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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for an opportunity to taste, while I continue to write up notes from tastings I made last year – which now feel soooo out of date, even though some of those tastings were only last December, just a few weeks ago.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.

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