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Rediscovering Roussillon

It’s many years now – well, five or six at least – since I last took a serious look at Roussillon. It’s a region with a very distinctive and fascinating style when it comes to wine; the reds in particular have always seemed strong, the whites too although perhaps not at the same level as the reds, for my palate at least.

One estate to which I have not given much attention in recent years is Le Soula, which was established as a joint project between Gérard Gauby, perhaps one of the best known names of the region, and Richards Walford, a well-known UK-based wine importer which was taken over only last year by the even more well known Berry Bros. & Rudd. The relationship between Gérard Gauby, Roy Richards and Mark Walford dated back to the 1990s, although Le Soula was born only in 2001. A new winemaker, Gérald Standley joined, to work alongside Gérard Gauby, in 2001. It is my understanding that, since the sell-off of Richards Walford, Gérard Gauby, Gérald Standley and Mark Walford and continuing to work together on this project.

Le Soula

I recently tasted two wines from this estate, both from the 2008 vintage.

Le Soula Blanc (VdP des Càtes Catalanes) 2008: A blend of Sauvignon Blanc, Macabeu, Vermentino and a selection of other varieties including Marsanne and Roussanne. The colour in the glass is a rich gold, the nose an enticing mix of reductive, matchsticky notes, which tend to dissipate with time, along with richer and more golden tones reminiscent of honey, nuts and ginger in a style very consistent with richly ripe fruit and low yields. The palate has a broad and grippy style, with more matchsticky reduction evident here, and with a very fine sense of grip and acidity. Overall a wine of appealing structure, with plenty of substance, and great grip underpinning it all. 17/20 (February 2013)

Le Soula Rouge (VdP des Càtes Catalanes) 2008: This is 55% Carignan, 35% Syrah and 10% Grenache. Very low yields here, just 14 hl/ha. A confident colour in the glass, deep at its coore, but vibrant and youthful at the rim. It has a lightly toasted nose, with white pepper, dark and concentrated, full of sweet and dense roasted cherry. There is plenty of texture on entry and through the middle, with softly polished tannins, a lovely grip to it all, and correct acidity. Roasted cherry, plump but dark, with a savoury confidence despite the sweetness. A very good balance to it all, and a long, grippy finish. Another impressive wine. 17.20 (February 2013)

Bouvet-Ladubay 2013 Spectacle

During the Salon des Vins de Loire I spent an evening at Bouvet-Ladubay. It was an intimate affair, just me, Jim Budd, Edwina Watson of Lay & Wheeler, Chris Hardy of Majestic, and about 450 other guests. The entertainment was not particularly wine related, but I simply can’t bear the thought of no-one else ever seeing some of these images.

The evening gets underway….Bouvet-Ladubay on ice.

Bouvet-Ladubay 2013 Spectacle

 

This rope artiste seemed half asleep at first.

Bouvet-Ladubay 2013 Spectacle

 

But she soon woke up, with several heart-stopping “she’s falling” moments, and no safety net. She is quite some way up in the cellars. At one point she managed to give the illusion of walking up the rope. Overall, a very impressive act.

Bouvet-Ladubay 2013 Spectacle

 

A ghost in the cellars. I showed this image to my three teenage children; first I had to explain what he was doing (not much). Then I had to explain that the machine on the wall behind was playing a cassette tape, to provide some spooky background music. Then I had to explain what a cassette tape was. Remember this guy, he crops up again later.

Bouvet-Ladubay 2013 Spectacle

 

This acrobatic pair were one of the highlights of the evening. Don’t be fooled by her dystonic appearance.

Bouvet-Ladubay 2013 Spectacle

 

This balancing act doesn’t look too difficult.

Bouvet-Ladubay 2013 Spectacle

 

This was though. Wow!

Bouvet-Ladubay 2013 Spectacle

 

I told you this guy would crop up again. This was more funny than it looks now. Honest.

Bouvet-Ladubay 2013 Spectacle

 

No, please don’t do what I think you’re going to do with those weights.

Bouvet-Ladubay 2013 Spectacle

 

Oh come on, I did ask nicely……

Bouvet-Ladubay 2013 Spectacle

 

Finally, two other pictures, not quite in focus, but hopefully doing something to capture the spirit of the evening. First a crazy but really quite entertaining woman on a rope swing. Again, pretty high up, and no safety net.

Bouvet-Ladubay 2013 Spectacle

 

And one of three ladies swinging above the dining hall as we ate.

Bouvet-Ladubay 2013 Spectacle

All entertainers (and those featured above are just a selection – there were stilt-walkers, more acrobats, and even a strange ensemble who managed to pour a glass of Bouvet-Ladubay while one stood atop a step ladder, and the other was doing a hand-stand on top of another’s shoulders), led by the Compagnie Masdemoiselles are available for hire; I have their contact numbers and email address should you wish to arrange a similar spectacle.

More from Minna

I recently reported on a selection of wines from the Languedoc and Provence, imported to the UK by Leon Stolarski. Prompted by my post, the team from one of the domaines featured – Minna Vineyard – kindly sent a couple more bottles for me to look at.

Minna Vineyard, 2007 & 2009 vintages

Minna Vineyard Blanc (VdP des Bouches du Rhône) 2009: A blend of 46% Vermentino, 33% Roussanne and 21% Marsanne. Yields 22.35 hl/ha, hand-picked, vinified in steel and oak and with élevage in same, with bâtonnage for those wines kept in oak. The nose is fine and fragrant, with nuances of lavender and thyme over white peach and little undercurrents of slightly sweet but subtle tropical fruit. A little of that oak comes through, although it is fine and well-framed by the other aromas present. There’s also a sense of grippy pith to it, although what comes out on the palate is a very polished texture at first, the more grippy elements only appearing in the finish. Quite full, confident and well balanced though, with a fine, slippery, vanilla-tinged substance and good acidity. A very attractive wine. 17/20 (February 2013)

Minna Vineyard Rouge (VdP des Bouches du Rhône) 2007: A blend of 58% Syrah, 31% Cabernet Sauvignon and 11% Mourvèdre. Hand-picked fruit, cold maceration then pressing and fermentation in stainless steel by indigenous yeasts. The élevage lasts 24 months, with bâtonnage of the lees. A very dark, concentrated hue in the glass. The nose is redolent of sweetly roasted berries overlaid with similarly sweet oak, laced with darker tones of charcoal and black liquorice. Cool but fleshy on the start, showing more grip and dry structure through the middle. It is a wine of considerable backbone, but it has the substance to match through the middle, and there is some acid to help lift the wine here. The flavours seem rather diffuse, and there a warm, meaty presence from the tannins. Big and substantial in the finish. 15/20 (February 2013)

St Emilion 2012 Classification Under Attack

In an article published online today in Sud Ouest (link at the bottom of this post), Franck Dubourdieu – the cousin of consultant and Bordeaux professor Denis Dubourdieu – has launched a stunning attack on the 2012 St Emilion classification.

Dubourdieu clearly isn’t averse to expressing his opinions, and doesn’t shy away from naming names when it comes to identifying what he sees as inconsistencies and potential conflicts of interest with the drawing up of the new classification, which he points out saw the area of classified land increase from 800 hectares to 1300 hectares, just short of one-quarter of the entire appellation.

St Emilion 2012 classification

The promotion of Angélus and Pavie (pictured above) to Premier Grand Cru Classé A is the first questionable decision according to Dubourdieu, which pushes him into a state of “stupefaction”. These châteaux do not, according to Dubourdieu, have the same level of terroir as Cheval Blanc or Ausone. He goes on to ask why weren’t estates with great terroirs, such as Figeac, Canon and Clos Fourtet elevated instead? There is no doubting Dubourdieu’s intended meaning – despite his stating that he does not doubt the transparency of the assessment – when he points out that Hubert de Boüard de Laforest, proprietor of Angélus, is also (a) regional INAO president, (b) a national committee member of the INAO, and that he was (c) responsible for endorsing the process and (d) responsible for the selection of the committee of impartial assessors. Dubourdieu also points out that the tasting for the premier category accounted for only 30% of the score, as requested by the châteaux, whereas it was 50% at lower levels, another inappropriate and curious decision.

Dubourdieu points the same finger at Yves Besnard, a former associate of Bernard Arnault at LVMH, who has also been involved in the process by virtue of his position with the INAO. It seems clear that Dubourdieu thinks this is important when it comes to the elevation of the LVMH properties Quinault L’Enclos and Tour du Pin, both managed alongside Cheval Blanc (and usually tasted at the estate during the primeurs). This elevation came, says Dubourdieu, despite the lesser sandy terroir of Quinault L’Enclos, a particular travesty in his view.

Finally, in a generic attack on taste and the importance of ‘made’ wines, Dubourdieu attacks the predominance of inky-black wines in the new classification. These are, he says (translated by me – hope I get this right!) “over-extracted, sweet, supple with low acidity, and obviously overoaked” before he goes on to attack these “blockbusters” as having “le goût américain” (I don’t think that bit needs any translation). I think Dubourdieu is making a good point here about the state of some wines in St Emilion today, so it’s a shame he has to finish it off with this jingo-istic anti-American (anti-Parker, maybe) swipe.

With three St Emilion estates already mounting a challenge to the classification as it stands, it seems as though the 2012 listing has the potential to be yet another long chapter in the St Emilion classification saga.

Full article (in French) here.

Five Loire Super-Stars

Last week I returned from the Loire Valley (actually it was nearly two weeks ago now – no wonder I’m feeling withdrawal symptoms) after five very intense days of tasting. I have a lot of reports to write, domaine profiles to update, notes to publish and new names to feature. I kicked off yesterday, however, with my Loire 2012 report, the most detailed vintage review for the Loire I have ever published, and I believe the most detailed source of Loire 2012 information online anywhere. I hope it’s useful!

In the past I have highlighted ten “top wines” from the Salon; I’m not about to do that here, nevertheless I did find a handful of tastings so joyous that it is only right I think to throw the spotlight on them here. Largely it’s the quality of the wines that impressed, because that’s what really matters when you or I pull the cork, but in some cases these people are doing great things beyond the bottle as well, be it rigorous adherence to organics, or significant work invigorating their ‘base’ appellation.

Some are already well known – I make no apology for that – some less so. In no particular order then:

François Chidaine: Chidaine is, I think, to Montlouis and to some extent Vouvray what Didier Dagueneau was to Pouilly-Fumé. When will he hit critical mass and gain wider appreciation beyond Loire-geek wine circles I wonder? His wines have long been super (the 2008 Clos Habert is, I think, the best Montlouis I have ever tasted) but on this tasting it seemed like his wines were head-and-shoulders above every one else’s, with such intense, mineral purity and definition. And this included wines from 2011, not exactly the greatest of vintages.

Pierre Martin

Pierre Martin (Sancerre): Pierre (pictured above) is unheard of, I imagine, but I will be adding a profile to Winedoctor this year, which might help. Having taken over the family domaine in the last few years, Pierre is making his mark, helped by ownership of vines in some prestigious sites, including Les Monts Damnés. The singing purity of his entry-level Sancerre was just divine, and it only got better from there, with superb translation of the terroir, which I adore in Sancerre; flint cuvées should taste like they come from flint, limestone from limestone, and so on. Pierre’s wines do this. Hopefully, soon to be listed in the UK.

Thierry Germain: OK, put Clos Rougeard to one side for a moment. Whose Saumur-Champigny are you going to drink, now that the Foucault wines are so hard to track down and – in the case of Le Bourg in particular – so expensive? I have tasted Thierry’s portfolio three times over the last 12 months (report coming soon, honest) and this last tasting of the 2012 vintage was truly impressive. The wines showed that haunting floral purity that Cabernet Franc does best, the sort of definition you get in Ausone or Cheval Blanc. Note, please, I’m note trying to draw comparisons or create hyperbole, just that there is a particular feature Cabernet Franc brings to some of the best Bordeaux that can also be found in these wines. Having said that, a few years ago these wines were also made like Bordeaux, with heavy oak influence, but that has been wound back these days, the wines showing more purity as a result. And the estate is biodynamic too, if that matters to you.

Vincent Carême: I have long been an advocate of Vincent and his wines. Well, for a couple of years I have anyway. In 2012, a very difficult vintage, he has managed through grit and determination to pull something really appealing out of the bag. This is not a vintage for truly great wines, but one instead that shows the measure of the man or woman who makes them. Vincent is surprised at the quality he has managed to extract from the vintage, (“I never thought I could manage it in this vintage” he said when we agreed the wine was good) but it is down to his determination, and that of his wife Tania and their team. More importantly, Vincent is fostering new talent within the appellation. Up-and-coming vigneronsPeter Hahn, Sebastien Brunet, Mathieu Cosme, Michel Autran – look to Vincent for guidance. No wonder, as I think he may well have produced the best 2012 in the appellation (OK, I haven’t tasted everything, including Champalou and Foreau, but I will place a small bet all the same). If there is a Vouvray resurgence coming, Carême will be at its heart.

Yves Guégniard: Not familiar with Yves’ wines? He is not the most famous of Loire vignerons, less well known that his Anjou peers such as Nicolas Joly, Claude Papin or Richard Leroy, but that is not his fault, because some of his wines are stunning. Sometimes its the Anjou-Villages Evanescence that blows me away, sometimes it is one of his Savennières cuvées, but on this occasion it was three vintages of Quarts de Chaumes – 2007, 2010 and 2011 – that were the real stars of the show. Three breath-taking, low-yield, botrytised, handpicked wines to challenge even the greatest Sauternes. These are wines which, I can assure you, I will be tracking down for my own cellar…..along with those of Chidaine, Carême, Germain and Martin.

Troplong-Mondot 2010: An Opinion Linchpin

Despite the Bordeaux 2012 primeurs looming (you might think the primeurs circus a long way off, but I’ve already made all but two of my appointments for the week) most of the chat at the moment concerns Bordeaux 2010. Memories of the barrel samples may have long faded, but a fresh round of tastings and expressed opinions have brought the vintage to the fore once again. Last November the Bordelais descended upon London for a showing of the wines, during which I tasted about 120, recently written up here. Neal Martin has done the same, augmented with some reports from a trip to Bordeaux to taste those wines that refuse to travel, and he is currently publishing these day by day on Parker’s site (subscription only, $99 per annum). In addition, the Union des Grands Crus de Bordeaux (UGCB) has continued the tour, taking in the USA, giving American consumers a chance to taste and form their own opinions. James Suckling has also been busy reporting on his website (subscription only $143.90 per annum). And, perhaps most significantly, Parker is set to report in the next issue of The Wine Advocate (again, by subscription only, price as above).

Having completed my reports there is no doubt in my mind that Bordeaux 2010 is a great vintage, different in style to Bordeaux 2009, but equally worthy. But as my reports no doubt make clear, there is one notable fly in the ointment when it comes to this statement, and that is St Emilion. As always, the style of wine offered here is as diverse as ever, perhaps even more so than usual. And with such disparate styles, with varying degrees of ripeness, extraction and alcohol, the commune is bound to split opinion. Several wines are in position to be the poster child for this division; just half a length ahead of its peers, perhaps, is 2010 Château Troplong-Mondot.

Troplong-Mondot has in recent vintages, under the direction of Xavier Pariente and Christine Valette, and winemaker Jean-Pierre Taleyson, seen a marked shift in style. The wine was once elegant and pure; the 1994, for example, is drinking very well in this style, even though the vintage is, as Neal Martin put it a year or so ago, in general rather a dull one. But that all changed recently, and the style here is now one that favours dark colours, rich tannins, and high alcohol levels. The 2009 vintage was 15.5%, and although I liked it at the primeurs (I would never mark a wine down purely because of the alcohol) by the time it was in bottle it was showing this alcohol quite plainly. The 2010 also declared 15.5% at the primeurs, although I believe the final figure is more like 15.8%, and the label states 16%. Tasting it at the UGCB a few months ago this was all displayed very plainly, in keeping with my findings at the primeurs, with dried-desiccated fruit flavours, heat and hard tannin, and it did little to make me think of Bordeaux. Hot and awkward, it would be difficult to imagine me ever wanting to drink it. I can’t imagine the alcohol ever disappearing into the rest of the wine.

Château Troplong-Mondot

Others also express similar concerns, albeit without my rather pointed score; I should point out I have no wish to put words in the mouths of others, so I quote here as appropriate. Neal Martin has reported on it having tasted it twice, noting “[w]hilst the aromatics covet the alcohol level, in my mind it renders the finish rather heavy in the mouth and I can feel warmth at the back of the throat that would become fatiguing with time.” He certainly raised a question mark over it by refusing to score it, saying on Twitter when I asked why he had not done so that he wants to taste blind next year (no doubt at the Southwold tasting) before awarding a magic number. And looking at the reports from Team Jancis, these also seem very unenthusiastic; Jancis Robinson wrote “[p]erfectly serviceable modern St-Emilion style but a little bit painful to taste at this stage. Slightly drying finish. Pushed too far?” in April 2011, Julia Harding wrote “[v]ery very oaky, masses of mocha. The fruit flavours are ripe but the finish is tough” in April 2012 and from Richard Hemming we have “[t]he whole thing is overstated – which is fine if you like that sort of thing” in November 2012. The scores, however, seem rather positive in contrast – 15.5, 15.5 and 16 respectively.

In the interest of openness and contrast, it is only natural that I should point out that others seem to have adored this wine, with some primeur reports heaping praise upon it. James Lawther for Decanter described it as having a “[s]umptuous texture, balancing acidity and long, firm finish“, James Suckling as “[s]tunning” and Robert Parker as a “stunningly rich effort [which] offers abundant blueberry, black raspberry, licorice and graphite notes intermixed with a hint of espresso roast, a seriously concentrated, super-intense mouthfeel, full-bodied power, a complex, multidimensional texture and a nearly 50-second finish” which has to be a classic Parker note if ever there was one. The scores were suitably impressive, with 18.5, 95-96 and 96-98+. Suckling has retasted, but I haven’t seen his new score, but I’m sure it is similarly prodigious as his first. Parker will, I imagine, come out with at least a 98.

Happily these days there doesn’t seem to be any need for anybody to begin criticising the critics, rather than the wine. Ten-or-so years ago (was it really that long ago?!), a similarly controversial wine from Gerard Perse, than the relatively new owner of Château Pavie, sparked something of a war of words between Jancis Robinson and Robert Parker, and lines were drawn in the sand. We all have our own opinions, and I make no criticism of any of those opinions reproduced above that are different to my own. I merely wish to draw attention to this newly divisive wine, which has – perhaps unsurprisingly in view of the character of the commune – sprung forth from the same appellation as Pavie. The difficulty for the consumer, however, remains the same; whose palate do you follow? If you prefer freshness, vitality, purity and lift, can I gently steer you away from Troplong-Mondot to some other choice? If you prefer power, alcohol, concentration and sumptuous texture, then perhaps Troplong-Mondot is the wine for you?

Of course, there is one other plausible reason why 2010 Troplong-Mondot doesn’t seem to have stirred up the same controversy that 2003 Pavie once did, despite some seemingly disparate opinions. Maybe, as a result of too much hyperbole and exorbitant prices, nobody really cares any more? Is it that these days Bordeaux is more about, points, prices, owning and trading, that it is drinking? In which case, who cares how it actually tastes?

Sauternes #4: Chateau Coutet 1998

Despite a healthy line-up of bottles from the 2001 vintage waiting in the wings, I thought it was about time I broke it up a little with a look at something different. Today I’m glancing back a further three years, to 1998.

The 1998 vintage is not one that generally sends shivers down my spine when it comes to Sauternes and Barsac, even though I think the wines of neighbouring Pessac-Léognan and Graves are under-rated in this vintage. So I was impressed with the show put on by this half-bottle of 1998 Château Coutet. Sure, it doesn’t provoke the electric excitement of other vintages of a similar age, be they 1997, 1999 or indeed 2001, but there is certainly plenty of substance and interest here. A job well done, I would say.

Château Coutet 1998

Château Coutet (Sauternes) 1998: An appealing, golden hue in the glass. It shows an impressive character for the vintage, aromatically rich, concentrated orange fruit overlaid with scents of honey-caramel and praline. Although not the most direct or defined palate, there is certainly plenty of rich texture here, and also lots of flavour to match the character found on the nose. There is a raft of substance, with a tangible minerally, barley-water build to it, and on top of that more of the praline and toffee seen on the nose. It is all cut through with some good acidity, although nothing like what would be required to give this the energy and vigour of a great vintage. Having said that, this is one of the more convincing 1998 Sauternes I have tasted. And it seems, with this evolution, to be just as appealing as previous bottles. 16.5/20 (February 2013)

Antonio Galloni resigns from The Wine Advocate

Back in December, news broke that Parker 2012 had sold a stake in The Wine Advocate. Several months on full details of the sale remain surprisingly sketchy, although the stake sold is rumoured to have changed hands for $15 million. The new investors are Singaporeans, at least one of whom still has close ties to the wine business, through his family’s ownership of a major wine importer, but the identity of the others remains – to my knowledge, do fill me in if you have seen it reported somewhere – a mystery.

Galloni leaves The Wine AdvocateOne key point that was clear, however, was that The Wine Advocate would be changing from using the services of independent contractors to employees, in other words a renegotiation of working relationships. Some have, I believe, signed up (at least they haven’t denied it) but one who had no such intention was Antonio Galloni. Having had a high-flying career in finance he gave it all up to write for Parker, and having been anointed as a potential successor by Parker himself in the past the news must have been galling. On the day the news broke Antonio wrote on the Parker forum:

It’s business as usual for me. I am 100% committed to providing readers with the best commentary and service possible for the regions I cover. My tasting and travelling schedule remains unchanged. I have never been more energized about the future than I am right now.

….which struck me at the time as saying nothing about intending to carry on working as a Wine Advocate employee rather than as an individual. Yesterday evening the New York Times Diners’ Journal ran an article which revealed Galloni was indeed going it alone. With a new website in development, www.antoniogalloni.com, he is set to establish himself as an independent rival to The Wine Advocate.

I understand that Galloni owns all the work he produced during his time under Parker, and so there is nothing to prevent him using this as the base for his new online journal, and he has established a very strong following, so I am sure he will be successful. Nevertheless such a move is a brave one (any such business/career development imbues a sense of nervousness). It comes, says Galloni, not purely as a result of the sale of The Wine Advocate (although this was a deciding factor he says) but of a desire to communicate to a younger audience, having seen too many young diners swilling beer instead of wine. The project was clearly well underway when The Wine Advocate was sold; no wonder Galloni had “never been more energized about the future“!

Sadly for Parker subscribers, most of this information came their way from the New York Times, and not from the publication to which they open their wallets. With Galloni’s departure, and little sign of the new developments – either in terms of technology, or of the hiring of new talent – that was promised with the arrival of the new Wine Advocate “investors”, I would think some of those wallets will be closing upon learning this news. Which, by the way, is not conjecture; I am merely looking at the tone of the first few responses on the Parker forum, when the news was brought there by a Parker subscriber.

I wish Antonio all the best in his new venture. He is clearly excited by it, and as I indicated above I am confident he will succeed.

Chateau Salettes Bandol 2010

I have a secret penchant for Bandol. Well, to be honest, I have secret penchants for a variety of wine styles, from Burgundy, the Mosel, Limoux, Rioja and beyond. But there is something special about the rich slightly animally complexity and indestructable character of Mourvèdre, and there is nowhere better to get a fix of it than Bandol.

Domaine Tempier remains for me the benchmark, although I don’t pretend to be an expert on the region, and so things may have changed. There are certainly other estates turning out good wines, and no doubt other undscovered gems. Recently I had a chance encounter with an unfamiliar domaine, and a rather modern interpretation of the appellation, with this wine from Château Salettes.

Château Salettes Bandol 2010

Château Salettes Bandol 2010: This is one of those wines that really benefits from some time in a decanter, even if it is a very short period of time. At first glance the wine is all primary fruit, raspberry and blackberry, with a rather obvious seam of caramelised-sugar oak coming through underneath, both aromatically and on the palate. But give it half an hour and it has changed completely. The wine, dark at its core but with a concentrated violet rim, begins to reveal more of the gamey and funky side of the Mourvèdre, and the sweeter oak notes slide away to be replaced by drier, woody, more garrigue-like tones, with a denser, more roasted-cherry fruit. The palate has plenty of texture at the very start, with some good grip behind though, as well as a slightly spirity heat to it. The fruit is grainy and concentrated and rather modern in style, whereas the structure feels more antiquated, the finish savoury, and dry, with some tannin giving a little bit of bite here although this structural element is really well integrated and it is the tingling warmth of the wine that really comes to dominate. Alcohol 15%. 14.5/20 (February 2013)

Disclosure: this wine was a trade sample sent by proprietor Nicolas Boyer.

Salon: Final Thoughts

I spent the final day of the Salon des Vins de Loire in a mad dash, keen to catch up with the work at some well-known and familiar estates, but also wanting to take a slightly more detailed look at the wines of Sancerre and Pouilly-Fumé. Well, I suppose “detailed” isn’t quite the right word; but I did manage to get around some old and significant names, such as Vacheron and Henri Bourgeois, as well as making some new discoveries.

First though, there was some catching up to do with Muscadet and Chinon, with visits to Luneau-Papin, who were showing a massive range of wines as always, with vintages right back to the 18th century. OK, perhaps not, but they always have some mature wines up for tasting, most notably L d’Or back into the 1990s (last year we were treated with the 1989 and the 1976, the first ever vintage of L d’Or) and Excelsior (back to 2002). I learnt that this year should see four more Muscadet crus ratified, to join the three already in existence, so I will bring more news on this to Winedoctor as soon as I hear anything.

I also popped in on Rémi Branger at Domaine de la Pépière, where the wines are good although even here they have struggled in 2011, as have some other top names. Look beyond this vintage though to 2012; the wines are super. Low yields, thanks to a huge array of meteorological insults, but high quality. Not just here, but also at Jo Landron, who also had difficulties in 2011. My tasting notes updates will provide more detail.

A quick detour into Chinon was called for before Sancerre, with a tasting at Domaine Bernard Baudry. It is Matthieu, Bernard’s son, who has been in charge here for a few years now, but Bernard is usually not far away at the Salon and I caught this picture of him below. The tasting, which included a mix of wines from 2012 and 2011, showed that neither vintage is particular great for the appellation, mirroring a feeling I had about 2011 after tasting with Philppe Alliet (or rather his son, Matthieu’s counterpart I suppose).

Bernard Baudry, February 2013

Then onto Sancerre and Pouilly-Fumé, where I made two great new discoveries. I’ll be writing on both in full profiles as soon as possible; if you have to know, the names are secreted in my list below.

This year’s Salon has to have been, for me personally, one of the busiest ever. I tasted long and hard on Saturday and Sunday, at the Renaissance and Dive Bouteille shin-digs, followed by three long days at the Fair itself. In previous years I have had the feeling that I learnt little on the last day, usually having to leave by midday, but I made the most of it this year, as I was able to hang on until 3pm thanks to TGV putting on a later train back to Charles de Gaulle airport. I haven’t totted up how many new profiles, updates and similar are on the way, but off the top of my head domaines set to be profiled on Winedoctor this year for the first time include Marc Pesnot, Günther-Chéreau (both Nantais), Loïc Mahé, Toby Bainbridge, Domaine du Collier (Anjou & Saumur), Sebastien Brunet, Matthieu Cosme, Michel Autran (Touraine – all Vouvray in fact), Domaine Gilbert, Pierre Martin, Bertrand Minchin and Jonathon Didier Pabiot (Central Vineyards). Plus probably a few others I have overlooked right now. That’s not to mention all the domaine updates, the latest from Huet, Chidaine, Luneau-Papin, Bellivière, Jo Landron, Vacheron, Jacky Blot, Château de L’Aulée, Domaine des Forges, Pierre-Bise, Domaine de la Bergerie, Vincent Ogereau, Noëlla Morantin, Domaine des Aubuisières and plenty of others. There is also my Saumur-Champigny investigation of course, within which I will get to grips with the good, the bad and the ugly;. I even tasted wines from the Auvergne, France’s lost wine region, now part of the Loire it seems by virtue of its presence on the headwaters (or thereabouts – I need to check on a map!). And as an aside, I even caught up with the latest vintages from Gombaude-Guillot, in Pomerol, who were at the Renaissance tasting. And of course there is a detailed report on the 2012 Loire vintage coming, with a region-by-region run-down of the climate and the wines.

Having said that I was busy, however, the Salon was not. The official press release from InterLoire vis their PR agency Claire de Lune was that this year’s Fair had returned to “normal service”, with visitors 15-20% up on last year. The 2012 was blighted by (a) a change in dates and (b) very bad weather.Despite this, however, it felt quieter than usual to me, and I’m surprised the figures are so elevated. In addition, what the release doesn’t mention is that the Fair was considerably smaller this year, with approximately 100 fewer producers present. Notable absentees included Eric Morgat, for instance. This is a decline that needs to be nipped in the bud if this Salon is to continue to thrive and be useful.