le tasting room

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

Wednesday, 29 December 2010

Our top Loire wines of 2010

It's always interesting to read the personal choices of other wine writers, growers and friends, so I thought I would add our top wines of 2010 to the mix. What makes a top wine for le tasting room? Well, it's obviously a wine that we love, that we drink ourselves, but it's also a wine that our clients have loved too.Over the course of the season we show many different wines to many different customers who have very varied palates. We always try to show a broad spectrum that represents the diversity of styles and grape varieties and make no apologies for having a bias towards those from the region of Anjou Saumur as this is where we are located.

Cheninsolite 2008, Anjou Blanc AOC, Domaine Cady, Saint Aubin de Luigné

This classy white made by Alexandre Cady shows just what can be done with Chenin blanc. Grapes are picked at optimum maturity and then fermented in oak (50% of which is replaced each year). The wine is then left on its yeast lees for 11 months with regular stirring. The result is a beautifully crafted, elegant, rich wine with a hint of creaminess. Round and soft on the palate, yet with a crisp acidity, wonderful sweet primary fruit aromas on the nose and no excess wood dominating the scene. It's fantastic now and will develop over time too. A regular winner at our tastings - it seems to cross the divide keeping both New World and Old World palates happy.

Le Haut de la Garde 2008, Anjou Blanc AOC, Chateau Pierre Bise, Beaulieu-sur -Layon

Another Chenin blanc from another producer in the Layon. What is especially interesting is that both these exceptional dry whites come from producers better known for their sweet wines. Claude Papin at Pierre Bise is a master of 'terroir'. Le Haut de la Garde has a purity of flavour and exotic minerality that comes directly from the schist, sandstone and rhyolite soil that nurtures the vines for this wine. A beautiful nose of pears and quince with a touch of white flowers leads on to a warm and complex palate with a hint of grapefruit and a long finish. It's exceptional value at 7.75 Euros cellar door.

Goutte de Rosé, Chinon AOC, Domaine de la Noblaie, Ligré

Yes, it's a rosé - and I'm afraid I have veered away from the many rosés of Anjou. There are three specific appellations for rosé - Rosé de Loire (always dry and often made from the workhorse grape variety Grolleau), Rosé d'Anjou (min 7 g/l residual sugar and often quite a lot sweeter than that, made from Grolleau, Cab Franc, Cab Sauvignon amongst others) and Cabernet d'Anjou (min 10 g/l residual sugar and often sweeter, arguably the best of the three and always made from Cab Franc, Cabernet Sauvignon). This one however, comes from Chinon (predominantly a red wine AOC but permitted to produce a little white and rosé too).

Jérome Billard uses his young Cabernet Franc vines to produce a rosé that is lovely and fresh with wonderful summer fruit aromas and a light, crisp palate that is a delight in summer. By far and away the best rosé we tasted in 2009, we managed to change the minds of many customers who came to us with a prejudice against sweet, poorly made wines. Another plus - the wine is bottled under screwcap. Why don't more Loire producers use screwcap for wines that are destined for early drinking?

Cuvée Passion 2003, Anjou Rouge AOC, Chateau de Pimpéan, Grezillé

Looking over the vines at Chateau de Pimpéan in February 2009

Those of you who know us are aware that we have a special relationship with Chateau de Pimpéan and are therefore a little predisposed to singing its praises. However, we first encountered Cuvée Passion independently while eating out at our local auberge a couple of years ago and continue to be impressed with the quality of this wine. Anjou Rouge has a hard time as an appellation - it lacks the sex-appeal of Saumur Champigny for example, doesn't have 'villages' tacked on and Grezillé was not included in the more recent appellation of Anjou-Villages Brissac which seems to be making a bit of a name for its Cabernet Sauvignons. As Sarah Ahmed says in her recent top 5 Loire wines, Cabernet Franc has a hard time reaching ripeness on schistous, slate soils. That's where this wine is different - Chateau de Pimpéan is located at the point at which the schistous slate soil changes to tuffeau limestone. Maryse Tugendhat is making wines that are not at all in the style of traditional Anjou Rouge (often with harsher tannins, green notes). We love the 2003 - a wine typical of its vintage in that it has an explosion of soft, ripe fruit on the nose. It also has lovely aromas of leather, wood, vanilla and spice that back it up. A wonderful introduction to Cabernet Franc and a million miles away from a harsh, tannic red.

Rocca Nigra 2005, Anjou-Villages-Brissac AOC, Domaine de Bablut, Brissac

Tasting with Christophe Daviau at Domaine de Bablut

While this wine is 100% Cabernet Sauvignon, Christophe Daviau is looking to express the ground in which the vines were grown rather than the grape variety from which it is produced. Rocca Nigra is a reference to the schistous, slate, sandstone soil originating from the primary era (ordovicien and silurien). Soils like this require grape varieties that can support a reduced amount of water (one of the reasons why Cabernet Franc vines often struggle in such soils). Cabernet Sauvignon is happy in such circumstances and tasting this wine, you can see why. Not a wine for the faint-hearted - we first purchased a case or two a couple of years ago and at that time it was a massive wine with enough tannin to make your gums wither. 2 years on - what a change - the wine has begun to soften, the smokey, stone fruit aromas gather together in a delcious expolosion of flavour. This wine is still young and has a long life ahead of it but we'll be bringing it out much more during 2011.

Last but by no means least, a sweet wine. The Loire valley makes fabulous sweet wines from the Chenin blanc - our problem is convincing our customers that they are as wonderful as we say they are. Of course the term 'sweet' is a loose one, encompassing everything from 'off-dry' to unctuous.

Les Trois Schistes 2008, Coteaux de l'Aubance AOC, Domaine de Montgilet, Juigné sur Loire

100% Chenin blanc, Les Trois Schistes is a wine made from grapes coming from 3 separate parcels owned by Domaine de Montgilet. Several passes were made through the vineyards to ensure only fully ripe grapes and those affected by botrytis were picked. Fermentation and ageing of the wine took place at a leisurely pace in oak barrels (average age 3 to 6 years old). This is a young wine - its golden colour will change and deepen over time and the aromas of white flowers, quince, apricots and pineapple will develop. But, it's delicious now - the perfect balance between sweet fruit and refreshing acidity - wonderful as an aperitif and great with blue cheese, fruit tarts and desserts with the same balance of fruit and acidity. Many of our customers who have expressed a prejudice for sweet wines have gone away converted. Served in the right situation, with the right food, the Loire takes some beating when it comes to sweet wines.

For more top Loire wines see the Wine Detective's top 5


Monday, 6 December 2010

A new roof for le tasting room

Like many others in France, our roof suffered quite substantial damage following the storm Xynthia in March, and while we knew that it would need replacing in the coming years, this accellerated the urgency somewhat. Our home (and business) is in Cumeray, a small hamlet just a 10 minute walk from the river Loire in Anjou The house itself is a former winemaker's home - a simple single storey property comprising 3 rooms and a large maturation cave running underneath the house. The previous owners restored the property and attached it to the large 17th century barn that would have at one time housed animals and grain.

First job was to remove all the old 'ardoises' (slate tiles). They were in a shocking state - crumbling in your hand.

Having removed all the old tiles, a new structure of wooden slats had to be put up for the new tiles to be pegged onto.

You can see the damage to the front of the house - we were left with several large holes after the storm that were repaired 'heath robinson' style until the entire roof could be replaced.

On go the new tiles - amazing how quickly the couvreur progressed once he got going

Off come all the old slate tiles on the front.

On goes one of the two new finials - we had hoped to repair the old ones but this was impossible so opted for two new ones.

Here you can see the new wooden structure that allows the slates to be pegged on.

Continuing with the front of the house - it's taking shape now.

One week later and the job is done - just missing the snow.

And the view from the front - a great job well done.

A bit of a drain on the pocket just before Christmas but a job well done and one that will last for many years to come. We're extremely pleased with the result and it ties up the front of the house nicely with the barn at the back (it was letting the side down a little before). The couvreur who did the job was Thierry Cerceau from Chemellier. He was quick, efficient and helpful - we can recommend him.

Thierry Cerceau
Couverture, Zinguerie-Ramonage
La Petite Guittière
49320 Chemellier
02 41 44 19 40

Monday, 29 November 2010

Christmas Fair at Chateau Brissac

A few photos taken yesterday at the Christmas Fair at Chateau de Brissac in Brissac-Quincé, a short hop from Angers in the Loire valley. This beautiful chateau is still privately owned and occupied. Each year the family holds a number of special events of which the Christmas Fair is one.

If you're feeling flush and fancy a little luxury you can stay overnight in the chateau in one of 4 rooms for around 390 Euros.

Open from April to October for daily tours, I can certainly recommend a visit. Most of the tours are conducted in French but a sheet in English is available for non-French speakers. It's fully furnished unlike many French chateau and is full of wonderful paintings, tapestries and antiques yet remains small enough to feel like a real home.


Sunday, 21 November 2010

Domaine Richou - Mozé sur Louet

Domaine Richou is a family domaine in Chauvigné near Mozé sur Louet. Managed by Didier and Damien Richou, Damien is responsible for the family's 33 hectares of vines while Didier takes charge in the chai. The estate works along organic lines and is in its first year of official conversion to 'bio'. In 2011 Damien is going to introduce a biodyanamic approach for the first time. He is passionate about terroir and values above everything the notion of identity, cépage, purity of wine and soil.

This was a first time visit to the domaine during their annual portes ouvertes, mainly aimed at private consumers wishing to purchase wines for the festive season (this represents around 60% of their total sales).

A list of wines available for tasting and an order of degustation stuck on the wall made life easy

The first wine on the list was this year's Primeur Gamay 2010. I have to admit to being a bit sceptical about all primeur wines as they are (in my opinion) on the whole made too quickly and with an eye on profit rather than quality. With a very typical ripe Gamay nose and an intense purple colour, the fruit on this wine is lively and attractive, very fruity, fresh and extremely easy drinking. Tannin is low and acidity not too high. We purchased a couple of bottles to show to our American clients who are coming on Thursday. I'll never be a big fan, but of its kind, its a great example. Juicy red fruits, simple and easy - a good wine to share with friends and not get too snobby about. I discussed my feelings on Primeur wines with Damien who was keen to stress that he too feels the same about wines produced purely to get the money in the bank soon after harvest. He reassured me that this wine while being a primeur is also made using perfectly ripe fruit. I think I've been converted.

The entire family was on hand, pouring samples, answering questions and giving advice

AOC Anjou Blanc Sec, Chauvigné 2009 is a blend of several parcels of Chenin from volcanic and schistous soils. A long slow fermentation takes place and then the wine rests on its lies for around a year before bottling. Light and clean on the nose it has some minerality and white flowers and then this opens out on the palate to reveal a beautifully clean and precise wine with citrus, grapefruit and finally a touch of honey and quince on the finish. A delightful wine and very good value at 6.35 Euros TTC.

AOC Anjou blanc sec Les Rogeries 2008 has been aged in 2-3 year old barriques for 18 months. A richer, more golden colour and lovely attractive creamy aromas on the nose. A bigger wine for spending time in wood, floral, full bodied and with a swirl of vanilla on the palate. Rich and citric, a hint of honey and grapefruit at the end. Great length. More of a food wine that the Chauvigné. 10.20 Euros TTC.

AOC Anjou Rouge 'Les 4 Chemins' 2009 comes from young vines of Cabernet Franc and Cabernet Sauvignon. A wine meant for drinking young it has a deep purple colour with a bright pink purple rim. Quite a firm nose, black fruits dominating and a whiff of violet coming through. Quite spicey and peppery on the palate. It seems a little dry on the finish - maybe needs a little more time for it to be 'easy drinking'. To be fair Richou says drink young or after 5 years ageing. I'd err on the side of keeping for the moment. 6.20 Euros TTC.

AOC Anjou Gamay 'Le Champ de la Pierre' 2008 is another Anjou Gamay coming from schistous soils with quartz. A deep purple colour with less bright pink reflections than the 4 Chemins (another year older so to be expected). Blackberry and violet notes on the nose. Quite firm and earthy on the palate with marked acidity running through. Tannins come in at the front of the mouth but don't dominate completely. Surprising weight for a Gamay - needs food. 7.30 Euros TTC.

AOC Anjou Villages Brissac 2008
comes from Cabernet Franc and Cabernet Sauvignon 50/50 harvested from schistous and quartz soils. This is more like it - attractive smokey red fruit on the nose with the Cabernet Sauvignon coming through. Lovely fruit on the palate, well balanced. Quite tannic but would be lovely with a rich casserole. Similar in style to the lovely Croix de Mission from Domaine de Rochelles. I am increasingly convinced that reds from Anjou just have to come from vines planted on the right soil. Wines coming from the Anjou Villages Brissac appellation often deliver while other Anjou's just don't seem to make the grade. 8.20 Euros TTC and good at that.

Now on to the sweet wines that give the Coteaux de l'Aubance its reputation. AOC Coteaux de l'Aubance 'La Sélection' 2009 is harvested late in a series of passes through the vineyard when small clusters of perfectly ripe and overripe berries are picked individually. Grapes are naturally very rich in sugar and so are able to produce naturally sweet wines. This particular wine was harvested in 4 separate passes through the vineyard finishing at the beginning of November. With an amber appearance, the nose is quite light and elegant with a note of pineapple chunks and a honey-like sherbet quality. Lovely fruit on the palate, light and fresh, not at all cloying and with a refreshing bitterness at the end. Notes of apricot and peach creep up on you towards the end. This would be an excellent apero wine and would also be great with the quintessential Christmas foie gras terrine or blue cheese. 7.20 Euros TTC 50cl or 9.30 Euros TTC 75cl.

AOC Coteaux de l'Aubance 'La Grande Sélection' 2009
is a similar colour to the Sélection although is slightly sweeter in style having around 80-85g/l residual sugar as opposed to 78g/l. There's more honey on the nose and it's slightly more floral although again quite tight on the nose at present due to its youth. Again on the palate, incredibly refreshing despite its sweetness. Not a hint of sugary stickiness that leaves the palate jaded. Great fruit and a lovely vein of acidity running through it. More minerality on the finish and a touch of tannin coming in at the end. 10.40 Euros 50cl or 14.20 Euros 75cl.

AOC Crémant de Loire Brut 2006 'Dom Nature' is vinified according to an old method of making sparkling wine called 'la méthode ancestrale'. In this process, the wine is bottled for its second fermentation before the first fermentation has completely finished. This means that there is still sugar in the partially fermented wine and therefore no additional sugar is required to promote a second fermentation ( I guess you could argue that it's really one fermentation that was stopped in the middle, bottled and then carries on). Because no additional yeast or sugar is added, wines made by this method don't need the sediment removing. You can occasionally find a little sediment in the bottom of the bottle. Dom Nature has no liqueur d'expedition added either (the usual addition of wine and sugar after degorging has taken place). Quite a rich colour it has a slightly milky aroma and then a hint of green apple. Very dry indeed on the palate and with a characteristic bitterness on the finish. I rather like the oddness of it but I'm not sure if I like it - would like to try again. Full marks to Richou for the presentation - it looks classy and is a very interesting take on sparkling wine. 12.20 Euros TTC

Le Domaine Richou
Chauvigné - Route de Denée
49610 Mozé sur Louet
00 33 2 41 78 72 13

Friday, 12 November 2010

A Tale of Two Magnums

We've had the opportunity of sharing a couple of Magnums over the past couple of weeks that merit a mention.

We opened the Dom Perignon Vintage 1982 with family to celebrate my father's 80th birthday. I'm not sure how long it had been hidden away in dad's cellar but we couldn't think of a better time to open it. Dom Perignon was the famous Benedictine monk who is often accredited with 'inventing' Champagne although it is for his development of blending that we should be grateful as it was the English who in fact had more to do with it's development as a commercial product.

The Cuvée was launched in 1921 as their top of the range Champagne and has a price tag to go with it so expectation was high. Any wine that is kept for a long time changes and develops in bottle - only top quality wines can expect to withstand long ageing and come out the other side all the better for it.

So, what was it like? Well, it was tricky to open - the cork was very dry and despite our best efforts to open the bottle in the correct manner (twist the bottle not the cork) we didn't manage that. After several minutes of gently teasing the cork up it broke in two so we had to revert to using a tradtional waiter's friend. With a lively bottle of Champagne this is something I would absolutely not recommend as the pressure in the bottle is still likely to be very high. As this wine was nearly 30 years old we decided this was a risk we could take.

To the wine - it was a delight. A delicate caramel colour with very fine bubbles that continued to rise up the glass. Hints of toast, hazlenut, butter biscuits and stewed apple came through on the nose with just a hint of oxidation (which we love). A gentle elegant glass of Champagne, softer on the palate due to it's fine mousse and truly delicious. Worth it? Yes, as this was a special occasion. This wine is tasting fabulous and is by no means past its sell by date yet. A lovely surprise and one that we will remember for a long time.

We opened the second magnum on Tuesday while entertaining a group here in the cellar. 22 people from around France joined us for an introduction to Loire valley wines so we thought it fitting to offer a glass of Crémant to start off the morning.

A more humble wine you might say - certainly not in the league of Dom Perignon 82. We bought several magnums from Gratien & Meyer about 3 years ago and this was a good opportunity to open a couple. A lot younger as well - vintage 1999 - a mere 11 years ago. A blend of Chenin Blanc and Chardonnay - would it live up to expectation? Well, it was delicious. Am I being unfair comparing the two wines? No, not at all - the Crémant too was slightly caramel in colour showing its age. It too had complex aromas on the nose, green apple, biscuit, nuts and toast. Maybe a little less intense and shorter on the finish than the Dom Perignon but a real treat. The mousse was still lively, the wine a pleasure to drink.

Fine and rare wines will always cost more than their actual worth and it's a privilege to taste them from time to time. Lower cost alternatives can also be fabulously good value as in this case. I enjoyed them both - the one that will stick in the memory? The Dom Perignon of course. But, if I had to pay my own money - I know where the Euros would go.

Monday, 27 September 2010

Annual Brocante at Durtal

A chilly start to the day with mist rising from the river

View of the chateau in Durtal

Delicious looking breads for sale

It was clearly going to be a long day!

The sun rises leaving a cold but sunny autumn day - perfect for pottering.