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Loire 2012: Difficult and Brilliant

Another busy day of tasting at the Salon yesterday. I kept going until the bitter end, so despite starting, tasting glass in hand, at 9am, I was still going at 6:50pm, at which point I decided I had better head out to catch the 7pm shuttle. I had dinner booked in town at 7:30pm, so I was cutting it fine.

Yesterday I focused on Anjou and Touraine, tasting with the likes of Pithon-Paillé in the former, and François Chidaine in the latter. It was fascinating to hear of the difficulties of the vintage, described by one vigneron as “hell”. This was a vintage that threw everything at the Loire heartland, from frost, hail, rain, more rain, false hope with a dry August, and then more rain. Did I mention the rain? François Chidaine told me that during one weekend in early October there was 110 mm dropped on the vineyards. In addition temperatures were way above the norm, and these warm, humid conditions were perfect for rot. And not the good kind of rot.

Jacky Blot

As a consequence of this very destructive vintage, organic and biodynamic estates in these Loire regions have turned in very low yelds, typically 12-15 hl/ha. Jacky Blot (pictured above) declared 12 hl/ha, as did Chidaine. The lowest I recall was Pithon-Paillé, with 10 hl/ha. Despite this, quality is good. Not brilliant, there are no truly ‘great’ wines from this vintage so far, but there is freshness and acidity in most, even if there isn’t the greatest concentration. That’s not surprising when you consider that several vignerons saw alcoholic potentials fall during October (they should of course rise as the grapes ripen and sugar levels climb). The decline in potential was due to the rain, soaked up by the vines and transmitted through to the berries which swelled as a result, diluting the juice dramatically, bursting the fruit in some cases.

Domaine Huet declared 15 hl/ha and quality seems to be good, important not just in the context of the difficult vintage but also because this is Benjamin Joliveau’s first vintage in charge here. Another sign of the difficult vintage is the range of wines. This will not, by and large, be a vintage for moelleux. At Huet, there won’t even be a demi-sec this year; the residual sugars just couldn’t permit it. Pithon-Paillé’s fruit in Quarts de Chaume will be declassified into Anjou Blanc, and I suspect this will be the case with other vignerons, such as Claude Papin and Yves Guégniard. The one exception to the rule is Florent Baumard, who seems to have managed to harvest sufficent to declare a Quarts de Chaume, although when we spoke he couldn’t recall the volume he had declared. He has the juice in his cellars, having – in his words – “selected out” the water using his cryo machine. I am quite certain that, should he go ahead with making this wine, this will be the only Quarts de Chaume produced in this vintage.

That’s it for the “difficult” part. The brilliance comes outside these core regions, down in Muscadet, up in parts of Touraine and the central vineyards, where delicious Muscadets and Sauvignons have been made. Muscadet had a difficult vintage, but picking early meant they avoided the catastrophic rain. Sancerre just didn’t get the weather that Vouvray and Montlouis did; add in the earlier picking of Sauvignon Blanc and you have a recipe for success. I think this week is the first time in a long time (ever?) I have heard buyers raving about Touraine Sauvignon. There’s a first time for everything I guess.

I will be tasting more Muscadet and Sauvignons today. Then, this evening, it’s back to the UK.

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