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Loire Valley 2016: The Frost

Earlier this year the vignerons of the Loire Valley experienced one of the worst frosts for decades, probably the most destructive since the catastrophic frost of 1991 in fact. In this terrible experience they are not alone of course, as many other regions have had a trying time this year; Chablis and other parts of Burgundy were also particularly hard-hit.

Over the coming month or two, as vignerons complete their harvest work, we will finally see the true and exact extent of the damage. Up until now the damage assessments have been nothing more than estimates, but once the vats are full (half-full is more likely I am afraid) the vignerons will know their final yields for the vintage, and we can see how these stand compared with the norm.

I will be out in the Loire Valley next week, only for a couple of days sadly, but I may be able to see a little harvesting, and perhaps pick up a few vibes. In the meantime though, here are a few data points from Bourgueil, Chinon, Vouvray and Montlouis, gleaned from some visits I made a couple of months ago.

Loire Frost 2016

In all parts it seemed as though there was considerable variation, with some losing a vast proportion of their crop, others losing a ‘mere’ 20%. Jérôme Billard (pictured above) of Domaine de la Noblaie was one of the lucky ones (if you can call any of this ‘lucky’).

“I knew 2016 was going to be difficult, as we had such a mild winter. It was so mild that our almond tree, which sits in the courtyard of the house, flowered on December 26th. The frost came at a tricky time as we have had a string of short vintages, the four preceding vintages being variable in quality but all were 30-40% smaller in terms of volume than what we were hoping for”.

The frost only affected the lower sections of Jérôme’s vineyards; above the tree line which separates the upper slopes from the vines on the plain there was no damage. Total loss across the entire domaine was estimated at between 10% and 20%. The problem in Jérôme’s eyes was not solely the frost though, as subsequently he had mildew on leaves and berries, and also a touch of black rot. He deleafed (and planned to green harvest too – this will have been done long ago now), and when I visited in July the vines were looking in rude health.

Loire Frost 2016

Elsewhere in the region his peers were not always so fortunate. On the other side of the Vienne, Matthieu Baudry lost 50% in total. Mirroring Jérôme’s experience the worst-hit vineyards were those on the terraces, and any lower flatter land (so Les Granges and Les Grézeaux then), where the loss was estimated at 70%. The damage was less significant on the slopes. Anne-Charlotte Genet of Charles Joguet gave a similar report, estimating loss of 60% of the crop. Up the road just past Bourgueil Benoit Amirault (pictured above), the son of Yannick Amirault, was singing from the same hymn sheet.

“We had no frost on Le Grand Clos, which is positioned well up the slope. But we had lots of damage secondary to the frost elsewhere. The vines worst hit by the frost were those on the terrace, below the road. Overall we lost about two-thirds of the crop to the frost”.

Moving upstream to Vouvray and Montlouis, François Chidaine (the focus of my tasting report today) lost 70% of the crop in Montlouis, 50% in Vouvray and 80% on his Touraine vineyards. Whichever way you look at it, that’s another massive blow for François. Similarly, Jacky Blot reported losing about 70%. Vincent Carême, meanwhile, considers himself fortunate to have lost perhaps 20%, no more than that. His estimate may perhaps be a little more accurate than others because he has frost insurance (I am not sure about the others – I confess I didn’t think to ask) which means he has undergone a vineyard inspection by an assessor. Vincent also told me that François Pinon’s vineyards were very badly hit, which would be disastrous. If I see François anytime soon, I will check this out for myself.

Now, as spectators, all we can do is wait to see how the harvest goes. If I learn anything new during my visit I will post it here.

Summer Break: Chinon Time

The sun is shining (intermittently, to be honest) over the vineyards of Chinon today*. I know this not because I have looked up the latest méteo report, but because I can feel its warm rays on my skin. I’m at the start of my summer break, and rather than flying out to India or the Algarve for my holiday, I’m staying within sight of Chinon’s famous château pictured below (taken with my mobile phone – which accounts for the grainy quality), literally from my front gate. So you could call it a busman’s holiday, I suppose.

As you would expect, I have a few appointments lined up, to see Jérome Billard at Domaine de Noblaie, Anne-Charlotte Genet at Charles Joguet and Matthieu Baudry at Bernard Baudry. And I will be looking further afield too; it wouldn’t be a trip to the Loire Valley without calling in on Vincent Carême of course. There will be other visits as well, but I will be making these other appointments over the next week, provided the vignerons I hope to visit aren’t on their summer holidays of course.

Chinon

I have only been here since Saturday evening, but I have already eaten out in Chinon, a selection of escargots, rognons and ris de veau (not all on the same plate I hasten to add) washed down with the 2012 Cuvée de la Cure from Charles Joguet. Of course, Joguet is a domaine I already know quite well, and the same could be said of Chinon and its vineyards, so during this ‘break’ I hope to get in my car and explore some parts of the Loire Valley I am less familiar with; I have plans to head up to Jasnières and the Coteaux du Loire, and perhaps Cheverny too. While in the evenings I will wash away the dust of the day with as many examples of Chinon from the 2014 and 2015 vintages as is humanly possible (I have already made a start on this).

After two weeks in Chinon I plan to head upriver to Sancerre, a region I also know well although I have never passed more than a couple of days there; on this visit, however, I will be staying there for a week. Again, I have some visits lined up, and some yet to be made. This means I will be back in the UK updating Winedoctor in three weeks time, hopefully refreshed and ready to go. In the meantime I hope all readers, subscribers or not, enjoy some good wine and hopefully some good sunshine too over the next few weeks.

*Anyone in Chinon on Monday, on reading this and looking up at the grey and drizzly skies, will see this as a lie. But the sun was shining when I wrote it on Sunday afternoon, honest.

Loire Valley Frost 2016: Technical & Economic Report

I received this morning this report from InterLoire, the inter-professional organisation representing much of the Loire Valley, namely the Nantais, Anjou, Saumur and Touraine regions, with a few notable exceptions including Bourgueil, Montlouis and Nicolas Joly, clearly an appellation unto himself.

The frost that hit the Loire Valley on April 26th/27th was very severe, with widespread damage done. The damage was not, however, universal. The report provides some detail on which regions were worst affected and what the likely outcome will be, as well as describing what economic measures have been taken. I don’t usually reproduce press releases, but there was some information here from a central and reliable (if admittedly spin-prone) source that I thought would be of interest to many.

What follows comes from InterLoire. Some phrases I have highlighted in bold.
 

Frost in the Loire Valley
Technical Report and Economic Measures

The Loire Valley vineyards were severely hit by late April frosts, in some areas, temperatures dipped as low as –6°C. On Friday May 20th, Interloire called a meeting of Loire Valley wine professionals to take stock of the situation and decide on the measures they need to implement.

LOSSES ESTIMATED AT 20 – 30% OF HARVEST – WITH CONSIDERABLE DISPARITIES

Having looked at the studies carried out by winegrowers’ federations, the ODG and the Chambers of Agriculture, Interloire’s Technical Committee reports that at this stage, overall losses can be estimated at 20-30% of an average year’s harvest (1.9 million hl).

The picture is variable, however, with huge disparities between different vineyards and areas. Worst affected are the vineyards of Touraine, Nantais and Sarthe, with losses of up to 80% in some communes. The Presidents of the Loire Valley’s Winegrowers’ Federations report that “some areas have been very badly affected. The ODG stepped in quickly, setting up crisis centres in the worst-hit areas.”

We will have to wait until flowering starts at the end of June before we can give a more accurate estimate of harvest levels and assess the impact frost damage will have on the year’s vintage.

REGULATING SALES

Due to market interest in Loire Valley wines and low harvests in recent years, wine stocks are currently at their lowest ever level (7 months in 2015). “The situation is serious,” warns InterLoire President Gérard Vinet. The Loire Valley works on a ‘just-in-time’ basis, and it is imperative that we introduce a collective strategy to regulate sales.” The Committee for Marketing, Economics and Forecasting chaired by Laurent Menestreau is planning to hold a meeting for all relevant parties in the near future.

In terms of sales, 2016 will be relying on the excellent 2015 vintage to supply volumes. In 2017 the picture is likely to be more varied, depending on the company and product concerned. Appellations with volumes of over 100,000 hl and which suffered less impact – Cabernet d’Anjou, Rosé-d’Anjou, Crémant-de-Loire and Vouvray – should be able to meet demand. Those which were badly hit – Muscadet, Chinon, Saint-Nicolas-de-Bourgueil or Touraine for example, we will look at on a case-by-case basis, as each situation is so different. Following the discussions, however, Bernard Jacob, vice-president of InterLoire and president of UMVL (an association of Loire Maisons de Négoce) was reassuring: “The Loire Valley is ready and willing to supply the markets without introducing price rises which may lead to destabilisation.”

INSTITUTIONS OFFERING SUPPORT

A number of support measures have been announced; among them, FranceAgriMer and the Regions have pledged financial support for the study and provision of frost protection equipment. Meanwhile, the Federations have approached public authorities and institutions regarding insurance, partial unemployment benefits for employees and financial concessions for 2017.

As the meeting finished, Gérard Vinet summed up: “At a time when we are revitalising our image, making wines our consumers love and enjoying excellent market positioning, the Loire Valley’s wine professionals have rallied to find ways of supporting those Loire businesses which have been worst affected. Meanwhile we continue to respond favourably to demand.” All solutions will be carefully scrutinised, and industry professionals will be kept informed so that they can continue to sustain their growth and development.

Winedoctor Philosophies, Year 4

In the past week Winedoctor passed an important landmark. It is not a true birthday – this site first appeared in May 2000, so it will hit its 16th birthday in about seven weeks time – nevertheless it is now three completed years since I moved away from the business model of advertiser dependence, to a subscription-based model. So at about this time of year, as well as pondering the forthcoming Bordeaux primeurs, I always take a look back at the past twelve months, and ponder the year ahead. The fact that I am holed up in an airport hotel en route to Bordeaux with little else to do might also have something to do with it.

My philosophy when it comes to wine writing online has developed as Winedoctor has grown. I came to realise that if I was to write something with real depth that would inform readers, I should probably focus on one or two regions, and then dig as deep as I could, year after year. Naturally I settled for the two regions I knew and loved most, the Loire Valley and Bordeaux. This meant I could ditch the dependence on press trips; having done press trips both to the Loire Valley and Bordeaux in the past, but having also explored both regions much more extensively alone, it is clear to me what a blinkered, tunnel-vision view of a region press trips give, even those arranged by regional bodies rather than single producers. I have read too many vacuous press trip reports filled with pretty pictures of beaming faces, lush lunches and boozy dinners, as well as fleeting impressions of wines, but seemingly devoid of substance.

Happily, having a subscription-based income isolates me from this endless marathon of stuffed-cheek blogging, because thankfully I now write for graciously paying subscribers, and thus I don’t see an endless stream of freebies as my imbursement. I have a week in Bordeaux just kicking off now, and shall be busy maintaining my distance from the besuited Bordelais, not because I don’t like them (I do!) but because that’s a professional, non-freebie-dependent approach. I see serious reporting on wine, reporting that readers are actually prepared to make buying decisions on, as a business rather than a lifestyle, and I feel happiest doing it while standing some distance from the trough. During the forthcoming week in Bordeaux I have only one dinner scheduled; I generally allow myself one per primeurs trip, and this year Château Lagrange tempted me in with the promise of a vertical tasting first. As always I will declare this support on relevant articles, and in my annual support disclosure. It would be a very professional approach for freebie-chasers to do the same, but it won’t happen, for obvious reasons.

Detailed reports and a willingness to describe wines both good and bad in an honest, open and transparent fashion has long seemed, to me, to be the right way to go with Winedoctor. This applies both in Bordeaux and the Loire Valley. After my Bordeaux 2013 reports were published I had several emails from Bordeaux complaining I had scored the wines too low. It struck me that this was great feedback, implying I was doing something right. No wine writer should ever find only positive things to say, it isn’t realistic. The word ‘critic’ does carry some meaning, after all, unless you are happy being part of the marketing machine that says only positive things (I can feel myself returning to press trips here). The same applies in the Loire Valley, where I get the feeling some writers, merchants, bloggers and sommeliers coo too much over wines based on the naturalista-style viticultural and winemaking dogma involved, rather than the finished result. I have had too many oxidised, refermenting, Brett-laden, rotten and botrytis-laden wines to follow this mantra. The latest report from the Loire Valley, published this week for subscribers, hopefully makes that clear.

Hopefully Winedoctor subscribers agree with these philosophies, and they seem to be spreading the word. Subscriber numbers grew again in year three, by just under 14%, and I would like to thank all those who renewed their subscriptions, and welcome all those who signed up for the first time. Looking at the year ahead, building on this success I will for year four hold the subscription price down to just £45 per annum, the same price I launched at three years ago. As far as I am aware the number of months in the year hasn’t changed, so this is still the equivalent of £3.75 per month for almost continuous daily updates (I do have a summer holiday, and I still take Christmas Day off!). There is a trial period open to those who haven’t subscribed before, and that remains £15 for a month’s access (you can top up the remaining eleven months for £30). I intend to leave this trial offer available during the entire year, including during the publication of my primeur reports. If you’re wondering what my themes for the year ahead are, as well as my usual vintage reports (2015, 2012 and 2006 Bordeaux to come, also 2014 but I might carry that over into 2017 after another visit to the region, in the Loire just 2006 to come) I will be continuing the expansion of my coverage of both St Emilion and St Julien, and in the Loire I will home in on some of the red wine appellations, with tastings and reports of the successful 2014 and 2015 vintages from visits lined up for July. Complete with first tastings from barrel of the latter, I hope.

The Salons of Angers, Day 5

The final day of the Salon des Vins de Loire is, sadly, always dominated by the long trek home. A bus down to the station, a train to Paris (with two changes for added fun this year), several hours of hanging about in Paris Charles de Gaulle Airport, then the flight home. Sometimes I think the airport wait is the worst part of it. Despite being a huge international hub, the facilities are lacking. After security there was only one café serving hot food, which I couldn’t even chase down with a coffee because their hot-beverage-pretending-to-be-coffee machine was broken. The options for shopping, if you are into that sort of thing, include gift shops selling over-priced and rather tatty gifts (pots of foie gras, factory-made macarons, that sort of thing), hugely expensive fripperies from branded stores such as Prada, Cartier, Hermès or Dior (scarves for €350, watches for €7500), and a rip-off upmarket-booze-and-fag store. The price of Bordeaux on sale here particularly took the biscuit – how about Château Pouget for €121? I snapped the price label below before being told photography was interdit. I’m not surprised – if I was running a business selling wine at such rip-off prices to unsuspecting travellers with more money than sense I would also want to suppress wider knowledge of these prices.

And to cap it all, when I logged on to the free wi-fi, I couldn’t look at any wine sites, because apparently they contravene the ethical rules of the airport (the blocking page puts wine up there with sites encouraging terrorism, domestic violence and unusual sexual tastes). So it’s not just the English Chief Medical Officer who has it in for wine, I see. By coincidence (I am sure), the block prevents access to informed opinion on wine quality and prices, about which the booze-and-fag retailer must be delighted.

Salon des Vins de Loire

Alright, what about the last day (or rather morning – I left just after lunch) at the Salon? It was pretty busy, with more frenzied tasting as the hours rattled on. I visited Sancerre, Vouvray, Montlouis, the Coteaux de l’Aubance and perhaps one or two other appellations that have slipped my mind. Looking back over the five days, I have of course tasted a lot of wines. Hundreds of wines, although I wouldn’t like to hazard a more accurate a guess than that. I have covered dozens of domaines, from Muscadet and the Fiefs Vendéens all the way up to Sancerre and Pouilly-Fumé and on to the upper reaches of the Loire. And yet these days my interest in the domaines of the Loire Valley is so broad I didn’t have time to taste everywhere. This year I omitted, purely through lack of time rather than any plan, a couple of notable Anjou domaines where I would normally taste. My apologies to anyone who was disappointed when I didn’t roll up at your stand, glass in hand; I just couldn’t spread myself thinly enough to get to you.

For every domaine that misses out, however, I taste somewhere else that is new to me, or catch up with a grower I haven’t tasted with for a few years. This year for example, I caught up with Damien Laureau, who I haven’t tasted with for about two years; as he is one of the top-tier winegrowers in Savennieres, that’s an important tasting. I also tasted with Ludovic Chanson, whose first vintages I found impressive when I tasted them in London about three years ago, and this was my first chance to check them out again. That’s important too. I also tasted with Tanguy Perrault from Vouvray, the first time since the summer of 2014; it is vital to return to see how these young up-and-coming growers are getting along. And I tasted with Romain Guiberteau (or rather with Robert, his father), who I haven’t seen at the Salon before. A leading domaine in the Saumur appellation, who wouldn’t want to check these wines out?

So, while I used every minute productively, I have to think of some solutions to this failure to taste everything, everywhere. The obvious answer is to return to the Loire again, which of course I will do. I have already warned Matthieu Baudry, Anne-Charlotte Genet and Jérome Billard that I will be coming to see them in July. I will make other visits too; probably Yannick and Benoit Amirault, maybe good old Couly-Dutheil, who knows? Other solutions and suggestions, such as looking at other Loire wine fairs (I hear rumours about a new Loire fair in Paris), or other fairs where Loire growers exhibit, are welcome.

The Salons of Angers, Day 4

I read a news report this morning describing research which revealed that men aged 45 to 59 years report the lowest level of life satisfaction. This age group also reported more anxiety, and men were worse off than women. The authors proposed that this could be because of having to care for children or elderly parents (or both), or because of the difficulties in balancing work and life issues.

What the authors have described is nothing more than what we all know as a mid-life crisis, so this isn’t really a groundbreaking discovery. They also noted that older people are happier, and in order to assist the authors I propose two plausible reasons for this. These are; (1) they have accepted their fate, or (2) they drink a lot of Sancerre. The latter is possibly my preferred reason. Judging by the quality of wines I tasted today at the Salon des Vins de Loire, it would be a very wise decision.

Pierre Morin

Yesterday, as the above suggests, I tasted with a lot of Sancerre (and also Pouilly-Fumé) domaines, including Domaine Vacheron, Masson-Blondelet, Pierre Morin (pictured above), Claude Riffault, Michel Redde and others. There were a lot of really good wines on offer, so much so that I was happy putting my original plan of tasting red wines on hold to do so.

In fact I had a really varied and exciting day (again!). Alongside these aforementioned domaines, I touched on Muscadet with Domaine de la Pepière, Savennières with Thibaud Boudignon, Eric Morgat and Damien Laureau, St Nicolas de Bourgueil with Clos des Quarterons, Montlouis with François Chidaine as well as one or two others. It has been a pretty full, busy day.

Today (Wednesday), I have just a half day at the Salon, and then much more than half a day of travelling home by train and plane. My ninth Salon des Vins de Loire draws to an end.

The Salons of Angers, Day 3

As I have alluded in some of my previous posts, the Salon des Vins de Loire is not seen as a ‘hip’ tasting to go to by a great number of Loire fans. For many buyers of Loire wines, the organic, biodynamic and natural wines to be found at the various parallel salons hold more appeal.

Nevertheless, after spending time at these other salons, I spent today at the Salon proper, and had the best day of tasting since I arrived here. First and foremost this reflects the quality of the wines, but there is more to it than that. The Salon proper is held in a large exhibition hall, well-lit and airy, so unlike the dungeon-like tasting environment of Renaissance and Dive Bouteille I could actually see what I was tasting, and I could see the notes I was writing. Second, it wasn’t like tasting in a sardine can; while the Salon proper was definitely busier than expected today (especially on popular stands such as François Chidaine, Luneau-Papin and so on) I could still move about. I could find somewhere to perch my laptop. I could taste without someone breathing/talking/laughing directly into my left lughole, elbowing me in the ribs, and continually knocking into me or the camera slung over my shoulder. In addition, with less pressure on space and time, I could chat more with the vignerons. I had a good chat with Vincent Carême about the 2015 vintage, with Lionel Gosseaume about the technicalities of carbonic maceration, with Bernard Fouquet about balance and acidity in Vouvray, and so on.

Vincent Carême

At this point I was going to write something more about the high quality of many of the wines I tasted, from 2014 and 2015 in particular, but let me just continue my digression. Something came to me as I tasted with Vincent Carême (pictured above, when I visited in 2014) today. For a long time there has been a top tier in Vouvray that comprised four domaines; Huet, Foreau, Champalou and Fouquet. Personally I have long held the belief that this top tier actually had a mezzanine level (stick with me on this); on the upper level of the mezzanine are Foreau, who gives us moments of breathtaking brilliance in some cuvées, and some vintages, and Huet, a domaine which gives us supreme wines but also great consistency. It is rare that you find a disappointing wine from Huet; one exception was the 2012 vintage, which I didn’t like, I said so and got banned from tasting at the domaine as a result. As I have never spoken to Sarah Hwang since as far as I know this ban still stands. Nevertheless, I have been invited to taste with Jean-Bernard Berthomé at the Renaissance tasting (and I have occasionally purchased wines to taste as well), so I know the Huet 2013s were very good for a difficult vintage (there was hail), and the two 2014s I tasted this weekend were delightful, really very good indeed, top tier stuff. Also top tier, but off the mezzanine, are Fouquet and Champalou, both turning out delightful wines with an identifiable house style. This top tier position was really secured with the 1989 and 1990 vintages, so not much has changed in over 25 years.

Perhaps you can see where I am going with this. I have long liked the wines of Vincent Carême, but tasting his 2014s and a couple of 2015 barrel samples today they easily ranked alongside those of Bernard Fouquet. It is a few days since I tasted the Huet 2014s, but I think a comparison between the two, based solely on quality, would also be valid. Neither the Champalou family nor Foreau come to the Salon, but if Catherine pops up on the Terra Vitis stand I will take a look at her wines too. Whatever happens, if the quality of the 2014s and 2015s chez Carême is maintained through subsequent vintages, this domaine deserves a place on the top tier (lower mezzanine level!) at least. If you feel disinclined towards this sentiment (nobody likes change, not least when suggested by an insignificant ‘blogger’ such as myself) do try to taste their 2014s when they come onto the market. They are simply stunning, precise, defined wines, which have not only textured confidence but also a fine acid frame and a seam of minerality that has lifted them up a level I think. Basically, they’re really top tier.

As noted Vincent’s 2015s are also really good, as are those 2015s I have tasted from François Crochet, Romain Guiberteau, Philippe Alliet, Luneau-Papin, Vincent Caillé and quite a few others. Today (Tuesday) I will be looking to reinforce these first impressions with more tastes of 2015 and 2014.

The Salons of Angers, Day 2

There is an episode in series 2 of Father Ted (entitled ‘New Jack City’ for the FT geeks) in which Father Jack develops an advanced case of Hairy Hands Syndrome (stage 6, a fairly advanced case). There was, unless I am mistaken, no known cause or cure, and the only solution was to ship Father Jack off to St Clabbert’s Hospital for (usually elderly) wayward priests, otherwise known as ‘Jurassic Park’.

Of course Father Ted was filmed twenty years ago, and more recent medical research has since firmly linked Jack’s affliction with the consumption of too much ‘natural’ wine (which was of course very popular on Craggy Island during the 1990s). This explains why, after a day immersed in the world of organic, biodynamic, ‘natural’, zero-sulphur and similar wines the backs of my hands have taken on an appearance that no werewolf would be ashamed off. I have also developed a very glazed, faraway expression. I reckon I am at stage 3, at the very least.

Tessa Laroche

In truth I tasted some really super wines today, perhaps not always in the most obvious quarters. The wines of Tessa Laroche (pictured above) of Domaine aux Moines were particularly noteworthy, quite different to the rather solid and very traditional style (which needed at least a decade to show any interest) I recall from four of five years ago. Now they have a very pure and pointed precision, and she has been busy replanting too, so the domaine seems very much on the up. I also tasted at a number of domaines new to me, although I didn’t discover any really exciting new names (here’s hoping that comes on another day). I got some more chat about 2015 too, a vintage that is looking really good in most places. It is a rich vintage, for those who enjoy acidity perhaps a bit too rich in some parts of the valley. I will keep plugging away at this and will write a full vintage report (with a slightly different look to it this year) once I return.

In the evening I headed over to the Brasserie de la Gare for a bite to eat. I have had some very decent meals in this brasserie before now, although I am aware some wouldn’t touch it with a bargepole. I thought my meal (foie gras then ris de veau) was really very decent, and certainly value for money compared to every dining experience I can recall in Edinburgh recently, but the service was of Fawlty Towers standard. The bulles (Pithon-Paillé Crémant de Loire) were too warm, the white (Chidaine Montlouis Clos du Breuil 2014) was fine (a good job too as François was sitting on the next table) but the red (Domaine de Bablut Anjou-Villages Petra Alba 2009) was too cold, and the latter bottle arrived almost as we finished our main course. Everything that we wanted (bread, a carafe of water, more bread, the red wine, yet more bread) we had to ask for at least three times, it was ages before anything happened and also ages between courses, the wrong wine was brought to start with, the waiter had to come back to check the identity of the third wine even though we had asked for it twice already, and so on. All I can say is that Basil would have been proud. I believe they have rooms, so I am tempted to stay here next year so I can go to the window, complain about the lack of a sea view, and see if I get a Serengeti-wildebeest-related response.

Today (Monday), it’s on with the Salon proper. Watch out Luneau-Papin, François Chidaine, Pithon-Paillé, François Pinon and Domaine Vacheron, I am heading your way!

The Salons of Angers, Day 1

When I was packing for this trip I distinctly recall looking at my umbrella and deciding against it; I always try to travel light, with hand luggage only, and that was the last thing I wanted to be squeezing into my luggage. Of course, on Saturday it rained all day, the intensity varying from moderate to heavy (never light!). I started the day a soggy taster.

I kicked off at the Renaissance tasting, which felt much quieter than it did last year. Or indeed any other year. It usually becomes a bit of a scrum, elbow-room only, but it felt more relaxed today. Possibly this is because I left at 2pm, and maybe it just got really busy later on. Alternatively, one exposant whispered in my ear that there were thirty fewer exhibitors this year (15 missing from the Loire, 15 from elsewhere) but scanning the list of adherents I couldn’t figure out who might be missing, so I am not sure if this is right.

Emmanuel Ogereau

After tasting with the likes of Richard Leroy, Virginie Joly, Laura Semeria and numerous others I left and headed out to Domaine de la Bergerie for a tasting and dinner. First up was Emmanuel Ogereau (pictured), who is doing lots of exciting things now that he is increasingly taking the reins from his father Vincent. There was a more minerally style to the wines, several new cuvées, even new labels (about time too). Then came René Papin, Claude’s son, with all his wines from the 2014 vintage, and here there were also lots of exciting things. Again, I sensed a little more minerally definition in some of the wines, especially the two Anjou Blanc cuvées, although minerality is nothing new chez Papin of course.

We finished up with the wines of Yves Guégniard, from a variety of years, including two super vintages of Evanescence, his 100% Cabernet Sauvignon, in 2011 and 2014. Like Emmanuel though Yves also showed one or two reds from 2013 which, for a washout vintage, were really impressive. Much better than most of the 2013 Bordeaux I tasted not that long ago. For a start the wines were not completely dried out by oak. After the tasting we finished up with dinner in La Table de la Bergerie; chef David Guitton turned out a pretty fabulous meal which we washed down with a range of older vintages from the three domaines.

I had a lot of chat about the 2015 vintage during the day and so far everyone I have spoken to is delighted with it. There a lot of good indicators for the vintage, which (where I have tasted) has a rich and ripe style. I will taste more today (Sunday) though.

To the Salon! (2016 Edition)

The coldest place in the world is commonly (or should I say probably) thought to be somewhere in Antarctica, a windswept white desert of sub-zero temperatures. Those who pass through Paris Charles de Gaulle Airport en route to the annual Salon des Vins de Loire each year, however, know different. The coldest place in the world is actually near the end of platform 6 in the TGV railway station buried deep in the bowels of Terminal 2D. I know. I hung around there for two and a half hours yesterday waiting for my train down to Angers.

Yes, it’s time for the first of this year’s trips to the Loire Valley to get to grips with the latest vintage, taste all (well, some) of the newest releases, and to chew the cud with more Ligérian vignerons than you could shake an icicle at. Today (Saturday) I will be off to the Renaissance tasting to see Nicolas Joly’s and Mark Angeli’s jolly band of organic, biodynamic and full-blown ‘natural’ adherents. I will taste as widely as I can, but high points of the tasting are often Richard Leroy (pictured) and Eric Nicolas (I get in here early before the crowds arrive), although there are always dozens of other notable domaines. Then I will follow this up with a trip out to see Claude Papin, Yves Guégniard and Vincent Ogereau this evening, for a tasting and maybe a bite to eat.

Richard Leroy

On Sunday there is the option of other tastings besides the Renaissance, and then from Monday I will be attending the Salon proper. I know many visitors to the region at this time of year, both journalists and buyers, now avoid the Salon altogether and restrict themselves just to the parallel tastings (Renaissance in Angers, Dive Bouteille in Saumur, Thierry Puzelat’s Les Pénitents and so on) but I prefer to taste and report as widely as possible. I want to keep a foot in the main flow of the Loire as well as its very dynamic organic and biodynamic tributaries. Besides, the Salon des Vins de Loire now incorporates the Levée de la Loire group, and a Demeter tasting too, so there is plenty there that appeals. I also don’t believe in choosing wines to taste or drink according to winemaking dogma; you cut yourself off from experiencing a lot of super wines doing that. There are great wines in both camps (and there is rubbish in both as well).

Anyway, before I get started with a rambling rant on this issue, back to the intended point of this post, which is to make subscribers aware that I am currently in the Loire Valley, and there will be no behind-paywall updates until I return to the UK later in the week. There simply isn’t time, when tasting all day until 7pm, then following up with other tastings or dinners in the evenings, to be writing daily updates as well. I will, however, post brief daily reports from the Salon just so that everybody can be sure I am working hard. And there is no need for concern over potential frostbite resulting from the very low temperatures endured on platform 6; this is my ninth year at the Salon des Vins de Loire (I’m expecting the organisers to throw a party next year), and I learnt long ago to always pack an extra sweater and a woolly hat.