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Winedoctor 2017: Coming Soon . . . .

I don’t normally write about forthcoming articles on Winedoctor but at the moment I have so much raw material piled up waiting for me to write, edit and publish I thought subscribers probably deserved to know what feeble plans I have for getting everything done, and in what order I intend to get through it all.

First up I have dozens of tasting updates and something like 30 new Loire profiles for domaines not previously covered in-depth on Winedoctor which I will have to roll out over the course of many months. It won’t be that long before many Muscadet-makers are bottling their first sur lie wines of the 2016 vintage though, so there is perhaps a need to get these published first. These inclde tasting reports on the latest releases from Domaine Luneau-Papin, Domaine du Haut Bourg, Domaine des Herbauges, Jo Landron, Famille Lieubeau, Jérémie Mourat, Marc Olliver (pictured below) of Domaine de la Pépière and others.

Marc Ollivier, Domaine de la Pépière

A also have new profiles looking at the wines of Jérémie Huchet, Les Bêtes Curieuses, Domaine la Foliette and Domaine la Haute Févrie. In addition the Winedoctor guide to the Loire Valley kicks off again this weekend, looking at the wine regions of the Nantais, instalments to be published every other week over the next few months. It’s Muscadet, Muscadet, Muscadet all the way (plus some Folle Blanche and Fiefs Vendéens, obviously).

In order to provide some relief from my Bordeaux 2014 reports (which I started yesterday), I will be mixing and matching the Bordeaux and Muscadet articles over the next four or five weeks.

Once done I will probably be close to heading for the primeurs, so I will have to focus on as yet unwritten Bordeaux 2016 reports. And then, when that madness is behind us, I have a Loire Valley 2016 vintage report, a huge tasting update on the 2014 Loire Valley vintage (with some brilliant wines lined up – what a great vintage this is, especially for whites), a Bordeaux 2007 ten years on report, a Bordeaux 2001 mini-tasting report (with some great Sauternes – still stunning at over fifteen years), a Bordeaux 2002 mini-tasting, a vertical tasting of more than fifteen vintages of Savennières from Domaine du Closel, and reports on visits to Aurélien Revillot in Bourgueil, Château La Dauphine in Fronsac, Château La Dominique in St Emilion and others.

And this is before I even look at all the Anjou, Vouvray, Sancerre, Montlouis, Côte Roannaise and similar I have tasted over the past two weeks. I had better get back to writing…..

The Loire Salons: The Future?

Two weeks ago the doors opened for the 31st edition of the Salon des Vins de Loire in Angers. In recent years this has been a salon in decline, with falling exhibitor numbers, despite being a flagship wine event for the region. Much has been made of the arrival of Vinovision in Paris – the 1st ever edition opened its doors one week after the Salon des Vins de Loire – and what role this new salon might have to play. I was one of very few wine writers to attend both salons.

The Salon des Vins de Loire was first held in 1987, and has been held in every year since then. Not even the devastating frost of 1991, which saw yields and incomes slashed, could deter the organisers. Despite this, in recent years the salon has certainly been in decline. I have read that in its hey-day there were typically 700 exhibitors (although I have to wonder how you could squeeze that many into the Parc des Expositions in Angers). I have been attending for nine of those 31 years, and up until four or five years ago the exhibitors would pack out the Grand Palais, a huge exhibition hall, as well as a smaller entrance hall on one side. In recent years, however, the shrinking numbers of exhibitors has been obvious; famous names (such as Henri Bourgeois, Château de Tracy, Domaine Huet and others, as well as many of the big négociants and Saumur sparkling wine houses) were no longer present, and false walls brought in from the side of the hall kept everybody packed together, staving off the feeling that the fair was haemorrhaging support. From 400 exhibitors last year, this year the number plummeted to 230 domaines. The smaller entrance hall was closed off, and the false walls moved in a little further. On the upside, the Salon des Vins de Loire now also incorporates La Levée de la Loire, featuring organic and biodynamic growers, where there were 230 exhibitors, as well as a Demeter exhibition (which I confess I didn’t even find during my visit).

Loire Salons 2017

Much has been made of the arrival of Vinovision but it is clear to me that the Salon des Vins de Loire was in decline long before this new salon in Paris saw the light of day. There are I suspect many contributing factors to its decline. First, there are the competing ‘off’ salons including Les Anonymes, Les Pénitentes (Puzelat, Mosse and friends), La Dive Bouteille in Saumur and the Renaissance tasting in the Grenier and Hôpital Saint Jean (Nicolas Joly, Mark Angeli and friends). There is no doubt that these salons have a draw that to many visitors is stronger than that of the Salon des Vins de Loire, and I know of some writers and cavistes who visit Angers and tour only these salons, without ever stepping foot in the Parc des Expositions. Secondly, there is cost; a stand at the Salon des Vins de Loire is expensive, and if exhibitors don’t feel there is an adequate footfall and generation of trade, they will stay away. This was the reason Jean-Marie Bourgeois gave me for quitting the Salon des Vins de Loire the very last time he exhibited (basically, too expensive, not enough visitors). Thirdly these are pressing times financially, and this is a problem that will continue to have an impact over the next couple of years. Many different regions have been hit by difficult vintages during my nine years of attending the Salon des Vins de Loire, but in 2016 almost everybody was affected by the frost. If you have little/no wine to sell, and books that have to be balanced, an expensive stand at the Salon des Vins de Loire suddenly becomes a frivolous expense.

Vinovision is a latecomer in this story, and although it would be easy to blame the precipitous decline in Salon des Vins de Loire exhibitors on this new fair it is worth remembering that Vinovision was created principally with the support of Loire vignerons as a response to the deteriorating situation at the Salon des Vins de Loire. The fair combines the Loire Valley, a region of minor interest for many international wine buyers, with an attractive array of exhibitors from Champagne, Alsace, Burgundy and Jura. And it is based in Paris, which to an international buyer might feel easier to get to than Angers (although from my point of view travelling to either Angers or Paris is pretty straightforward – in each case it’s a plane, then a train). The Vinovision publicity material boasted over 360 exhibitors, and my search for who to visit from the Loire Valley pulled out over 260 names, so it was certainly a popular choice for many. The fee for a very small 3-metre by 2-metre stand was, I was told, €3000 compared to a similar sum for admittedly a larger stand at the Salon des Vins de Loire (or just €300 for a table in La Levée de la Loire). Because the purported focus of Vinovision is international export, however, exhibitors qualify for financial support from local authorities, and so it ends up being less expensive to exhibit at Vinovision than at the Salon des Vins de Loire.

Having attended both salons, neither were crammed. Both salons started on Sunday, finishing on Tuesday. The Salon des Vins de Loire would usually run from Monday to Wednesday, and the reason why the start day has moved to Sunday, creating a clash with the Renaissance and other ‘off’ salons, is not known to me. On the first day of the Salon des Vins de Loire the aisles were reminiscent of the streets of London’s derelict East End in the video for Ghost Town (1981), by the 2 Tone band The Specials. I could have driven a 1962 Vauxhall Cresta down them with my eyes closed without fear of hitting anybody. Monday, by contrast, was very busy, while Tuesday was quieter again. The Angers Expo Congrès claimed “close to 8,500 visitors” which is remarkably close to normal figures, a considerable surprise. Of these La Levée de la Loire (within the Salon des Vins de Loire) drew 3059 visitors in two days (Monday and Tuesday), an impressive contribution. As for Vinovision, this fair was also very quiet on Sunday (it seems to me Sunday-starts aren’t a good idea), picking up on Monday, and was also quieter on Tuesday. While I have not seen any figures for Vinovision, I am sure visitor numbers must have been lower than at the Salon des Vins de Loire. Despite being crammed into a smaller hall, with tightly-packed stands, it never felt as busy here.

For the moment then, the Salon des Vins de Loire will I suspect continue to decline. It (presumably) remains expensive, and I feel it has failed (or been unable) to adapt to the needs of the vignerons, or to evolve in a way that kept it in pole position in the salon race. Vinovision may have started small but it has a cost advantage and an ‘international’ mutli-region draw to it. Meanwhile the low yields in 2016 will act as a financial deterrent for another year, at least, this effect presumably more significant for the more expensive salons. Leading viticulteurs such as the Luneau-Papin family, Eric Morgat and Philippe Alliet will continue to push for the Salon des Vins de Loire and support it, and the 2018 edition is pencilled in for February 4th, 5th and 6th (a Sunday start again I note). With stronger vintages in 2017 and 2018 (fingers crossed) perhaps we will see those domaines staying away because of the very difficult 2016 vintage, such as Anne-Charlotte Genet of Charles Joguet, return?

Whatever happens with future vintages, I hope that everybody involved, not only those directly involved in the Salon des Vins de Loire but also those who prefer to show their wines at an ‘off’ salon, work together to keep this flagship event viable. If the Loire Valley loses the Salon des Vins de Loire, an event unparalleled anywhere else in the world of wine, everybody in the region – including all the organic and biodynmiac vignerons who prefer to set up stall in those ‘off’ salons – will inevitably lose out.

Vinovision: Measured Success

It’s Tuesday morning, and I am about to head off for my third and final day of tasting at Vinovision. First though, a few words on Monday, and on the salon so far.

There is no doubt in my mind that, from my point of view, this has been a good salon to attend. It feels small in comparison to the Salon des Vins de Loire, despite the fact this salon also takes in Burgundy, Champagne and Alsace (and the Jura too I think). Nevertheless there are hundreds of Loire domaines showing here; I think it feels smaller simply because they are packed in so tightly. Each domaine takes as a minimum a 6m2 space (yes, just 2m x 3m, for your stand, bottles, fridge, tables, chairs and whatever else you wish), which means dozens of domaines can be packed into a small space. And there are lots of high profile names here (some of which I mentioned yesterday), such as Henri Bourgeois and Alphonse Mellot, among others.

Having said that, this salon is a long way from being comprehensive, and yet that is what the Salon des Vins de Loire always offered. Of course, you would never find Clos Rougeard, Philippe Foreau or Louis-Benjamin Dagueneau there, but you would find almost everybody else of significance, and if topped up with visits to the various dependent salons to taste with Richard Leroy and the like a visit to the Salon des Vins de Loire would always give you the most comprehensive look possibale at what the Loire Valley was up to. This salon in Paris, however, falls far short of that, and feels more like a ‘top up’ salon.

Vinovision 2017

That shouldn’t be taken as any indication that I have been short of things to do though. Yesterday I tasted widely, with some good discoveries at domaines with which I was previously unfamiliar. I tasted with Julie Biet (top left) and her father Jean-Marc Biet, who are based in Seigy near the Cher, and who make some really strong red wines from the usual Touraine varieties grown on clay and limestone soils. Another discovery was Albin Roux (top right) of Domaine Roux; he and his father have vines in Quincy and Châteaumeillant, and turn out some attractive wines.

Back on more familiar territory I enjoyed tasting with Jean-Pierre Chevallier (bottom right) of Château de Villeneuve, simply because it was a reminder what a convincing and desirable range of wines he produces, from first cuvée to last, and I remain amazed that his top cuvée Le Grand Clos (or indeed any of his other wines) isn’t chased more by drinkers of good Cabernet Franc. Finally I tasted and talked with Frédéric Brochet (bottom left) of Ampelidae, first to get a low down on his latest wines, but also to learn about his acquisition of the vineyards of Pierre-Jacques Druet, which he purchased last year after Druet went bankrupt, and to find out what plans he has for them. That was an interesting, frank and insightful chat, for sure…….

With one day left as always there is too much I want to cram in for me to have any hope of succeeding, but this is the way of any good tasting trip. Then this evening I will fly back to Edinburgh, and I have a few days of normal life before heading back down to London for a big Muscadet tasting (focusing on older wines, crus communaux, lees-aged wines and so on) for Decanter magazine. I am looking forward to that one…..

Welcome to Vinovision

It is now one week on from my trip to Angers for the Renaissance tasting and Salon des Vins de Loire, the latter an event which – if I have been doing my sums correctly (no guarantees offered, obviously) – has been going for 31 years. I hope there will be a 32nd Salon, next year (more thoughts on that at a later date). This week, however, I am in Paris, for a brand new salon in its first year. Vinovision is billed as an international salon for cool-climate wines, or “vins septentrionaux” as the locals put it. And that means, alongside all the expensive fizzy stuff from Reims, and the expensive unfizzy stuff from between Dijon and Lyon, there is a strong showing from the Loire Valley.

So after returning from Angers last week, and then making a one-day dash down to London for a 2007 Bordeaux tasting with BI, on Saturday I flew out to Paris. I have based myself in a hotel not far from the salon (which is in the Paris Expo at Porte de Versailles, if you are interested – very easy to get to from the UK via Charles de Gaulle airport, so it is amazing I have seen only one other UK journalist here). The tasting runs from Sunday to Tuesday. And with over 260 exhibitors from the Loire Valley, if the Vinovision website is to be believed (I decided, rather than count them, that I would take them at their word), there has been plenty for me to do.

Vinovision 2017

Sunday was a mix of tasting at domaines I had to skip in Angers because of lack of time, such as Domaine de la Taille aux Loups (tasted with Jacky and Jean-Philippe Blot, the latter top left); domaines completely new to me, such as Adèle Rouzé, who is based in Quincy (top right), and domaines who have stopped attending the Salon des Vins de Loire, such as Champalou (tasted with Céline, bottom left) and Henri Bourgeois (tasted with Arnaud, bottom right). Reconnecting with domaines where I haven’t been able to visit and taste for some time may well turn out to be a theme of this salon, although it is also exciting to taste with people I haven’t met before, such as Adèle.

It was also a delight to bump into some old faces, such as Marc Thibault of Château de Villargeau, who I haven’t seen for years and years, as well as some new faces, including Harmon Skurnik of the eponymous NY importer, and Chris Hardy, who isn’t really a new face but he does have a new hat on, as this ex-Majestic employee is taking on the Loire-based courtier business so long associated with Charles and Philippa Sydney.

Looking at my list of planned tastings for today (Monday) or Tuesday, I think by the end of these three days I will have expanded my knowledge of Quincy, Châteaumeillant, Sancerre and the Coteaux de Giennois considerably. Not to mention Bourgueil, Saumur and Touraine. Let’s see how today goes – must dash!

The Longest Day

It is Tuesday morning and as I tuck into my pain au chocolat this morning I have realised I have just a half-day of tasting left before I head back to the UK, and I have a lot to squeeze in. Not because I have been lazy (honest) – yesterday I was tasting from about 9:30 am and I carried on until 11 pm (this is not a joke). It is because this trip is a little shorter than usual, as the Salon would not normally finish until Wednesday.

Yesterday’s roll-call of tastings was a long one then, starting with Pithon-Paillé and Jo Landron in the morning, ending with a rapid run-through of the latest and impending releases from Domaine de la Pépière and Vincent Caillé (that makes it sound like there was a lot of Muscadet, which there was, but there were a lot of other appellations and regions popping up as well). I also concentrated on trying to mix up familiar and unfamiliar domaines, and in the latter I made good discoveries, wines with fresh and pure flavours, but also less interesting discoveries, where such features gave way to funky, oxidised or other unusual flavours. It’s the natural wine lottery, a game without favourable odds.

I was ejected from the Salon at 7 pm, at which point I headed over to Domaine du Closel in Savennières for a special tasting hosted by Evelyne de Jessey-Pontbriand, proprietor of this estate for about fifteen years, a fact celebrated by her pouring the fifteen most recent vintages from this estate, from 2001 onwards (which actually made fourteen, because there was no 2012 because of frost, and I think the 2016 has gone the same way). This was a great tasting, held in a very atmospheric room in the château (pictured above), hung with tapestries and illuminated by candle- and lamp-light (it was actually much lighter than my picture suggests – it wasn’t that kind of blind tasting).

I am off now for Tuesday’s tastings. I must call in on François Chidaine and Philippe Alliet, two domaines I wouldn’t want to miss out. After that I might try and call in on a few more less familiar names. There are a few domaines I haven’t visited that are definitely on my hit list – Jacky Blot and Alphonse Mellot, for example – but I will meet up with them at Vinovision in a few days time.

From Renaissance to the Salon

It’s Monday morning and I’m in Angers for the annual round of tastings that centre on (but are certainly not limited to) the Salon des Vins de Loire. I arrived on Friday evening, and having been tasting all weekend the trip is already half done. Time always flies by on this trip.

I spent Saturday at the Renaissance tasting which – for the Loire domaines at least – was hosted in the Hôpital Saint Jean in Angers. As I anticipated it was a great venue, with a beautiful vaulted ceiling, fairly good light, and certainly plenty of space. Unusually, however, all the vignerons were tightly packed together in the centre of the hall, making very poor use of this space. I later learnt this was because the hôpital, which houses some modern tapestries and is one of several registered museums in Angers, was still open as a museum. To limit the likelihood of a natural-wine-taster bumping into a tapestry-viewer (which would presumably have a result akin to the meeting of matter and anti-matter) the Renaissance tasting was restricted to a very narrow strip in the centre of the hall. As a result by early afternoon it was just as crammed as ever, the crowds three- or four-deep at the tables. Great if you are there for a bit of a beano with your mates. Not so good if you actually want to concentrate on the wines, chat to the vignerons, and write some informative notes.

As for the wines, I tasted a lot from 2015 and 2014, plus some from 2016 and a few older vintages. I tasted where I felt I absolutely had to – Richard Leroy, Nicolas Joly, Mark Angeli, Eric Nicolas – before then dipping in elsewhere, revisiting some domaines I know well, but instead of focusing solely on ‘revisits’ I was pleased to also taste with some unfamiliar domaines from Anjou, the Côte Roannaise and elsewhere.

From Renaissance to the Salon

Sunday was the first day of the Salon des Vins de Loire, and it was a quiet day. The number of exhibitors is down again this year – I don’t need to look at any numbers to make that statement, it is obvious from the way in which the halls have been used. I don’t want to focus on that for the moment though, and will come back to that in a later post. Visitor numbers also seemed to be very small, as it was incredibly quiet, but it was Sunday, and some visitors may have chosen to go to all the ‘off’ salons instead. Or to spend a lazy day in bed, maybe.

I launched headlong into tasting, only coming up for air at lunchtime, before diving in once again. I focused on big tastings at Anjou domaines, so went to Domaine de la Bergerie, Château Pierre-Bise (tasting with René Papin, pictured above) and Domaine Ogereau, as well as dipping my toe into the waters of Muscadet, Fiefs-Vendéens and Montlouis. That might not sound like much, but there was a lot of Muscadet in there.

Today (Monday) I am heading back to the Salon des Vins de Loire. I expect visitor numbers to be up today, but it will be interesting to see just how busy it gets. I already have a huge hit-list of domaines to visit, and it seems inevitable that I won’t get everything done. Thank heavens I also have tomorrow morning here, and of cause there is always Vinovision……

Leaving Limbo Behind

I always find myself in limbo in January. It’s a new year, and I have itchy tastebuds; I am keen to get to grips with new wines, from the most recent vintage. But I have to bide my time, waiting for an opportunity to taste, while I continue to write up notes from tastings I made last year – which now feel soooo out of date, even though some of those tastings were only last December, just a few weeks ago.

I spent a day in London a week or so ago, my first look at the 2016 Loire vintage, but it was merely a morsel of a tasting. The real meat comes along with my first trip to the Loire Valley, which is this weekend; yesterday I landed in Angers, after travelling down via Paris. Door-to-door it was only ten hours (I had to hang around for a train for quite a while) but it felt much longer.

Today (Saturday) I will be going to the Renaissance tasting, which this year promises to be a good one. I go every year, but always in the knowledge that, after the first hour or two, it gets to be a bit of a scrum. It isn’t really a quiet tasting event hosted with laptop-wielding journalists in mind – it is open to anybody prepared to pay the entry fee, although the attendees seem mostly to be sommeliers and cavistes, all of whom are very happy jostling for elbow room with the other punters. I go, though, because it is a good chance to catch up with Richard Leroy, Mark Angeli and Nicolas Joly, among many others. I always visit these three first, and then take it as it comes. In 2017, though, the tasting has grown; for years hosted in the Grenier Saint-Jean, it has now spread into the adjacent Hôpital Saint-Jean as well. I have never been inside this building, a hospital established in 1175, but photographs I have seen suggest that internally it is stunning. I am also looking forward to some extra elbow room.

Renaissance Tasting, Salon des Vins de Loire

I would usually spend all weekend there, but this year the Salon des Vins de Loire has been moved up a day, starting Sunday rather than Monday. Natural wine geeks will probably stay at the Renaissance tasting (or the other side-salons, like Dive Bouteille in Saumur), but I will head to the Salon-proper. Why has it been moved to Sunday? The honest answer is I don’t know, but it isn’t a helpful move, as it reduces my opportunity to taste by one day. The Salon is already struggling, with exhibitor numbers declining dramatically the past couple of years (and surely set to decline further after the 2016 vintage, which saw very low yields for many in the Loire, after the April frost), and I think this shift up a day may also weaken its position.

Within the Salon there is also La Levée de la Loire, another good tasting event, and I will probably spend the best part of a day at this, leaving me with one and a half days at the Salon itself (as I have to leave midway through day three to catch my return flight). You might think I should stay on for the whole of day three, but I did that once, and it was so quiet many stands were being packed up by early afternoon, so it was a bit pointless.

Hopefully my three-and-a-half days of tasting will satisfy my itchy tastebuds, and no doubt I will get to taste with those vignerons pictured above, all snapped at the 2016 tastings. Once done it is back to Blighty for a rest day, then a Bordeaux 2007 tasting in London, then a rest day, then back to Paris for Vinovision, a new wine fair. With a focus on northern cool climate zones this will feature wines from the Loire Valley, Champagne and Alsace. It is a really serious competitor for the Salon des Vins de Loire, and undoubtedly another threat to its future viability. As for the coming week, I will make blog posts when I can, but the next substantive update will probably be Wednesday.

Bordeaux 2016: Bruno Rolland

Last December, during my little tour of Bordeaux to taste the 2014s, I called in on Bruno Rolland at Château Léoville-Las-Cases. Bruno has his finger on the pulse of what happens across all the Delon domaines, not just here in St Julien but also at Château Potensac, up in the Médoc, and on the opposite bank, at Château Nenin, in Pomerol. Here’s what Bruno (pictured below) had to say on the 2016 vintage.

Bordeaux 2016

Me: What is 2016 like as a vintage?

Bruno: It is a vintage with good ripeness at harvest, giving us very beautiful raw material, but with a racy structure. The quality is at a very high level. We plan to do the assemblage tomorrow, so we shall know more of the vintage then.

Me: Were there any particular difficulties with the vintage?

Bruno: The young vines had a bit of difficulty in the heat. There was a long period of very dry weather. The old vines did better during this time.

Me: Is it similar to any other recent vintages?

Bruno: I think at Leoville-Las-Cases 2016 is closest to the style of 2006 and 2010.

Me: What sort of style is that?

Bruno: Here at Léoville-Las-Cases the wines have ended up quite powerful, with very firm tannins, but the acidity keeps them fresh.

Me: Sounds good – thanks for your time Bruno.

These early Bordeaux 2016 reports are essentially funded by Winedoctor subscribers, the first purpose of this latest trip to Bordeaux having been to taste 2014s for a forthcoming report on that vintage. If you find these reports interesting, please consider taking out a subscription to Winedoctor, for just £4.50 per month (or £45 per annum).