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Summer Break

This is just a quick post to point out that now summer has arrived (in the northern hemisphere, anyway) I will be taking my break from Winedoctor updates. I’m off to Vouvray (where, so I’m told, they make wine) for a few weeks. I have a couple of visits lined up, and of course I will be making a few more appointments once I set my feet on the ground.

Although I won’t be making any formal Winedoctor updates over the next three weeks, I may make a blog post or two (maybe), or perhaps a few Twitter posts (more likely), but on the whole I will be focusing on visiting, tasting (reports on my return), imbibing and relaxing. With the latter in mind, I might take a boat down the Cher one day; here’s hoping for a sunset like the one below, taken one evening last October.

The Cher, at sunset, October 2013

When I come back it will be full steam ahead with my reports – there is plenty more to come on Sancerre and Pouilly-Fumé (new profiles on Château de Tracy, de Ladoucette, Masson-Blondelet, Tinel-Blondelet and more), and a huge number of updates and new profiles in Nantais, Anjou and Saumur (Jérémie Mourat, Fosse Seche & Nicolas Reau, to name just three of many). And obviously, I might have a few new words on Vouvray to publish. As for Bordeaux, to follow my recent Bordeaux 2004 report I have new mini-reports on 2010, 2011, 2012 and 2013 coming up, as well as some château and visit reports to publish.

Thereafter, it won’t be long before I get on to the autumn Bordeaux tastings, on the 2010 and 2012 vintages. Of course I will visit Bordeaux to taste the 2010s in bottle, but I will also be there to lead an open trip to Yquem, Haut-Brion, Pichon-Baron, Troplong-Mondot and the like. There are just a couple of places left now, so if you’re interested in coming along, check out this blog post.

Happy drinking to all, thanks for reading, and huge thanks to all my subscribers – Chris.

Restaurants: Vinous Misdemeanours

I’ve just returned from a four-day dining trip in London; I had great fun, drinking and eating my way round this capital city, not least because thanks to the intelligence of some of London’s sommeliers I was able to almost exclusively drink from the Loire. I did go slightly off-piste with a glass of Champagne here and there, and seriously off-piste with a Hungarian Kekfrankos (what was I thinking?!) but otherwise it was Saumur, Sancerre, Montlouis, Pét Nat and more, all the way.

Although it was fun I also met some old bêtes noires, and I encountered some new ones too. I will be writing about each restaurant individually over the next few weeks, but I can’t help put a few words down about the vinous misdemeanours I witnessed. Think of it as my therapy.

Wrong Vintages
I know, this is an old one, but it still happens. The list says 2011, but when the bottle comes it’s a 2010. In this case it didn’t really matter, the only issue being I was drinking from a domaine I am keen to get to know better, and whereas I had tasted the 2010 before I was really interested in tasting the 2011. Both vintages were fine for the region in question though, so I just accepted the wine with a nod, and it was just as delicious second time around. But I woudn’t have been so keen if it were a 2013 Bordeaux instead of a 2012 (very different levels of quality) or a 2011 Muscadet instead of a 2012 (the latter vintage was magnificent, the former stuffed with grey rot). If you really can’t manage the vintages, which are important, perhaps you should cut back your 120-page list a little?

The Heavy Pour
This is another old one, but I encountered it in two different forms. The premise is simple; the more your glass is topped up, the more likely you are to get onto a profit-inducing second bottle. The problem is it brings me out in hives. On the first occasion, one restaurant I dined at saw my table visited more than twenty times during dinner (bringing a new meaning to overbearing service) in most cases to keep dribbling the wine into my glass. On one occasion a waiter would walk away having topped up my glass only for another to appear moments later to do the same, without me even taking a sip between visits.

The second heavy pourer was working with a bottle of mineral water, rather than wine, at a two-star establishment. Having filled my glass at the start of the meal, I was only at the stage of nibbling the hors d’oeuvres (before even the amuse bouche proper arrived) when the second heavy pour almost drained the bottle, leaving less than a half inch of water at the bottom. The waitress clearly considered this close enough to be empty, and was quick to suggest she should bring another bottle. I declined, at which point my nearly-finished bottle was whisked away. It was the start of a very strange evening, and on reflection this moment was perhaps not that unusual when considered in context!

Nicolas Joly

Big Name Wine Lists
If you have a sommelier, they should (I would have thought) be expected to put together a wine list with interesting names and choices, some familiar, some less so. Unsung regions should get a look in, including lesser regions of Italy, Spain, Eastern Europe and so on. And the Loire of course. This is usually the case (and is exactly why I managed to drink my way up and down the Loire at every dinner) but at one restuarant I was surprised to see the Loire section consist of almost nothing but Didier Dagueneau (good, but expensive of course, especially with restaurant mark-up), Domaine des Baumard and Nicolas Joly (pictured above). None of which (for reasons of price, or otherwise) interested me. But honestly, anybody who reads the Wine Spectator could have put together that list, comprised purely of ‘break-through’ domaines who have made it into the mainstream wine consciousness. Really, a sommelier put that together?! It’s a bit like a Bordeaux list of only Latour, Le Pin and Cheval Blanc. Very pricy, and more than a bit obvious. Thank heavens for four lonesome and more interesting bottles (on a list that went over more than 80 pages) tagged on at the end, which was where I found something more to my taste.

The Thieving Sommelier
The last misdemeanour I witnessed was very questionable. Sitting in a London wine bar I had the perfect position to watch the sommelier at work, opening and decanting some nice-looking bottles for the bar’s clientele, including (during my short stop there) a seven-year old Cornas, and a ten-year old Nuits-St-Georges. For each bottle, the sommelier would take a tiny pour to sniff and taste, to check the wine. Fair enough – that’s her job. Then she would take a much more handsome pour – a small glassful, perhaps 100-125 ml – and put that to one side, before decanting the rest of the wine which she or one of her colleagues would pour at table. Remarkably, the glass put aside then went to a nearby table of her friends/colleagues, who she presided over; I guessed they were trainee sommeliers, from the way she stood over them as they blind-tasted the wine. What’s really important though, is not exactly why they were taking the wine, but the fact that both wines (and, I suspect, others later in the day) were paid for by an unknowing third party. When you consider that the combined price of the two bottles I saw was just shy of £140, and that this probably continued on after I left the restaurant, that’s certainly very dodgy practice.

Checking in on a maturing Vouvray

We all know Vouvray is immortal. Well, at least I hope we do. I was certainly reminded of this indisputable fact when checking in on the 1996 Cuvée Moelleuse from Domaine Champalou recently. This has always been a very elegant style of moelleux Vouvray, pure and floral, very much in the Champalou style. I recall about a decade ago opening a bottle with a sweet-salty stilton from the Cropwell Bishop creamery; it was one of the most heavenly food and wine matches I have ever encountered. It wasn’t long before the cheese wrapper was empty and the bottle was dry. More than ten years on, I can recall the sensation of the combination with absolute clarity, it was so striking.

Champalou Vouvray Cuvée Moelleuse 1996

Right now the Domaine Champalou Cuvée Moelleuse 1996 shows a polished straw-gold hue in the glass, quite a rich colour for this cuvée, which tends to have a somewhat paler hue than other sweet Vouvrays, which to my mind reflects the more delicate, floral nature of the wine (and the Champalou style). The nose here, however, is not floral but is rich in honeyed quince, sweet yellow plum too, but this is presented in a taut rather than fat or exuberant fashion, and it is nicely balanced by contrasting notes of smoke and mineral on one side, but hints of even richer praline on the other. The palate is beautifully defined, cool and bright, taut and with plenty of crisp, lively fruit behind the grip, acid freshness and richer nuances. There is perhaps a touch of sorbet-like purity and intensity here which really appeals, especially when mixed with the more smoky nuances. It is fabulously long, and yet always taut and precise. Divine to drink now (with or without stilton) but this has decades ahead of it. 18.5/20

Underground at Champany Inn

Last week I took a trip up to Champany Inn, near Linlithgow, a restaurant renowned for its steak above all else. It’s quite a few years since I last visited; in fact, looking back I see it was in 2006, a far-too-long eight years. Well I’m glad I put that right.

The reason for my visit was to attend a dinner showcasing the wines of Henri Bourgeois, the leading Loire Valley domaine and négociant based in Chavignol, not far from Sancerre (although I would imagine the locals would probably rather say “Sancerre, not far from Chavignol”). This was an interesting dinner as, although the numbers of wines poured was not huge, it was (if I recall correctly) the first time I have tasted the Henri Bourgeois wines next to the Clos Henri wines, which originate from the Bourgeois vineyards in New Zealand.

Champany Inn

Before the dinner I was treated to a quick tour of all things Champany. Since my last visit a very impressive shop has sprung up (a lot can happen in eight years!), selling wines off the list, strong on South Africa (as is the wine list) but featuring many other regions too. I even spotted a bottle of Louis Métaireau Muscadet. I made a mental note to return when I have more time, for a longer and more leisurely nose around.

It was the cellars that impressed most though. As cellars go this one (a little of which is pictured above) is deceptive. It goes on for much longer than you think (what I thought was a mirror in the distance was only a glass panel, and there were more bins beyond), and the total capacity is an impressive 36,000 bottles. Just inside the door some recent arrivals were ready to be stacked away; Mike, the sommelier, has very wisely been stocking up with 2004 Bordeaux, a vintage which offers good value, as well as a little from the 2000 vintage, provided the price was right, of course.

Champany Inn

There were plenty of interesting bottles to see. Old Italians, South Africans, plenty of Burgundy and more than a bottle or two from Bordeaux, unsurprisingly. The 1998 Yquem, above, is just one of many such bottles, and hints at the quality of the wines on the Champany Inn list.

I will write up the dinner and wines in the next few weeks, after I have overhauled my Henri Bourgeois profile after my visit there late least year.

Disclosure: I joined the Henri Bourgeois dinner, and stayed overnight in one of their rooms, as a guest of Champany Inn.

One for the Luneau-Papin fans

During the Salon des Vins de Loire I stopped off at the Luneau-Papin stand. Well, you have to, don’t you? The Luneau-Papins are gracious, welcoming people, Pierre is always smiling, Pierre-Marie always laughing. They always seem so happy and relaxed in what they do, and yet they are clearly dedicated and precise individuals who don’t pull any punches when it comes to viticulture and fruit selection; it is no accident that these are some of the best examples of Muscadet in existence.

I stopped off to taste, and was taken aback by what came out onto the tasting counter. It was the famed Cuvée L d’Or, but not as you or I know it. It has undergone a makeover; gone is the traditional somewhat angular Muscadet bottle, and the old fashioned label. In its place is what the Luneau-Papin’s refer to as a ‘sommelier‘ bottle, and a more minimalist label, which also highlights the terroir of origin, the granite of Vallet, a commune just to the south of Le Landreau where the Luneau-Papins are based.

Luneau-Papin - the new L d'Or label

The new label states that the wine is Muscadet Sèvre et Maine (and not sur lie) which initially raised my suspicions that it was not just the label that had changed, but the wine too. Are the Luneau-papin’s moving L d’Or to a long lees-aged style, I wondered, akin to the crus communaux wines? I probably shouldn’t have worried, as the wine is already in bottle, and of course cru communal wines usually see 24 months sur lie. But I checked all the same, and it was confirmed that this is just a label change, the wine itself – the vineyard of origin, the fermentation, bottling and so on – are all exactly as they once were.

And as for the taste – it’s superb, as you might expect from the 2012 vintage. Definitely one for the Luneau-Papin fans, and indeed anybody who loves vibrant, fresh and minerally wine. Now, where can I get some?

To Sancerre! And Other Places!

Last year I paid Saumur and Saumur-Champigny a little more attention than usual, as I wanted to update my knowledge of the region and its wines. I wrote about why I felt I needed to reacquaint myself with this particular part of the Loire in my blog post that introduced my series of updates, tasting reports and new profiles, entitled Saumur-Time, and the living….. I guess I should apologise now for the cheesy title, which of course references the Gershwin song, of which Ella Fitzgerald’s is the version I am most familiar with. I’m sorry; I will try and refrain in future.

I had no real intention to revisit Saumur-Champigny this year, and indeed because I missed the third day of the Salon des Vins de Loire due to illness, I missed out on tasting with favourites that I regularly check up on, such as Thierry Germain, Jean-Pierre Chevalier, Philippe Vatan and Antoine Sanzay. I will have to try and rectify this later in the year. Because I spent longer at the Renaissance tasting this year, though, there will be some updates on Saumur, in particular featuring the very appealing wines of Clos Mélaric, made by Aymeric Hilaire. This is a new domaine to me, and one where I was impressed by the wines. Watch out for them (and for my profile).

Les Monts Damnés, Chavignol, October 2013

Anyway, I digress. This year I have decided to pay more attention to upgrading and expanding my coverage of the Central Vineyards, a part of the Loire Valley I have neglected for too long. I thought I might name the series of articles Yours Sancerrely….. no, sorry, I did promise. This wouldn’t cover it anyway, as I will look beyond Sancerre to Pouilly-Fumé, Menetou-Salon and other neighbouring appellations. Many of the updates and profiles will be combinations of tastings at the Salon des Vins de Loire or elsewhere, together with tastings, information and photographs from visits to the region last October, when I took in Reuilly, Menetou-Salon, Sancerre (including stops in Sancerre itself, Bué and Chavignol) and Pouilly-Fumé. Pictured above is Les Monts Damnés, which rises above the village of Chavignol.

Briefly, expect new tasting reports and new or overhauled profiles for Domaine Vacheron, Alphonse Mellot, Vincent Grall, Vincent Pinard, Sébastien Riffault, Gérard Boulay, Henri Bourgeois, François Crochet, Pascal & Nicolas Reverdy, Pierre Martin (all Sancerre), Masson-Blondelet, Tinel-Blondelet, Didier Daguneau, Thierry Redde, Alexandre Bain, Château de Tracy (all Pouilly-Fumé), Philippe Gilbert, Henry Pellé, La Tour Saint-Martin (all Menetou-Salon), Denis Jamain and Claude Lafond (both in Reuilly, and I’ve actually kicked off this week already, with the latter of these two). As I currently have about 30 tastings still scribbled in my notebook, and not yet typed up, there may be others I have overlooked, but I think this is all. And it’s probably enough to be getting on with.

Banned from Tasting 2013 Domaine Huet

One of the highlights of the Salon des Vins de Loire is getting to grips with the latest releases from Domaine Huet. Long regarded as the appellation leader, alongside Philippe Foreau (Domaine du Clos Naudin), the wines made here ever since Victor Huet acquired the estate in 1928 have defined what it is for a wine to be Vouvray. They are benchmarks for the appellation, prize examples of what can be achieved with a biodynamically-managed vineyard (this has been the case since the late-1980s) even in a cool climate, and quite rightly the domaine has risen to the top in the region on the back of these successes. On turning up at the Domaine Huet stand at the 2014 Salon des Vins de Loire, however, I was told that I was not permitted to taste the 2013 vintage.

Before I explain how this came about, and why I won’t be making my usual post-Salon report on the Huet tasting (it is usually one of the first reports I write), a little background information. I first visited the Loire Valley in 1993, and even on that first visit my main focus was the wine. Even on some of my earliest visits I called in on Domaine Huet, and I still have some wines in the cellar, from the 1989 and 1993 vintages, acquired during those visits. With time the visits to the Loire and to Vouvray in particular became more regular, and as my obsession with wine evolved and I began writing about it online, eventually I became what can only be described as a wine critic. In doing so I tasted more and more wines from Domaine Huet, not only on visits to the domaine but also at the Salon des Vins de Loire (with Noël Pinguet at first, more recently after Noël’s departure with Benjamin Joliveau), as well as a notable tasting of demi-sec wines in London with Noël a few years ago. My profile of Domaine Huet is the largest of all my Loire profiles (first published eleven years ago, now expanded to eight pages) with nine separately published ‘tasting updates’ added to Winedoctor over the years, and over two hundred tasting notes all told, from 2012 back to the 1949 vintage. A look through any of these articles would make clear how highly I have rated the wines over the years. Unsurprisingly, during this time the number of Huet wines in my cellar grew, not only with the addition of recent vintages, but back-filling older ones too, as I was keen to enhance my understanding of the domaine. The oldest wine in my cellar is a 1946 Huet.

In all cases these reports were dispassionate judgements on the wines; they were not praised out of loyalty, or love of the Loire, or of Vouvray, or the domaine, but because the wines deserved it. To write usefully about wine – or indeed any aspect of modern culture that attracts the ‘critic’ – I am certain that you have to, above all else, be true to yourself. You have to say what you really feel about the wine in question, and that is exactly what I was doing, giving praise where praise was due. With the 2012 vintage I saw something different in the wines though; they lacked the usual Huet grace and substance, reflecting what had been a difficult vintage for the region. Against the backdrop of all my previous reports on the wines of Domaine Huet, and in the context of an extensive four-page report which also focused on the sec and pétillant wines of the 2002 vintage (where some in the USA have reported premature oxidation, although I found no systematic problem), sec cuvées from other recent vintages (2010 back to 1995, featuring some excellent wines) and recent pétillant releases (2007 back to 2001, again, lovely wines) I stated that I did not like the two wines tasted from the 2012 vintage, that it had indeed been a tough year for the team at Huet, and my tasting notes made clear why. My comments were direct, not mealy-mouthed, but were carefully considered. Nobody would mistake my words for the work of Ambrose Bierce or AA Gill, that’s for sure. I concluded with an open question on the 2013 vintage, and looked forward to tasting it at the Salon.

Turning up at the Salon des Vins de Loire hoping to do just that, I was taken inside the Domaine Huet stand (a fairly grand affair) by Sarah Hwang, current president of Domaine Huet. Expecting to hear some information on the 2013 vintage, I opened my laptop, but I was asked to close it as Sarah informed me that we should talk now, and I could type later. It was made clear that my opinions on the 2012 vintage weren’t welcome, as I was asked “just where do you think you’re coming from with what you write about Domaine Huet” and accused of not engaging with “the spirit” of the domaine or appellation. In a series of quick-fire questions I was quizzed on who I knew at the domaine (my tastings have always been with Noël Pinguet or Benjamin Joliveau, as described above, but it seems I am supposed to know the whole team to be able to comment on the wines) and whether or not I even knew who the winemaker was. When I asked who, if not Benjamin Joliveau, the winemaker was (Benjamin has told me, during previous tastings, that he was now winemaker after Noël’s departure), instead of a simple answer (apparently Jean-Bernard Berthomé, the hugely experienced cellar-master, now has this title) I received more questions fired back at me. I was even quizzed on whether or not I had taken photographs of Huet vineyards, as if that was somehow inappropriate. In the culmination of what felt like a long conversation, but which probably lasted mere minutes, I was accused (after stating that I will always write for my subscribers first and foremost) of “using” Domaine Huet merely to build Winedoctor subscriber numbers.

Oscar Wilde once said “the critic has to educate the public; the artist has to educate the critic” and I think he had that right; I’m always willing to be educated, which is why I try to meet as many growers as possible, to hear about their vineyards and their philosophies, and to taste their wines. But this was not an educational meeting, as it much more resembled a dressing-down. When it seemed as though we had reached a stalemate I asked whether I could taste the 2013 vintage. The answer was no. And at that point I left.

As a consequence, I am currently unable to report on the 2013 vintage at Domaine Huet, and will crack on with my proposed Sancerre and Pouilly-Fumé (and Menetou-Salon and Reuilly) updates and reports instead. I will continue to provide tasting reports on the many older wines from my cellar, and in order to keep up to date with recent releases I will look for other tasting opportunities, which may well involve buying newly released bottles on the open market. I am not sure if the ban is a permanent one, but I certainly don’t feel that I would be welcome at Domaine Huet at the moment. I sincerely wish all the Huet team, including Jean-Bernard Berthomé, Benjamin Joliveau and Sarah Hwang all the best for great success in future vintages. Their wines have given me (and so many thousands of others) so much joy over the years and I am sure with continued good efforts from the team, and with more favourable vintages in the future (I am told by a reliable palate that the 2013s are pretty good, by the way), there is no reason to see why that success will not continue into the future.

Taking a Break

I am taking a break from Winedoctor posts this week (meaning the week beginning Monday 10th February). Instead I will be spending more time with my family (which sounds a little like politician-speak for retirement in disgrace, I know) and hopefully having some fun with my children; the first item on the agenda will almost certainly be trying to remember their names.

I suspect the break will do me good (I think I need it after a tiring Salon des Vins de Loire followed up by an even more tiring stomach bug last week) and I will return with normal updates on Monday 17th February.

As I have stated in previous posts (somewhere!), in terms of my Loire profiles and updates I will try to concentrate on the Central Vineyards first. But I have also used my spare time over the past week to crack on with my Bordeaux guide, and so I will began updating that again next weekend also (I reached an impasse with Margaux – I will have to write about why I got stuck another day, as it is an interesting tale that relates to the importance placed upon having the right terroir). I am looking forward to finishing that as not only will it mean the completion of what is (I think) the most comprehensive guide to Bordeaux online, it means I can then slowly begin working my way though the appellations of the Loire.

It has always been an aim of mine to give the Loire the same treatment that other more obsessed-over regions (i.e. Bordeaux and Burgundy) receive. It is a source of a complex array of fascinating wines, and yet so often it is disregarded as a region that produces “crisp summer-drinking whites” and “light and fruity reds for early drinking”, both statements being very short of the full picture. As such my profiles are as detailed as possible, and I includes a much history as possible (often not much though!) where available, just as I do for my Bordeaux châteaux profiles. My Loire vintage guides include detailed weather reports as well as notes on harvest and the wines. And I also believe the wines deserve to be reviewed as expensive Bordeaux and Burgundy are reviewed, praised as appropriate, but also criticised when they deserve it. To do otherwise as a critic would be pointless; the region needs a critic to take it seriously, not a ‘cheerleader’. My Loire guide will therefore be detailed but also broad, covering every possible aspect of the Loire and its wines.

But that’s for the future. For now, have a good week, and I will be back here next Monday.

Humility in Wine

Day three at the Salon des Vins de Loire was something of a flop. I fell ill Tuesday night, and couldn’t go to the Salon during the day on Wednesday. I only had a morning of tastings scheduled, and I had agreed to taste with blot Jacky Blot, who makes some of the best examples of Montlouis going, and Philippe Vatan, who I missed in last year’s round of Saumur updates. I’ve been in touch with both and apologised for not appearing, and hopefully I will be able to visit this summer when I return to the Loire.
 
So there are no tasting reports from day three of the the Salon des Vins de Loire. Instead, I want to bring out something I heard during the course of a conversation with two winemakers over dinner on Tuesday evening. I don’t think I should name them, as I didn’t ask their permission to post this, although to be clear everything they said about their peers was positive. Nevertheless, I think repeating what one winemaker said about another without permission might be rather improper.
 
We were talking about what a grower needs in order to make great wine. Now both you and I could probably come up with a pretty good shortlist. We could probably argue about which of these was most important, but we would probably throw into the hat first a good piece of land, which might of course be very expensive in a valued appellation, where you would probably need to either inherit it, or work for a very wealthy owner. Secondly, we have the vines; are they the right variety, the right rootstock, and the right age. Thirdly, how this land is managed might be significant, fourthly there is the skill with which the harvest and winemaking is executed, fifthly the ability to select and blend, and so on. In terms of personal characteristics, we might look for the winemaker to be insightful, intelligent, and to have a good palate and decision-making ability. There are probably many other characteristics we could add to the list.

Bernard Baudry
 
The two winemakers I was talking with (although actually I was doing more listening than talking, and trying to keep up with the French) would probably agree with all of these characteristics as being of some importance, but interestingly they rated humility as the most important of all. Humility, the willingness to change, to be challenged, to take criticism as feedback, to watch for and adapt to the unexpected (because in the Loire every vintage is likely to throw something new at you, from hail to floods and from frost to rot). Once a vigneron believes his or her status is without question, the wines will deteriorate, as they will fail to adapt to what is happening in the vineyard. But a winemaker who works with humility can make great wines, and can triumph even when the weather Gods turn against them.
 
This isn’t a comprehensive list, as I wasn’t taking notes, but the names that were cited as the Loire’s best examples of growers who work with humility, and make great wines in doing so, included: in Sancerre, Alphonse Mellot and the Vacheron family; in Menetou-Salon, Philippe Gilbert; in Touraine, Noëlla Morantin; in Chinon, Charles Joguet, Mathieu and Bernard Baudry (Bernard pictured above) and Philippe Alliet; in Saumur-Champigny, Antoine Sanzay and Thierry Germain; in Anjou, Claude Papin and in Muscadet, the Luneau-Papin family. It reads like a who’s-who of the Loire’s greatest, perhaps unsurprisingly. There may have been others that I missed, but what’s really important is not the list, but the concept. Great wine comes through humility it seems. That’s worth remembering.

Salon des Vins de Loire, Day 2

Day two at the Salon des Vins de Loire was a day for the important estates of Anjou. I have to admit I did have a couple of little detours to Muscadet though, to check in on Domaine du Haut Bourg first, and later in the day the can’t-miss domaine of Luneau-Papin. And I suppose the tastings of Chinon and Menetou-Salon that I undertook don’t count either. But otherwise it was a day for Anjou. Honest!

After a brief stop-off to taste the wines of Eric Morgat, where both the domaine and the style of wine has certainly evolved over the last few years, I kicked off with Jo Pithon and family at Pithon-Paillé. First was a vertical tasting of all the wines they have ever made from Les Treilles, the vertiginously sloped vineyard which looks down onto the Layon. Well, I say all; they decided not to show the 2004, as they have only one bottle left, which seems fair enough. In other older vintages they have (or rather had) only a couple of bottles; it made me realise how precious the 2008s and 2009s lying in my cellar might soon become, and I made a mental note to hold some back for tasting far into the future. Having tasted back to 2005 the wines, which in most vintages are still fresh as a daisy, certainly deserve to be given time.

Then it was onto a tasting of the full range of wines from Yves Guégniard and his daughter Anne of Domaine de la Bergerie, followed up by Vincent and Catherine Ogereau of Domaine Ogereau, and culminating with Claude Papin (pictured below) of Château Pierre-Bise. These three Anjou stalwarts each make an extensive range of wines under all the Anjou appellations, and there were plenty of good wines from these three domaines, which is remarkable considering many came from difficult vintages such as 2013 and 2012.

Claude Papin

Finishing my Anjou tastings ahead of schedule was what allowed my detours into Chinon and Menetou-Salon, where in the first instance I tasted with Anne-Charlotte Genet. Anne-Charlotte now runs Domaine Charles Joguet, working with their winemaker Kevin Fontaine. This is a domaine where quality has varied over the years, but has at times flirted with greatness, with the 1989 Charles Joguet Chinon Clos de la Dioterie I drank last October being one of my favourite bottles of the entire year. Certainly, as Anne-Charlotte and Kevin showed an attractive range of wines from 2012, a vintage in which the Chinons tend to be full of bright fruit but also have very noticeable acidity, these wines showed a more appealing balance than some of their peers. The Clos de la Dioterie, with its silky and well-defined fruit, was particularly good.

As I talked with Anne-Charlotte the issue of some wines I tasted a year or two ago came up. I tasted the wines in London, in a Loire tasting hosted by Charles Sydney, a well-known Loire courtier who does a lot to help Loire growers with making and marketing their wines. The wines had, from memory, been very gamey and farmyardy, and I thought the problem was Brett. Other critics, Anne-Charlotte told me, had also noted the gamey character. Anne-Charlotte’s response was to have the wines analysed for Brett – there wasn’t any, so I got that wrong – but that doesn’t change the fact that they were certainly very gamey to taste. Anne-Charlotte and Kevin decided that some of the changes recently made in the vineyard must be responsible for the character, and they changed things further. And the 2012s are certainly free of any such gamey notes, so whatever changes they have made, it seems like it may have had some beneficial effect.

Domaine Charles Joguet is an example of a domaine on the way back up, and it is one I will have to try to keep a closer eye on in coming years. I have some vintages – off the top of my head certainly 2005, possibly 2003 too – in the cellar, and maybe I will be adding more in the future. It is also an example of a domaine where criticism can be taken on board, and responded to in an appropriate fashion. This, more than the way the 2012s showed, fills me with confidence for the future of the domaine. Kudos to Anne-Charlotte and her team for that.