there she was testing free and bound sulphur levels and checking if malolactic ferments had started.

The sample of wine goes here and air is bubbled through

This is the indicator - if there is Sulphur in the wine it will turn purple and Emma will then use titration to measure the level accurately

Having been stronger in the arts and not the sciences at school (a long time ago), I admit to feeling near terror at the thought of having to return to chemistry in 20003. After a few preliminary headaches I became really interested in the subject and surprised myself. I'm sure this is related to the fact that winemaking is all about chemistry and understanding it explains so much. Of course, you don't need to be a chemist to make good wine.

So thanks to Emma for an interesting an informative afternoon - we're looking forward to hearing more good things about the English wine industry with her help.

Emma Rice
Custom Crush
Tel: 00 44 7530 999 592