le tasting room

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

Friday, 30 April 2010

Update on our vines

We have put up the trellising for the vines we planted last year. The small row of Chenin will be trained to Guyot Simple with one cane and one spur, supported by wires, and the Cabernet Franc vines will be bush trained to three short canes with a couple of buds each.

Buds have burst and are growing at an alarming rate. Although we are not quite out of the period when frost can be a serious threat, for us, it's the slugs that are causing trouble, nibbling away at the tender new shoots that are still quite close to the ground.

This year's task is to nurture the vines to a sensible working height and to develop their shape. They may provide fruit this year but we will remove any bunches that do appear to encourage the vine to put down strong roots and concentrate upon establishing themselves rather than producing grapes.

Wednesday, 21 April 2010

Spring in the Loire

Spring flowers amongst the vines in the Saumur Champigny appellation

Buds just bursting at Closel Chateau des Vaults in Savennières

The potager at Chateau des Vaults

Sunday, 11 April 2010

Café de la Promenade - Bourgueil

Pierre-Jacques Druet had been trying to persuade us to have lunch at this wine/oyster bar in Bourgueil for some time, but things just seemed to keep getting in the way. On Friday however, we had an appointment in Vouvray after lunch and as it was such a lovely Spring day, decided to stop off in Bourgueil on the way.

From the moment we stepped inside, we realised we had been missing out. The atmosphere is completely relaxed and friendly, bottles of wine lined up on the counter, people sitting, drinking, chatting and eating.

Simple, home-made food comes served on traditional ardoise slates - perfect for sharing and great if you love good charcuterie and cheese. We choose a 'grand cochonnaille à partager' (9.90 Euros) which was a selection of home-made charcuterie including 2 different types of terrine, rillauds, andouillete, the best rabbit rillettes we've ever tasted and topped with paper thin shavings of serrano-like ham. A basket of crusty bread comes alongside - quite delicious. To follow, we shared a 'grande fromage' (11.50 Euros) - a selection of cheeses to include 2 different goat's cheeses, Livarot, Reblochon, Gorgonzola and Roquefort. To be honest, we couldn't quite finish the cheese - a 'petite fromage' would probably have sufficed bearing in mind we had left the cochonnaille ardoise clean.
If you fancy something even more indulgent you can opt for the ardoise 'la promenade' which has foie gras, magret de canard, fromage chevre and local reared escargots for 19.50 Euros. The Hambourgueil is foie gras, onions deglazed with Bourgueil, and a char-grilled steak - served like a hamburger in local bread from the Boulangerie Richard for 15 Euros.

For something a little lighter, try a tarte flambée (Alsace style with lardons, onions & crème fraiche) or sweet with apples. And don't of course forget the oysters - from Tremblade de Philipe Rousselot you can have a dozen no 3 for 15 Euros or 6 for 7.50.

Now to the wine - you won't find a better place to buy or try local wine than here. If you are up to sharing a bottle - walk across the bar and down into the tiny 'cave' where you will see all the wines on offer together with prices marked on the slate beside them. Ludovic has a refreshing approach to selling wine - you can buy wines by the bottle to take away at cellar door price and if you want to drink a bottle on the premises he adds on a flat 8 Euros per bottle.

As he explained to us 'this enables customers to sample and enjoy wines that they would otherwise never choose due to price restraints. It's boring to sell the same few wines all the time - this way, customers can choose something really high quality at an affordable price and I have the pleasure of selling a wide range of superb wines.'

Everyone wins with this system - la promenade sells a more diverse, interesting range of wines, and customers pay less than they would have done if marked up with the traditional margins (around 3 times the cost or 75% gross profit on return). No wonder this wine bar is a favourite haunt for many of the local producers whose wines are available here.

Our bill came to 40 Euros including 2 glasses of wine each and coffee. Incidentally, we drank Pierre-Jacques Druet's Vaumoreau 03 and Chateau de la Chevalerie 06. Fantastic to be able to buy them by the glass and affordable too.

A note of caution - you won't find the merest hint of healthiness in this establishment. No green leaves, vegetables and salads in sight. Not a problem for us but best you know before you go.

Café de la Promenade is open from Thursday until Monday from Midday until Midnight. They actually take a break from 3.30 until 7pm but it makes a great place for a late lunch - a rare opportunity in the region. The one downside that I can think of is that somebody has to drive afterwards, but, the Café also has 5 rooms so I can forsee a night there sometime soon!

I'm sure you'll have eaten in more orderly places but expect a warm welcome, tip-top charcuterie and a fabulous selection of wines. We'll be back for more.

Cafe de la promenade
1 avenue du General de Gaulle
37140 Bourgueil

Tel 02 47 95 10 87

Spring is in the air at le Haut-Lieu - Vouvray

We drove around the vineyards of Vouvray on Friday - this picture is of the Haut-Lieu vineyard owned by Huet. Lovely to see the wild flowers and grass pushing between the rows.

Wednesday, 7 April 2010

A week with le tasting room

The season has now swung into action and we have a regular flow of guests from all over the world visiting our beautiful valley. I say 'our' beautiful valley but of course it is not. We claimed our little corner of this special place in France when we moved from the UK in 2006.

Cumeray, where we live and run our business, is approximately half-way between Angers and Saumur. A tiny hamlet, one of 13 that make up the commune of St Georges des Sept Voies. A typical countryside community with its share of artisans and farmers, viticulturists, professionals and us - an English family with wine trade backgrounds.

We welcome, share and discuss our passion for wine, food and French life with like-minded people from countries far and wide. This year we have had the pleasure of meeting people who work in law, research, banking, sport, dentistry, fashion, tv, technology, marketing and nursing. Yet we are all united with one passion, that of wine.

We spent a morning in and around Savennières with guests from Chicago last week. Savennières is a small appellation just 10 minutes away from the city of Angers and covers three communes - Savennières, Bouchmaine and Possonière. We met with Luc Bizard of Chateau d'Epiré whose family has been making wine for generations.

The church of Epiré seen from the vineyards of Chateau d'Epiré

Vineyards are interesting to visit at any time of year as there is always something different to observe. Here, the vines are pruned, ready and waiting for budburst which is due in a couple of weeks. When this happens, nerves are tested until the risk of Spring frost is over. A late frost in this cool climate wine-making region can make or break a vintage.

As there is no foliage on the vines, it's a great time to explain the basic principals of pruning and how this has such a major impact upon final wine quality. It's easy to see what has been done and explain the process.

On one side these vineyards overlook the river which helps moderate the climate and to the other, you can see the famous Coulée de Serrant and the Chateau de la Roche aux Moines owned by bio-dyanimics expert Nicolas Joly.
Chateau de la Roche aux Moines and the vineyards of Nicolas Joly

Nothing will convince you more of the effects of terroir than spending a day in and around the vineyards of the Loire valley. Soil types are quite visibly different and contribute hugely to final winestyle. Here in Savennières the soil is predominantly schistous with spilites dotted around.

No surprise where the minerality of Savennières comes from

In the afternoon we paid a visit to Chateau de Pimpéan in Grezillé where this time our guests had the chance to have a go at pruning themselves. This area, which falls within the Anjou appellation, is known for its red wines from the Cabernet Franc grape and Grezillé marks the point at which the soil changes from slate and schist to tuffeau limestone. Cabernet Franc is happiest grown on this more absorbant soil as it dislikes being water stressed.

The chateau is privately owned and is a huge restoration project under the guidance of batiments de France. Originally built by Bertrand de Beauveau, a friend of Roi Rene in 1435 it has a beautiful chapel from which the wine takes its inspiration. Imposing and stern, dominating the surrounding countryside, 20 hectares of vines surround it. A visit here is not just about wine but about, history, art and heritage.

Chateau de Pimpean during the summer - history, wine, culture, art

Later on in the week we headed off in the other direction with clients from England. Vignoble de la Jarnoterie in St Nicolas de Bourgueil is a 24 hectare vineyard which has been in the family for 5 generations. The wines of St Nicolas are generally lighter than those coming from nearby Bourgueil - good wines for those not seeking robust tannins. Here the soil gives wines that are generally lighter in style then their fuller-bodied neighbours.

The Loire valley region is famous for its chateaux as well as its wine and much of the stone used to build them was quarried from the region over the centuries. There are more than 1000km of tunnels in and around the region as a result of this quarrying and as time has passed by, locals have found ingenious ways of using them to their advantage. Winemakers use the tunnels for storing wine, snails are raised in them and they are home to millions of mushrooms cultivated in damp, dark, conditions.

1km from the road and 20 metres underground at Vignoble de la Jarnoterie

Before tasting the wines of Jarnoterie, we went to see their caves where the wines mature in barrel. This was a first both for us and our clients - we took our Renault Trafic 8 seater car down into the caves. With only just enough room on either side and in pitch darkness, we drove right underneath the vineyards for 1 km. A slightly nerve-wracking but nonetheless exciting few minutes was rewarded when we saw the vast caves at the end. Now used for cellaring and ageing wine, these caves were quarried by convicts who had not paid for their salt. For their crime, they were sent away to French Guyana but as boats only left once every 6 months, they were forced to quarry limestone until the next boat arrived.

to be continued