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