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Salon des Vins de Loire: Good Enough?

I made an early start out from Edinburgh on Friday morning and headed down to Angers via Paris. And if it’s Angers….. well, it must be time for the annual Salon des Vins de Loire.

The Salon is the fair for tasting the wines of the Loire and for meeting the growers. If you know how it works, and are familiar with the foibles, poor planning and unimaginative organisation then you can have a great experience here. Many of the region’s top winemakers are here pouring their wines. Sure, some big names (Foreau, Foucault and one or two others) stay away, but all the Huet, Carême, Vacheron, Pépière, Luneau-Papin, Bergerie, Ogereau, Reverdy, Pinon, Landron, Cazin, Oosterlinck, Fouquet, Champalou, Alliet, Baudry, Chidaine, Cady, Cormerais, Villeneuve, Roches Neuves and others (I don’t need to go on with more, do I?) make up for this, more than a hundred times over. And if organic, biodynamic and natural wines are your thing, than you can hook up with the likes of Joly, Angeli (pictured below, at last year’s Renaissance tasting), Pesnot and others in one of the many Salon spin-off events.

Back to the Loire: Marc Angeli

So there will be plenty of tasting over the next few days, starting with the ‘off’ tastings over the weekend, then the Salon proper on Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday. But before I sign off (I’m ready for dinner – I think I hear the Brasserie de la Gare calling) I should just return to the issue of poor organisation and weak communication around this conference. This is a chronic problem and I really believe InterLoire should do something to change how this Salon is presented to the public, and how it is run. Only in the past week Jim Budd published a letter from a US importer, forwarded to him by a Loire grower, explaining why he wouldn’t be coming to the Salon. A trade fair that does so much to alienate a valuable trade visitor? That really is something InterLoire should take notice of. To add fuel to the fire, another grower got in touch with me today to complain about the communication around the Salon, in particular the poor quality of the website (I certainly concur with that) and also – considering this fair is supposed to attract an international clientele – the lack of any language other than French. What about English? Or Chinese? (Later edit: it has since been pointed out to me that the site does have a Google translation menu, but that is a poor service for those who don’t speak French, and only adds to the amateurish feel of the site in my opinion).

To me the Salon des Vins de Loire seems stagnant. I will always come, because the tasting opportunities are unparalleled and I have contacts in and around the system so I can sort out my visit with ease. Others will not be so well connected, and will be more easily dissuaded from visiting. The only major change I have seen in six years of attending the Salon (other than a remarkable decline in attendance by UK journalists – why is that I wonder?) was a temporary move of the dates a few years ago, which I still believe – regardless of any denials – was done to divorce the Salon from the ‘off’ events which benefited from its existence but which contributed no revenue. But these ‘off’ events in themselves attract a lot of visitors, so this was a classic case of InterLoire shooting itself in the foot. But at least it showed that change is possible; the next change for new InterLoire president Gérard Vinet to consider might well be revolutionising the backroom organisation and the communication surrounding the event. There’s nothing wrong with the venue, or the growers, or the wines; these are good enough. It’s how the rest of it ticks behind the scenes that needs reinvigorating.

The Grand Cru Bordeaux Experience

Been back at the office desk for a week or two now? Memories of high-days and holidays rapidly fading? Wondering where the next serious Bordeaux fix will come from? Well, why not bypass the bottle and the corkscrew and come straight to Bordeaux with me, and gain entry (for exclusive tastings and lunches) to some of the top addresses in all Bordeaux?

This trip, The Bordeaux Grand Cru Experience, is one Adam Stebbing of SmoothRed (a well-established company offering tailor-made wine tours, holidays, events and experiences) and I have been mooting for some time now, and one I first wrote about on this blog back in October.

SmoothRed - The Grand Cru Experience

Now though, the dates are set, the appointments are made, and the full itinerary is online. Here’s a taster of what the trip will involve:

October 1st 2014 – St Emilion: Flight from London Gatwick to Bordeaux, coach to St Emilion, Château Canon-la-Gaffelière (for lunch) and then Château Angélus (to spot the new carillon, pictured above). Dinner and hotel in Bordeaux City.

October 2nd 2014 – Graves and Sauternes: Château Haut-Brion first, and as if one first growth weren’t enough, after a tasting and lunch it’s onto Château d’Yquem (pictured below).

October 3rd 2014 – The Médoc: Tour up the famous ‘Route des Châteaux’. Visit Château Pontet-Canet, now turning out wines to challenge the very best in the commune. Then it will be lunch at Château Pichon-Baron – where lunch, I’m told, is not to be missed! In the afternoon, we head south to Margaux and Château Rauzan-Segla.

SmoothRed - The Grand Cru Experience

October 4th 2014 – Bordeaux and Graves: There is no let up in terms of quality on the final day. The morning allows us all time to take in Bordeaux city, followed by lunch and tasting at Château Haut-Bailly, some of the very best wines of the entire appellation. Fly back to London early evening.

Prices: £1679.00 per person for 3 star hotel option (based on double room occupancy), £1994.00 per person for 5 star upgrade option (also based on double room occupancy).

There are fourteen places, so this will be a very intimate tour. If interested, check out the SmoothRed itinerary here: Grand Cru Bordeaux Experience or phone Adam on +44 (0) 207 1988 369, or email him on sales@smoothred.co.uk.

2013 Winedoctor Disclosures

For several years now I have made an annual statement of support for Winedoctor; a way of ensuring transparency regarding who in Bordeaux and the Loire Valley (and anywhere else for that matter) helps me out, so that readers can take this into account when I report on the wines. I used to store these disclosure statements in my ‘Features’ section, and although this part of the Winedoctor website is still free to read, outside the paywall, I thought I should bring my disclosure statement out onto the blog lest I be criticised for hiding it in an inaccessible corner of the website.

I would usually publish this review in late December but the past six weeks have been particularly hectic chez Winedoctor, hence the delay.

First of all, as is customary, some details of support and other benefits received during the course of 2013:

InterLoire: Through Sopexa, who currently handle marketing for InterLoire, the generic promotional body for most of the Loire’s appellations, I received support to attend the Salon des Vins de Loire in Angers in February. I was reimbursed the cost of my petrol, airport parking, flights and rail fares in France. InterLoire also paid two nights accommodation directly to my hotel. I paid for the other nights myself. In addition, I also accepted a trip to the Muscadet region in spring, funded by InterLoire and arranged through Sopexa. Costs involved included flights from Edinburgh to Nantes, via London City Airport, accommodation for two nights, transport over three days, and subsistence including lunches and two ‘winemaker dinners’.
Le Bureau Interprofessionnel des Vins du Centre: I accepted two nights accommodation in a hotel in Chavignol, the expense met by the BIVC, the regional body for the Central Loire appellations including Sancerre, Pouilly-Fumé and so on. Other expenses I met myself.
Bouvet-Ladubay: I attended a spectacle, a party in the Bouvet-Ladubay cellars during the 2013 Salon des Vins de Loire. I took advantage of free transport there from Angers and back again at the end of the evening.
Yvon Mau: I was grateful for accommodation provided by the Bordeaux négociant Yvon Mau during the primeurs week. I accepted five nights in a left-bank château, uncatered accommodation and possibly the most spooky stay in Bordeaux I have ever experienced – I was alone in a very big cru bourgeois château, in the wilds of the Médoc. Other aspects of the trip and expenses I met myself (see below).
Gifts received: A Christmas hamper from Sopexa, sent to all journalists who submitted suggestions for the Cracking Wines from France tasting. I received two bottles of wine, from Domaine Luneau-Papin and Les Vignerons du Pallet, during my trip to Muscadet.
Samples received: a small number of wine samples were received, principally from UK merchants such as Cadman Fine Wines and Hyde Park Wines, and where the wines have been written up this has been declared.
Lunching and dining: I accepted dinner on one night paid for by Yvon Mau at Les Sources de Caudalie during the Bordeaux primeurs. I also had lunch at Château Haut-Bailly. I had lunch with Claude Lafond, in Reuilly (pictured below). During the Salon des Vins de Loire I had dinner with Claude Papin, Vincent Ogereau and Yves Guégniard which the three vignerons paid for.

On the whole I think I have managed to cut back further on my dependence/association with the wine trade in 2013. Much of the costs associated with my trips to Bordeaux and the Loire I have met myself, and in each case outside funding has come from négociants or generic bodies rather than individual producers. The only other region I visited during 2013 was Madeira, again I funded this myself. I have not taken any other press trips, single producer or otherwise.

2013 Winedoctor Disclosures

As is customary I also document below the expenses I met myself during the course of 2013:

London, Loire Benchmark: I met the cost of a trip to London for the Loire Benchmark Tasting, principally for the Loire 2012 vintage. Costs included rail fare to London and subsistence.
Angers: Most travel expenses for the Salon des Vins de Loire were met my InterLoire, but I paid for three nights in a hotel and all my subsistence other than my dinner with Claude Papin & co (see above).
Bordeaux, Primeurs: I travelled to Bordeaux for a week and met my travel costs myself; this includes transport to airport, flights to Bordeaux, and hire car for eight days. Other than one meal paid for by Yvon Mau I met all subsistence costs myself. I paid for two nights in a hotel in Libourne to complement my stay in the château on the left bank.
London, RAW and Real Wine Fairs: In 2013 these fairs were at different times (I enjoyed the convenience of ‘competing’ fairs in 2012) and I paid for travel from Edinburgh to both, by train in each case, myself. Extra costs were incurred in each case, (a) by missing my train and having to stay overnight in London for one, and (b) hitting a deer on the way home from the railway station on the other. These were expensive tastings to attend; I probably could have bought all the wines I tasted online and had them shipped to Edinburgh for less than the cost of the repairs to my car. Such is life. Still, I suppose I came off better than the deer.
Madeira: I covered the costs of transfers, flights, hire car and accommodation in Madeira myself. I paid for travel to visit Barbeito and Blandy’s.
London: Costs associated with attendance at four London tastings in March, September, October and November, these being the Union des Grands de Bordeaux, Institute of Masters of Wine, Cru Bourgeois and Bordeaux Index tastings were met by me. In the latter case this was by train; for the other three tastings, the costs included flights from Edinburgh, transfers, parking and so on.
Loire, Harvest Trip: I covered the expenses incurred during this trip, including parking and flights, myself. I did not pay for the two nights in Chavignol (see above). I stayed and travelled with Jim Budd so there were no other accommodation costs, but I contributed towards subsistence.
Bordeaux, Harvest Trip: I covered the cost of this trip myself; this includes flights from London and back to Edinburgh, airport parking, hire car for four days, subsistence and three nights in Bordeaux hotels.

That concludes my disclosure statement for 2013. As indicated above, I have added disclosures to wine sample reviews where appropriate, so I hope transparency is adequate. As for the year ahead I will, as I stated in my recent report on the Gitton Père et Fils Sancerre X-elis, be focusing on Sancerre and other Central Loire appellations (as I have neglected them for so long, and my enthusiasm has been reignited by my recent trip to the Loire), reporting on Loire 2013, and expanding my coverage throughout. For Bordeaux, I will have my usual cycle of Bordeaux reports (expect detail on the 2013, 2012, 2010 and 2004 vintages, as well as from-my-cellar reports on 2001 and 1999), more Bordeaux profiles for smaller estates (smaller in ambition, and in price too) from left and right banks, and the completion of my Bordeaux guide (at which point I move onto the Loire, a daunting prospect indeed). Santé!

The Death of Sauternes

I was concerned to learn today, thanks to this piece written by Jane Anson, of a move by a number of Sauternes producers to apply for the Graves appellation for their dry wines. History can teach us something of what might happen should they succeed.

First, a little background. In Sauternes, many estates produce a dry cuvée alongside their sweet wine, a move which has in many cases gone a long way to help balance the books. With sweet wines chronically unfashionable, dry wines are a useful addendum to an estate’s portfolio; not only do they reduce the volume of Sauternes building up in the cellars (helping to balance supply and demand, and supporting already fragile prices) but they are a distinct revenue stream in themselves. They may sell for less money (although not that much less, to be honest, especially when you get away from the really famous estates) but the yields are much higher; the volume of juice and thus wine obtained might be three or four times what you get with dehydrated, botrytised grapes.

The Sauternes producers have a problem though; although you might think most people buy on the basis of critics’ recommendations, or your own knowledge and experience, on the domestic French market appellations are still very important. A Graves is held in higher regard than a basic Bordeaux, and the Sauternes producers feel they have been held back by the fact that their dry wines only have the basic Bordeaux appellation, and not the more prestigious Graves appellation. They see a chance to label their dry wines as Graves as a route to higher prices and better sales; hence the call for just such a reclassification.

Château d'Yquem

They may well be right; just to the north of Sauternes and Barsac is a little sweet wine appellation called Cérons, and it is one I have recently described in my newly expanded Bordeaux wine guide. Here in Cérons, the dry whites have always had the Graves appellation. And so when interest in sweet wines fell away, there was a lucrative route out of destitution; stop making lesser-known and unfashionably sweet Cérons, and start making more appealingly dry Graves. That’s exactly what the majority of estates did, and this is why Cérons is today little more than a Bordeaux curiosity; only a handful of estates still make sweet wines, while most have converted totally to dry.

In Sauternes, a move to the dry whites also being eligible for the Graves appellation will ultimately have the same effect. Sure, big name estates will carry on, and it may be that with improved income from the dry whites the future of the sweet wines at these estates is even more secure. But – regardless of the moaning of merchants who must suffer the Lafite-Rieussec tie-in, and who find Sauternes a chronically difficult sell – there is still at least some interest in the wines of Yquem (pictured above), Rieussec, Suduiraut, Lafaurie-Peyraguey and the like. These wines will continue on. But you can wave goodbye to the likes of Haut-Bergeron, Dudon, Bastor-Lamontagne and other small châteaux that are more likely closer to the fiscal edge. Even lesser classed growth estates, like d’Arche, Romer, Romer du Hayot and the lesser-spotted Suau will feel the pull of dry wines. A move like that proposed may well make those with dry wines to flog a few extra sous (are there any involved in the process that have a vested interest in the prices of the dry wines, but are not worried about the sweet wines, I ask myself), but it would change the landscape of Sauternes forever. I hope that the move is soundly rejected by all those who care about the future of Sauternes.

2013 Reflections: Other Great Wines

In all honesty, beyond the Loire and Bordeaux, so focused is my attention on these two regions, the list of truly ‘great’ wines from other regions is rather short. Some wines do stick in my mind though, usually for the different experiences they offered. The 2008 World’s End Crossfire is one good example of this; I taste and drink very little from California, if indeed anything at all, so any bottles that come my way are bound to be of interest. This particular wine was all the more noteworthy for being a Jonathan Maltus wine, and I think there were traits within that I also see in his wines from closer to home, in St Emilion.

The 1998 Domaine Tempier Bandol La Tourtine I encountered a month or two ago was also fairly smart, but without a doubt the best non-Loire non-Bordeaux red wine experience of 2013 was the 1983 Chave Hermitage, which I drank at dinner with Jim Budd, Claude Papin, Vincent Ogereau and Yves Guégniard (it was Jim that brought the wine to dinner). Not only was this an excellent example of Hermitage (and it’s not that long since I last visited this particular part of the Rhône – was it 2012?) but it also brought back lots of memories of Chester Claret Club, a tasting group I once frequented, one where I learnt a lot from some very knowledgeable palates. This was just the sort of wine that would have cropped up in a Chester tasting. This bottle was in excellent nick, and was certainly one of my top reds of the year, full-stop.

2013 Reflections: Other Great Wines

Interestingly, the Rhône also yielded a very memorable white this year, the 2012 Pierre Gaillard Condrieu (above), a wine which spoke more of minerality and precision than most Viogniers could dream of doing. And Alsace also did fairly well, as I really enjoyed the 1993 Trimbach Riesling Cuvée Frédéric Émile – proof that Riesling really is immortal, regardless of whether or not the wine has residual sugar, as well as the 1998 Zind Humbrecht Pinot Gris Heimbourg. Not even one of Olivier Humbrecht’s top wines, this was a lovely example of why this domaine is so famous.

Some white wines for which I had high hopes managed to disappoint, including two from a trio from Domaine Cauhapé from the 2003 vintage. Only the 2003 Domaine Cauhapé Jurançon Noblesse du Temps really impressed, although even here I would have enjoyed more acidity I think. Well, that’s 2003 for you (I keeping saying this, I know).

2013 Reflections: Other Great Wines

Alright, so there are some decent wines here, but if there is one vinous theme I will forever associate with 2013 it is fortified wine, especially a burgeoning appreciation of Sherry, as well as some great fortified wine discoveries in Madeira. From Spain, the Cayetano del Pino (above) wines impressed greatly, especially the Palo Cortado. Being honest, I actually wrote about this wine on New Year’s Eve 2012, so I mush have drank it before 2013 began, but I’m including it here anyway. Well, why not? Also pretty good was the Osborne Sibarita Very Old Rare Oloroso, a rather full-on style for a 30-year old wine, but pretty good with it.

Things got really serious with Madeira this year when I visited the island during the summer. I was besotted with the Barbeito Madeira Colheita Canteiro Verdelho 1996, which I have since added to the cellar, but was blown away by the Barbeito Madeira Sercial 1910, closely followed by the Barbeito Madeira Malvasia 1834 (below). These wines have such fabulous vigour and life, it was impossible tasting them to believe they were 103 and 179 years old respectively. And from Blandy’s there were other memorable wines, including the Blandy’s Madeira Colheita Verdelho 1995 and particular the Blandy’s Madeira Bual 1968. None could match the Barbeito wines though. Getting an appointment at Blandy’s was pretty difficult, and eventually their UK importer set one up for me. This was more successful than my appointment at Henriques & Henriques, which I arranged myself, only to be stood up when I turned up on time, hence the absence of a Henriques & Henriques report after my return. Did somebody say the Madeira producers were struggling?

2013 Reflections: Other Great Wines

Returning to Spain for a moment, I discovered a new region named Lebrija thanks to UK wine merchant Warren Edwardes. Lebrija lies next-door to Sanlúcar de Barrameda, and seems – in my limited experience, admittedly – to have the potential for top quality wines which are apparently sold at rock-bottom prices. The González Palacios Lebrija Old Oloroso was my favourite of the two wines I tried. I know the wines of the Douro far better than I know any of these aforementioned regions, and yet I have had few memorable Ports this year, the only noteworthy bottle being the 1983 Warre’s Vintage Port. To be honest though, although this was a very fine bottle – 1983 was a good vintage, but not a remarkable one – I don’t think I would regard it as truly ‘great’, although the older Madeiras described above certainly were. I have, perhaps, been converted.

That’s enough looking back at 2013 I think. Tomorrow I will publish my disclosure sheet for the year, then it’s on with 2014. I can think of plenty of other Sherries I want to try.