le tasting room

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

Sunday, 21 October 2012

What is falun?

On a recent visit to see Domaine Leduc-Frouhin in Anjou recently we took the time to have a close look at the 'falun'.  A sedimentary rock formed from marine deposits laid down during the Caenozoic era (up to 60 million years old), it contains thousands of tiny shells, sometimes crushed, sometimes whole and is generally friable (being mixed with sand and clay). 

Falun was quarried in times gone by to correct the pH of highly acid agricultural soils and is common in Touraine and Anjou.  It looks quite different to tufa (here called tuffeau), the local limestone that dominates our landscape and was used to build all the houses and chateau along the Loire. 

Sunday, 23 September 2012

A couple of 79's

We had the pleasure of sharing these two old bottles with our neighbours yesterday over a very long lazy lunch.  Chateau Chalon is a beautiful village in the Jura which is famous for it's fabulous 'vins jaunes' made from the Savagnin grape variety.  We had the Chateau Chalon 1979 as an aperitif with a few nibbles - sherry-like in aroma and taste it was hazlenutty, yeasty and toasty with a caramelised note and with hints of cinnamon.  These wines have amazing staying power with a capacity to age gracefully for decades.  

With some home prepared gravadlax we enjoyed a bottle of La Coulée de Serrant 1979.  This Chenin Blanc wine from the famous estate of Nicolas Joly was produced before his biodynamic days and was a real surprise.  Straw coloured (not amber or golden), it had the appearance of a much younger wine.  Honeyed on the nose and with striking aromas of waxy white flowers, fresh as a daisy with a touch of wet wool and a slightly Riesling style note at the end.  The palate was soft and creamy with a seam of floral limeyness running through it.  Acidity was low - a slight criticism but for a wine of this age it was incredible.  We were at the Coulée de Serrant only last week with clients and it was interesting to see how the winemaking style today is clearly quite different. No hints of stewed apple on the 79 that are already evident on the 2010's and no searingly high alcohol either (15.5 on the 2010).  That the wine showed no real sign of fading away after more than 30 years is an incredible testament to the staying power of Chenin Blanc.  I imagine that levels of sulphur at bottling were relatively high compared with those used today.  

Our thanks have to go to our neighbours who kindly shared these bottles with us.  Not only do they have troglodyte caves that are more beautiful than ours, they seem to have a more interesting cellar too!! 

Wednesday, 29 August 2012

3 years of passion for 3 seconds of pleasure!

The business of raising oysters is not something that has been particularly close to my heart up until now.  They don't really 'do' it for me.  Don't get me wrong, I love seafood, adore mussels and clams but I just can't get the oyster thing.  I desperately want to love them - nothing sexier than sharing a dozen oysters sat on the sea front with a chilled bottle of something dry and white.  Low in calories, good for the libido, sensuous, what more can I say.  I've tried but I don't get the thrill of that saline hit as they slide down your throat.  So when I say I love mussels, clams etc I guess I have to come clean, it's all about the sauce for me.  Nothing better than a creamy curry flavoured mouclade with a glass of Muscadet, a bowl of steaming moules marinières with crusty bread to mop up the juices, a garlicky spagetti alla vongole.  I think you get my drift - so why the interest now then?

Well, we've just come back from a short break in Brittany and paid a visit to a very pretty little seaside village called Penerf.  Here, oysters rule the show.  The surrounding marshes used to produce ample quantities of sea salt in generations gone by but with the land reclining, the introduction of refrigeration and the need to regenerate the area in the mid 19th century the region turned it's hand to rearing oysters.  

Today there are 5 producers in this tiny village. Around the Golfe du Morbihan there are around 150 so oysters pretty much rule the roost in these parts.  We took the chance to visit the production site of Jöel Denis and see what's it's all about.

Jöel is close to retirement and he doesn't have anyone lined up to take over his business.  In the past, oyster rearing passed from generation to generation but it's exceedingly hard work and other more modern problems have recently appeared that make it financially crippling.  A virus that originated in Russia frequently attacks the young oysters when they're young.  Some years the producers will suffer a 10% loss and other years it can be up to 80%.  

Each producer effectively rents a parcel of sea from the state for a period of 35 years.  If things don't work out and the producer decides to call it quits he/she has to pay for a minimum of 10 years rent.  This is one reason why the majority of producers try to buy existing businesses from the retirement generation as otherwise they are faced with the heavy investment costs of setting up a production facility themselves and then persuading the state to rent them an area of sea. But with the virus wiping out a good proportion of the oysters before they can reach full maturity, you can see why this business is proving unattractive to the younger generation.

These tiny oysters are a few months old and have been bought in by Jöel Denis.  Young oysters like this cost 30€ per kilo (now they don't sound expensive do they?). He puts around 700 of them in large plastic mesh bags (see below on the tractor) and then these are laid out on tables in the sea.  The bags weigh about 25 kilos each and are turned and shaken on a regular basis to ensure that they don't grow attached to each other and green algae doesn't form on the bags.  When they get bigger they are transferred to bags with a larger mesh and the process continues.  On average an oyster has been handled 40 times before it reaches your mouth.  An incredible 40 times - now that's what I call a labour of love.  Come rain or shine, in wind and rain, gales and torrents, these guys are out on the sea lifting and turning and shifting and grafting for us.  

And when all is done and the oysters have spent around 2 years out at sea, they're brought in. After a time in oxygenated water to cleanse and purify them they are sorted by size (see below Jöel's old fashioned machine) and then taken to markets and distributors all over France.

A staggering 3 years for something that is popped into our mouths and disappears in 3 seconds. These guys deserve respect and I hope that the industry won't dwindle into decline over the coming years.

Seeing how hard they work and understanding how they are produced was enlightening.  We are so far removed from the food on our plate these days - I do believe that if we spent a bit more time understanding the labour of love and commitment that goes into producing high quality produce that we'd all respect it a bit more and savour every mouthful.

And yes, I'm going to have another go. They deserve it!

Sunday, 12 August 2012

Catching up with Bernard Fouquet in Vouvray

Good to catch up with Bernard Fouquet in Vouvray last week and have an update from him as to the state of play in the vineyards over there.  He says it's been a tricky year so far with more treatments than normal to keep the mildew at bay.  I asked how many times he has treated at which point he offered us a tasting from barrel of his Cuvée Marigny- an excellent tactic to dodge the question!  

It's interesting to note that in years like this when weather conditions are against them the lutte raisonnée and organic growers are having to treat often to keep the vines healthy.  Last year we were blessed with such a dry period that many growers only sprayed a couple of times throughout the entire growing season.  2012 could not be more different - some growers have sprayed 11 times this year and we've not even reached veraison yet (the point at which black skinned grape varieties start to change colour from green to pink to purple).

So, back to Bernard.  His Cuvéé Marigny is a blend - one third that has been aged in 1 wine barrels, one third in 2 wine barrels and the remaining third in new barrels.  We tasted the three different components which were remarkably different.

The wine in the 2 wine barrels (we use the expression 2 wine rather than 2 year old because it's possible to have more than one wine in a barrel in a year) had a lemon and lime citric quality. Round, full and rich on the palate and not austerely dry but with great length.   The wine in the 1 wine barrels was more spicy on the nose with a tiny hint of tannin coming through on the palate. More mineral with grapefruity notes and shorter on the finish.  The new barrel wine was full of tobacco, grapefruit and spice.  A little tannin at the end, spicy and long.  Bernard was explaining that the 1 and new barrel wines have typical Chenin acidity and they tend to change dramatically in July, coming together.  The oak used is French, made from staves that have been dried in the open air for 36 months and are medium toasted before being made into barrels.  The final wine will be blended later this month and allowed to settle for around a month in cuve before bottling.  

A hive of activity on the day we were there, Bernard was in the process of disgorging his sparkling wine, a Vouvray Mousseux Brut Zero.  He's not a fan of the freeezing process that is often used for disgorging so each bottle has to be fed into the line by hand.  His Brut Zero comes from the 2007 vintage and is absolutely delicious.  

We've been fans of Bernard's Vouvrays for a few years now.  He mentioned that he has another parcel about 200m away from the winery called Le Bouchet and is going to try to make a 'real sec' this year if the weather conditions allow it.   He's also intending to make another sec in cuve from a small parcel close to the Plan de Jean called Le Petit Clos for the 2013 vintage.  This will be a true 'sec' made from very ripe grapes and with no malo - estimated production will be 5/6,000 bottles a year. We look forward to that.

Good news for those of you in the UK too.  Majestic will be stocking his 'Cuvée les Peruches' from the autumn.  It should be retailing for just under £9 a bottle.  

Monday, 23 July 2012

Sunshine at last

Drove to St Martin de la Place yesterday to take advantage of the sunny day and check out the riverside  restaurant la Croix Rouge.  From this sunny spot you can see over to the south side of the river and the pretty hotel le Prieuré dominates the hillside. It's a pricey place to stay but has some of the best views over the river and a decent restaurant too.  

La Croix Rouge is a typical 'guingette' overlooking the river.  Open 7 days a week during the summer it's well situated for cyclists and campers as well as those looking for a simple lunch by the riverside.  We enjoyed a Leffe and watched the world go by.  I can't vouch for the food as we didn't stay for lunch but we intend to give it a try.  

Tuesday, 17 July 2012

Manoir des Rosiers - Le Petit Pavillon

Looking for a tiny gîte that is very very French in style but with all the things that make your life comfortable?  The Manoir des Rosiers has recently renovated one bedroom gîte 'le Petit Pavillon' for two that fits the bill perfectly.  Hidden away in the Anjou countryside it has a kitchen/living room with wood burning stove for chilly nights late in the season, a contemporary bathroom and one double bedroom.  In the garden there is lovely pool for cooling off in the summer (fat chance this year but I live in hope), hot tub (no excuse for not getting the costume on even if it's chilly) plenty of secluded shady areas for hiding with a good book and a great home cinema room in a converted barn that has a massive screen for watching films.  

It's just the kind of place that we would choose to stay.  The owners, Maïa (a former tour guide) and her husband Frédéric moved to the Loire to escape the bustle of Paris and are wonderfully welcoming. Maïa can even arrange a light supper on the night of your arrival to take away the stress of having to dash out shopping on your first evening.

They also have le 'Maison du manoir' a lovely gîte with 2 bedrooms (to sleep 4).  

A perfect place for a short break in the Loire valley and only 20 minutes from us here in Cumeray so why not build in a little Loire wine discovery while you're here.

Maïa & Frédéric Moreaux
4 rue du Pavillon
49700 Noyant-la-Plaine
00 33 (0)2 41 83 05 25
00 33 (0)6 12 17 17 00

Thursday, 28 June 2012

Fete du Velo

This weekend was the annual Fête du Vélo in the Loire valley.  Miles and miles of roads along the riverside are closed to traffic and everyone from the age of 3 to 93 gets on their bike for the day. It's a lovely annual event that everyone can enjoy from the potterer to the regular cyclist.  The weather wasn't amazing this year but it was warm and breezy - in many ways better than a scorching hot day.  These pictures were taken around the bridge in Les Rosiers/Gennes.

It's something we look forward to every year.  Hats off to the organisers who make it all run smoothly.

Monday, 11 June 2012

Saumur - views over the river Loire

A few pictures taken up by the chateau in Saumur last week.  Despite having some pretty unreliable weather recently I think the skies are great for photos.  Big white clouds and sultry black ones intermingle and show off the greens in the vegetation really well.

Thursday, 31 May 2012

Domaine de la Noblaie - Chinon

A day in between tours enabled us to pop over to Chinon this morning to pick up an order from Domaine de la Noblaie in Ligré just outside Chinon.  It's a beautiful location, tucked away in the Vau Breton (valley of Cabernet Franc) and it was a glorious morning.  Elodie Peyrussie told us they had 20mm of rain yesterday.  Certainly the ground seemed sodden but thankfully for them, no hail damage. It was a rather different story driving back through the vineyards of Saumur Champigny where we saw quite severe damage in certain parcels.  

We had a huge downpour here in Cumeray yesterday afternoon accompanied by hail.  Our local fields were flooded and mud swept down on to the river road damaging the recently sown sunflowers.  In Brissac there was no rain at all - we were happily tasting wines at Domaine de Bablut shortly afterwards in the sunshine.  

 Looking down on the vineyards of Domaine de la Noblaie

It just goes to show how different each year is.  These vines will probably flower in a couple of weeks - this time last year it was all over...

A new addition to the Noblaie portfolio this year and one that we are really impressed with is its new sparkling rose called Mon Ange.

It comes under the heading of Appellation Touraine Mousseux - Jerôme Billiard took the time to explain how the wine is made.

Cabernet Franc grapes are whole bunch pressed and the wine is then partially fermented.  When there is  a little sugar left in the fermenting must, the wine is chilled, racked a couple of times and has a little sulphur added to stop it in its tracks before being bottled with a little additional yeast to kick-start the fermentation again.  This wine (the result of the 2009 vintage) is then aged on its yeasty deposit for a period of 30 months before being transported to Louis de Grenelle in Saumur which does the dégorgement on Noblaie's behalf.   A really beautiful delicate apricot colour it's a classy fizz with wonderful summer red and white fruit aromas and some yeasty complexity.  A bargain at 10€ cellar door.