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Quarts de Chaume: The Hard Work Begins

“Cent cabarets offrent leur vin
Rochefort, Huille, Quart de Chaume,
Martigné, tous les Saints qu’on chôme
Saint-Aubin, Saint-Lambert, Saint-Cyr
– Nectar, ambroisie, Élixir!”

A.J. Verrier (1841 – 1920)

I don’t know much about Verrier, other than he had a penchant for language and dialect. He obviously knew a thing or two about wine though, as he makes clear in his ode to the wines of Anjou, a few opening lines from which are reproduced above. He doesn’t take long to get around to Quarts de Chaume you note (even if he does spell it differently), followed by several other notable Layon villages.

The wines of Quarts de Chaume, and to a lesser extent Chaume, have enjoyed an exalted reputation for many decades, indeed for centuries. And if you take a look at a map of the Quarts de Chaume the first thing it calls to mind are maps of the great wine villages of the Côte d’Or with which, I suspect, more wine drinkers will be familiar. There, famous grands crus lie nestled in among less well known vineyards, some of which will be premier cru, some of which are ‘mere’ village lieux-dits. The lines are drawn on a plot-by-plot basis, making a patchwork of potential quality within each village.

Note that I write ‘potential’ quality. Sometimes the weather gods conspire against the vignerons, and deal them a difficult vintage where the wines are, across the board, simply not up to scratch. In this sort of situation the grower with a plot of vines in a grand cru vineyard has, I suppose, two options. First, harvest the fruit, ferment and bottle the wine, stick the grand cru label on, which comes with a very expensive price tag, and send the wine out into the world. In other words, try to sell it on the basis of the appellation rather than the quality of the wine. One day that might have worked, but in the modern world of widely available critical review and consumer-to-consumer communication via social media the game would soon be up. It would be like Pontet-Canet or Pichon-Baron during the 1970s; great names, but we all knew the wines fell far short of where they could have been. Would a dedicated vigneron, one who respects the land as much as he respects his customers, want to do such a thing anyway?

Quarts de Chaume

The other option is of course to declassify; drop the grand cru fruit into a premier cru cuvée, or even a village wine (or sell it off I suppose). This protects the name of the grand cru, and also the reputation of the vigneron. The declassification of the entire 2004 vintage to village level by Madame Lalou Bize-Leroy was an extreme example of this practice, but a well known one (it was the first that popped into my head anyway). It’s a relatively common practice in Burgundy I think, and a good way not just of dealing with difficult vintages, but also the fruit from inherently ‘lesser’ vines, those that are younger, or lesser clones, for example.

Unfortunately, to declassify is to firmly grasp a very vigourous nettle, because it means volunteering for a financial hit. And so some (many?) vignerons don’t seem to be able or willing to take the plunge, and they would prefer to risk their brand and status instead. The Bordelais have done this in 2013, as described in my post What Erasmus says on Bordeaux 2013, and I think it will come back to bite the majority of them once the wines are in bottle and consumers – who don’t hold back when posting on their favourite wine forum – get to taste the wines. Some other vignerons who might need to think a litle harder about it are those with vines in France’s newest grand cru, which of course is where Quarts de Chaume comes in.

After more than a decade of wrangling the vineyards of the Quarts de Chaume were finally recognised as grand cru, effective from the 2011 vintage. I can imagine exhausted members of the Quarts de Chaume syndicat, led by Claude Papin, breathing a final sigh of relief. At last, it is over! No, wrong! Now is when the hard work really starts on the Quarts de Chaume. Now you have to prove that the title was really deserved, because if consumers enticed by the grand words on the label don’t find the sort of quality they expect, it won’t be long before the grand cru designation is seen as a joke, more of a Clos de Vougeot than a Chambertin, shall we say. I appreciate that the few barrels of wine that were salvaged from the slopes in 2013 and 2014 were born through the blood, sweat and tears of the vignerons, but being blunt that’s of no concern to the consumer. If a vigneron can’t say, hand on heart, that the wine is up to scratch, it should be declassified into generic Coteaux du Layon.

I’m not taking about dreadful wash-out vintages such as 2012, where almost nobody made wine anyway, as here nature has taken this decision away from the vignerons. I’m also not taking about some new body or regulation where wines are deemed, by some tasting panel perhaps, of being worthy – that already happens under INAO regulations anyway. No, I am asking the vignerons of the Quarts de Chaume (and of the premier cru Chaume too, of course), to do this for themselves. They need to take on the responsibility to do what Lalou Bize-Leroy did in 2004, to protect their reputations, and the reputation of this new grand cru. If they don’t, it will all have been for nothing. And besides, if Quarts de Chaume becomes a joke, what wines will the next Verrier have to dedicate his odes to? Surely not something from Burgundy instead?

Criticism: How the Big Boys deal with it

It’s not fair to have a go at Bordeaux all the time is it? I wonder if some of my previous posts and comments on the quality of its wines, the ‘ambitious’ pricing strategy followed by some proprietors (which we see yet again in the 2014 vintage, although to be fair the prices of some releases have been more sensible, and well received by the trade), and as I wrote last week a reluctance to declassify even in a wash-out vintage perhaps make me seem bitterly obsessed with the region. Obsessed, yes. But bitter? No. I love the wines of Bordeaux. It’s just that I don’t allow that love to translate into an unending stream of platitudes, instead it comes out as hopefully fair and considered criticism as well as praise. It’s a big, grown-up wine region. It can take the criticism and the love side by side.

So let’s turn to the Loire instead. Now, if you think a few critical blog posts levied against Bordeaux makes me look bad, criticising the wines of the Loire Valley probably makes me look like the wine world’s version of the playground bully. I am now the junior psychopath who pulls wings from insects, or who tortures ants with a magnifying glass. Or that kid who lived next-door to Andy in Toy Story maybe. Too many people have had a tough time in the Loire Valley, you might think, for criticism. Frost and decimation in Muscadet (2008). Rampant grey rot in Muscadet, plus a little in Anjou too (2011). Floods and hail damage (pictured below) in Vouvray (2012 and 2013). A wash-out along the length of the Layon (2012). Low yields for already cash-strapped vignerons in many regions (several recent vintages). And no really ‘great’ across-the-board vintage since, errr, maybe 2009 or 2010? Who would want to criticise a region that has been through so much?

Hail damage in Vouvray, June 2013

Perhaps that is a view some people take. Indeed, this a region that has more than its fair share of ardent supporters, the Muscadet- and Savennières-obsessed (who often seem to be sommeliers, or have I just overlooked all the other fanatics?) who, like an overbearing mother-figure set about smothering the region with their love, promulgating the wines at every opportunity on social media. They probably enjoy what they do, and perhaps feel they are giving the region the support it really needs, but ultimately this approach is pointless. Why? Because when you write only the positive – these wines rock!Domaine [insert your favourite here] in Muscadet does it again!these wines are awesome, mindblowing Chenin-tastic! – and so on, eventually these very words become meaningless. It might make the vignerons happy, for a moment, but it’s a yawn-inducing experience for everybody else, and so it will never translate into anything useful for the vignerons in question. The words carry no weight, and so they won’t translate into sales. They won’t inspire interested merchants to visit and maybe ultimately import the wines, because the same comments are applied to every wine. They don’t inspire holidaymakers in the region to visit, taste, buy and spread the word, again because every wine is praised, so there is no differentiation. Every comment is just more of the same positive slush.

I’ve long thought that what the Loire Valley really deserved was not never-ending praise, but considered criticism too, although first we need to develop a true understanding of its wines. Instead of carrying on being the region perceived as a source of cheap-‘n’-cheerful white apéro wines, and “lighter reds for summer drinking” as one mainstream UK publication put it a few years ago, maybe it is time for a reappraisal. Maybe the Loire should shake off the idea many seem to hold that it only makes simple summer-afternoon sippers and not ‘proper’, ageworthy wines. Such a shift in opinion would surely require us all to look at the wines in the same way we regard Bordeaux and Burgundy, or indeed Napa, Rioja, Alsace, Coonawarra and all the other ‘serious’ wine regions. And to do so would be appropriate, because the Loire isn’t a region full of mere simple summer sippers, there are also plenty of ageworthy wines here. Wines that go the distance, ten, fifteen, twenty years or more, in white and red, and they develop beautifully complex character as they age (watch out for a new feature, my forthcoming ten-years-on Loire report, starting with 2005, if you have doubts).

But if that’s what the region should be aiming for – to be seen as a source of great wines for the cellar as much (if not more than) a source of daily drinkers – then there’s a need for considered critical opinion. Serious wines – top Chinon, top Bourgueil, top Savennières, top Vouvray and so on – need serious review. Some wines will merit praise, but some will – if the reviews are to be taken seriously – come in for appropriate criticism. Some wines will get great scores, and with a background of real criticism (not universal never-ending praise) those scores will actually mean something. The words of a critic who praises and criticises in balanced measures should have a positive effect, even if it is only a small one, upon the vigneron’s reputation and sales. There is the downside though; what if your wine is on the receiving end of a critical note from me, or from someone else? Mostly I have found vignerons in the Loire can take this on the chin, only reinforcing my belief in (and love for) the region, and that it has every right to be considered alongside all the ‘big name’ wine regions mentioned above. These are dedicated, hard-working vignerons who believe in their wines, and know that serious critics who can actually influence sales need to critique as well as praise, and while one particular wine might not strike a chord with one particular critic, there’s always another vintage (or indeed another critic) coming up. This is, I think, how the big boys deal with it.

Decanter World Wine Awards 2015

I’ve had a busy week in London, mostly judging in the 2015 Decanter World Wine Awards. As usual I’m sitting on the Loire panel alongside Jim Budd and other Loire stalwarts including Nigel Wilkinson of the RSJ Restaurant (which surely has the country’s most convincing Loire wine list – the list is entirely sourced from the region) and Chris Hardy, who buys from the Loire for Majestic Wine Warehouses. The Jim-Chris-Chris-Nigel combo always makes for a very entertaining day; we all know the region well, and we have great fun judging the wines.

It’s been fun meeting a few new people too though, either at the tasting table, or over lunch, and I’ve had really nice chats with the likes of top biodynamic author, journalist, presenter and winemaker Monty Waldin, the Loire-interested Matt Wilkin MS of H2Vin, Portuguese/Australian expert Sarah Ahmed, one of the newest MWs in existence Natasha Hughes MW, and a few others who have no doubt momentarily slipped my mind (apologies!). Getting together in a big group like this really does remind me just how many good people there are working in wine, and I feel privileged to be part of it, even if I do feel as though I only flit in and out of the UK wine scene, which is very London-centric, much less often than I would like.

Decanter World Wine Awards 2015

Sadly I have to report that I have been a traitor to the Loire, as although my original intention was to judge on all four days at the DWWA this was before I realised that the annual Bordeaux Grand Cru Classé tasting was also this week. So my trip to London has killed two birds with one stone. The Bordeaux tasting was on Wednesday, so instead of heading to Tobacco Dock for the DWWA I went instead to Church House, in the shadow of Westminster Abbey, for the last four vintages (2011 & 2012 in bottle, 2013 & 2014 from barrel – or mostly in barrel in the case of the 2013s) from the likes of Château Gazin, La Mondotte, Château Branaire-Ducru and about a dozen other châteaux. This was another great opportunity to connect with good people in the wine trade, such as Joss Fowler, who sells wine but seems to do a very good job writing about it as well, and the famous (or infamous?) Barry Phillips from Four Walls Wine, who I bought a shed-load of old Vouvray from a while back, as well as a number of other merchants. I will be writing up my thoughts on the wines at this tasting in the near future, although my approach will be different this year. Watch this space.

Anyway, back to the Loire at the DWWA, and it has been a joy to taste here this year. The Loire Valley enjoyed a largely good vintage in 2014, and of course from some regions these wines are already coming through; there was a wealth of delightful Muscadet, Sancerre and Pouilly-Fumé on offer. I was particularly impressed by the standards in Muscadet. Alongside the many delicious entry-level wines of the 2014 vintage there was also some crus communaux cuvées from the 2010 vintage. Put all these wines together and there was certainly plenty of gold medal-winning potential. There should be some very happy vignerons in these regions when they see the results. The wines, despite the evident quality, still remain excellent value as well. As for other regions, these tended to trail in the wake of all the Melon and Sauvignon, although there were still some good wines, especially from Vouvray (including a demi-sec I will be looking out for, from the 2014 vintage), one or two decent sweet wines (2011 shining here), and even some nice rosés (2014 again of course). I’m looking forward to next year though, when we will start to see the 2014 reds coming through. It’s a vintage for good reds as well as whites in my opinion.

Salon des Vins de Loire 2015 day 3

Well that is the annual Salon des Vins de Loire over for another year. It’s been a busy few days; in combination with the preceding weekend salons, I’ve just completed five long days of tasting, almost every wine from the Loire (with just a handful from Bordeaux).

Yesterday I caught up with the domaines and growers (mostly Anjou) that I didn’t get around to seeing on Tuesday, including Pithon-Paillé, Domaine FL (pictured below is Julien Fournier, proprietor) and one or two others. After that it was anything goes. I revisited some old friends, such as in Vouvray Vincent Carême, and Château Gaudrelle. Then up to Pouilly-Fumé, to taste with the new superstar of the appellation, Jonathan Pabiot, whose wines I first tasted and reported on a year or two ago, and also Masson-Blondelet.

Julien Fournier

During the afternoon it all got a little bit random; at least a couple of domaines I was hoping to visit I had to skip as even though the salon runs until about 7pm each day, quite a number of growers started packing up after 3pm. Nevertheless that only freed up more time to taste at a number of domaines new to me, in some of the more diverse areas of the Loire, including Haut Poitou and the Côte Roannaise. In among these new discoveries were some other familiar names, such as Charles Joguet for example and Domaine de la Cotelleraie.

It was only today that I managed to make it up to La Levée de la Loire, the fair which this year has been incorporated into the Salon. I was glad that I did, as I discovered there a couple of the domaines I usually taste with but who weren’t at this year’s Salon, including both François Pinon and Domaine de la Pépière. La Levée is very different to the Salon, no big stands, just a simple table with whatever samples you have to pour on it. No doubt it is a much cheaper option than the Salon proper. Anyway, it was great to taste with Rémi Branger, including my first taste of a new cru communal cuvée from the Gras Moutons vineyard, and also with François, who happily had a much better vintage in 2014 than he did in hailstruck 2013, with several deliciously balanced demi-sec cuvées on the way in this vintage.

That’s it for now – I’m off to catch a train and a plane, and hopefully get my Loire 2014 report written up.

Salon des Vins de Loire 2015 day 2

The more meticulously you plan things, the more likely they are to go wrong. Thus it seems to me that the path to success involves never planning anything; then, when things go even half-right, it is a major victory worth celebrating. If I had this attitude yesterday would have been a success. As it happens, I succumbed to temptation, and made a plan; I drew up a shortlist of domaines I wished to visit, the end result of course being that I visited only about 60% of them, while visiting a number of domaines that weren’t on my Tuesday ‘hit list’ at all. I tasted some interesting wines and found some real quality (in 2014 again), so the day was certainly a success, but having stopped short of completing my list it still feels a bit like a failure.

I want to focus a little on Anjou during 2015, so tasted today with a number of significant domaines, including Château Pierre-Bise, Domaine de la Bergerie, Domaine Ogereau, Château Soucherie, Domaine des Baumard (pictured below, Florent Baumard), Thibaud Boudignon, my old favourite Domane Cady and one or two others. Perhaps the most striking wines were those of Thibaud Boudignon, who I have already profiled on Winedoctor, having visited him at his domaine last year. My tasting today only reaffirmed my view that Thibaud is one of the current stars of Anjou. Otherwise the big new as far as I am concerned is that Vincent Ogereau has managed to acquire two parcels of land in Chaume and Quarts de Chaume. I lamented with Vincent last year the absence of Quarts de Chaume from his portfolio, but it looks like he has done something about it. I look forward to being his first customer, when he actually gets to make some wine from these vines (fingers crossed for 2015).

Florent Baumard

Diversions into other regions pushed me in the direction of Chinon for Niolas Grosbois, to Vouvray for Sébastien Brunet, and back to Chinon for Philippe Alliet. In all cases I was impressed by the 2014 vintage, which as I said yesterday is good across all areas of the Loire, from Muscadet up to Sancerre, in all colours. It is not a vintage for grands liquoreux, although dedicated growers in Anjou have made tiny quantities of the great sweet wines, a typical volume being perhaps a single barrel of Quarts de Chaume, always at a potential that only just hit the 18º minimum for the appellation (the new grand cru regulations), with similar quantities of Chaume if applicable.

Today I have mixed bag of tastings coming up, everything from Pouilly-Fumé up to the Côte Roannaise, and from Vouvray down to Mauges, which is west of Anjou, in case you didn’t know. But of course, I’m not planning anything. That is, after all, the sure way to success.

Salon des Vins de Loire 2015 day 1

I’m not sure it is possible to taste more Muscadet, Sancerre, Vouvray and Montlouis than I tasted yesterday. I kicked off with Luneau-Papin, with some brut de cuve samples which only served to reinforce my rapidly forming opinion that 2014 in the Loire Valley is a lovely vintage for all styles of dry wine, white, rosé and red, but is perhaps less notable for its sweet wines. Certainly that is the case in Vouvray (where there will be no sweet wines this year, only demi-sec at best), but I will only be getting to grips with Anjou tomorrow, so I can’t comment on the Coteaux du Layon, Aubance, Quarts de Chaume and Bonnezeaux at present.

After Luneau-Papin, onto Domaine de Haut Bourg, one of the leading domaines in the Côtes de Grandlieu appellation in Muscadet, where the main attractions were the new releases of the long lees-aged wines, Signature 2010 (five years sur lie) and Origine 2005 (ten years sur lie). Then over to Domaine Vacheron, where I was pleased to taste two new cuvées, Le Pavé and L’Enclos des Remparts. Then, although this was a day for whites, just before I nipped off for lunch I noticed that Mathieu Baudry had nothing to do on his stand, so I took advantage of his quiet moment to taste through his wines. The major surprise here was how well his 2012s are showing, but those 2014s again! I only tasted the lower end of the range in 2014, but they are just super. Further delaying my lunch, I also tasted the wines of Domaine de Roche Ville, a Saumur-Champigny domaine new to me, where there are some very tasty 2011s, but also some superb 2014s in the pipeline, as well as some really good white wines.

Rocher des Violettes

After lunch it was back to white, with the wines of Pascal Reverdy first, then a detour to meet up with Catherine Champalou (who was only going to be present for two hours, so it was now or never), then back to Sancerre with François Crochet. Both Pascal and François have made great wines in 2014, as well as some smart 2013s, while Catherine has achieved the same. In Sancerre that wasn’t so hard, but making a good Vouvray in 2013 is a real achievement, certainly one to be proud of.

Then came more Vouvray and a touch of Montlouis, while I got to grips with the 2013 from Peter Hahn, which I tasted from barrel last summer, as well as the wines of Xavier Weisskopf (pictured above), then Bernard Fouquet, François Chidaine and Jacky Blot, not quite in that order but it is close enough. This was a real contrast to the Sancerre tastsings, because whereas all these domaines have made lovely 2014s, the wines here tend to show up the inadequacies in the 2013s, which are weaker by comparison. It was, of course, a much more difficult vintage in 2013 for Touraine Chenin Blanc (especially the hailed-out Vouvray vineyards, but Montlouis too it seems) than it was for Sancerre.

I’ve gathered a lot of information to slot into my forthcoming 2014 Loire report, and of course a lot of new notes on other recent vintages too. Today (Tuesday), it is a day for Anjou, so off I go to taste. Before signing off though, a quick update on the state of the Salon, which I alluded to yestersay. It has contracted much more than I had previously realised, the organisers having dealt with this by bringing in false walls around at least two sides of the exhibition hall, hiding space behind which would normally be filled with stands. Other notables that are absent include François Pinon (perhaps not surprising, he was also absent last year, almost inevitable after the disaster of the 2013 hail) and – to my great disappointment – Domaine de la Pépière.

The Salons of Angers

There’s a change to the usual programme of updates on Winedoctor this week, as last Friday evening I arrived in Angers for the annual Salon des Vins de Loire. There is little if any time to make the usual additions to the site, and so instead I will provide some brief reports on what I have been up to here in the Loire Valley.

Most of the weekend has been taken up with the Renaissance tasting, although there are many other salons; the choice of tastings has snowballed over the past few years and there are now far too many to cover in just two days. Renaissance is the brainchild of Nicolas Joly (pictured below), although Lalou Bize-Leroy has long been associated with the group and she was present at the tasting over the two days (you can imagine the crowds around the Domaine Leroy stand – four deep at the best of times). Renaissance was also, as far as Angers is concerned, the original ‘off’-salon, although La Dive Bouteille was actually established first. The problem with La Dive is that it is held in Château de Brézé, near Saumur, which means it is a pain to get there if you don’t have convenient transport, and a waste of good tasting time even if you do.

Nicolas Joly

In Angers, however, there were this weekend also the Pénitentes tasting (Thierry Puzelat, René Mosse and friends), Les Anonymes (Jean-Christophe Garnier, Jérôme Saurigny and pals), a Demeter tasting and probably others I was unaware of. I say this because, other than the Renaissance event, which was the only tasting I received notification of (by email, from four or five different vignerons), none of these salons seem to have been very well advertised. If you want journalists to come to your salon, it might be an idea to shout about it a bit. With so many to choose from this salon business is getting competitive, and a simple Facebook page or static blog page doesn’t cut it, as how do I know where to look? Maybe salon organisers should build a mailing list, and fire out some invitations? Maybe they should get Charlotte Carsin (of Clos de l’Èlu) on the case; taking down my email address today, she added me to her mailing list to advertise La Paulée de l’Anjou Noir, another relatively new event (in its fourth year I think) planned for later this year. She just increased the likelihood of me attending one-hundred-fold.

Anyway, the weekend has been filled with the likes of Richard Leroy, Domaine de Bellivière, Mark Angeli, Clos de l’Èlu, Philippe Delesvaux, Patrick Baudouin, Philippe Gilbert, Jo Landron, Domaine de l’Ecu, Château de Coulaine, Sébastien David, Coulée de Serrant, Domaine des Huards, Domaine Mélaric and more than a few others. I also popped over to the Bordeaux stands to take a look at Château Falfas, Clos Puy Arnaud and Château Gombaude-Guillot, three domanes worth knowing about. I don’t think I could have done better than that no matter how many other salons I managed to fit in.

As for the Salon proper, this will be a very different proposition this year. A number of big producers, some of whom have been asking for change at the salon for some years, have eventually pulled out. Champalou (Vouvray) pulled out years ago, last year and this year there was no Château de Tracy (Pouilly-Fumé), and this year they will be joined by Henri Bourgeois (Sancerre) and Domaine Huet (Vouvray). The salon is very expensive to participate in, and it isn’t surprising that producers should pull out if they feel they aren’t getting good value for their money. Even the absorption of another ‘off’-salon, La Levée de la Loire, into the Salon proper doesn’t seem to have eased the financial pressure that seems to result from the salon’s gradual contraction. InterLoire and their PR agency Clair de Lune have cut back support for journalists to attend the Salon this year. This rather reminds me of a short story I once read, perhaps by Stephen King (although I could be mistaken) about a surgeon castaway on a desert island who is so hungry he amputates a foot, and then eats it. And then the other foot, and then so on, to the inevitable end. There are some things in life you shouldn’t do, and cutting off vital parts is one of them. There are few enough journalists interested in the Loire Valley as it is, cutting them loose in terms of support seems like a worrying sign of the state of the Salon to me.
There is a lot of salon competition out there now (I spoke to one blogger today who says he comes only for the ‘off’ events, and doesn’t even go to the Salon), and they will be only to happy to take more visitors away from the Salon if they can. All they have to do is get their marketing right.

A New Year Wish

The year 2014 has flown by, especially the last four months, and so here is a moment or two of reflection. Winedoctor has grown nicely, both with regard to Bordeaux and the Loire. My march through Bordeaux, adding new profiles and updating old ones, having done Sauternes (from early 2012 onwards), followed by St Estèphe and Pauillac (during 2013) reached Pomerol in 2014. Back in January I was on Château Le Bon Pasteur (updated January 2nd 2014), and having progressed alphabetically I will finish with Vieux Château Certan in the next few weeks (today’s update, Le Pin, was slightly delayed). Alongside I also added my usual vintage updates, including an especially detailed look at the 2013 vintage, and there are other vintage-based tasting reports coming up. As for the Loire, I published dozens of new and updated profiles, with a leaning towards small, new, young and up-and-coming domaines. I could go back and count all these updates, but I think I would rather go and open something good to drink this New Year’s Eve, so I hope you will forgive me if I don’t.

Without a shadow of a doubt the highlight of 2014 for me was a chance to return to Vouvray, not merely for a fleeting visit but to linger a while, for several weeks in fact. I rented a cottage among the vineyards above Vernou-sur-Brenne, and passed the time visiting domaines in the morning, and chilling out at the poolside (weather permitting) in the afternoon. I popped in on some familiar favourites, as well as calling in on some domaines quite new to me, either young start-ups with only a vintage or maybe two under their belts, or domaines that I simply never got around to visiting before. It was a great trip, as everywhere I went the welcome was warm; I adore wine in all its forms, but nothing serves to heighten the experience like meeting the people behind the wines you drink. In Vouvray’s case they are charming and genuinely warm people, the seniors led by the gentleman ambassador Bernard Fouquet (pictured below), the delightful Catherine and Didier Champalou and the king of Vouvray Philippe Foreau, while new generation leaders are Vincent and Tania Carême, who march with Peter Hahn and a gang of Carême acolytes.

Bernard Fouquet

Of course there were less fun moments during 2014 as well. I enjoyed trips to the Loire in February as well as in July, and I was in Bordeaux in April and in June, but I had to cancel return trips to both regions later in the year due to ill health, a very depressing feature of 2014. This is one reason I will be glad to see the back of 2014. There was also the issue of Domaine Huet in February, when after my criticism of the 2012 vintage Sarah Hwang decided to ban me from tasting the Huet wines, either at the Salon des Vins de Loire or even if visiting the domaine (the 2013s I reported on earlier this year I purchased at the tasting room). This was also the year another wine writer accosted me at the Salon des Vins de Loire and referred to a review I had written as “nasty”. It certainly was an eventful Salon for me this year, one that opened my eyes to how adversely some people react to criticism, even when carefully judged and considered. I stand by every word I have ever written, because nothing on Winedoctor is off-the-cuff, jingoistic or gonzo in style. Nevertheless, here’s hoping for a more peaceful Salon in 2015! Sadly I believe Domaine Huet won’t even be attending, but I hope to be able to taste their wines at some point, sometime, somewhere. I still rate the domaine very highly, and I think their 2013s were some of the best in that very difficult vintage.

And so what of 2015? April will see me come to the end of another year as a subscription site, and subscriptions are already up 9.5% this year, so by the end of the year hopefully this will be more like 15%. I don’t worry about page views, Google rank or Klout scores any more; these are either irrelevant to pay sites, or what I call “vanity” metrics. Winedoctor is generally regarded as a “blog” I think, but I prefer to view it as a continually evolving electronic book or journal (hmmm…, if only I had called it “Wine Journal” before Neal Martin chose that name!), full of information-rich profiles, and what matters to me is whether the quality of this information is worthy of the subscriptions people pay, so that is where I focus my attention. Hopefully, climbing subscription numbers mean I am getting it right, but I am always grateful for feedback in this regard. During 2015 I will be moving on to updating and expanding my coverage of St Emilion, and as this is a huge undertaking I will alternate with some left-bank profiles and updates as well, especially looking at some ‘lesser’ regions such as Moulis, Listrac and the Haut-Médoc. There will be the 2014 primeurs, and a look back to 2005 Bordeaux too. And much more. In the Loire, I aim to add plenty more profiles, a 2014 vintage report, update and add new Anjou profiles, and also start work on a huge Loire guide which will touch on every appellation going, from the Côte Roannaise down to the Fiefs-Vendéens. That should keep me busy through 2015 (and 2016, and 2017…).

Best wishes to all, good health and good drinking in 2015. And thank you for reading.

Checking in on . . . . Cuvee Pif, 2012

Although the writing had been on the wall for a year or two, it was only when I visited Catherine Roussel and Didier Barrouillet of Clos Roche Blanche in October 2013 that I learnt with certainty that they were about to hang up their secateurs for good. They had been down-sizing for some time, a large portion of the vineyard having been handed over to Noëlla Morantin, but it was now official. It was also very hush-hush, as Catherine and Didier carefully looked for interested suitors. At the time there were two interested parties, the identities of whom were confidential.

At the time I imagined maybe one was Noëlla, but it seems I may have been wrong. As it turns out the first is Laurent Saillard, who started working in the vines of both Clos Roche Blanche and Noëlla Morantin several years ago. The second is a name new to me, Julien Pineau, who started out as a geologist but ultimately gravitated to wine, ending up working with Didier at Clos Roche Blanche.

Clos Roche Blanche Cuvée Pif 2012

So 2014 is the last vintage for Clos Roche Blanche. The wines of this domaine are not that easy to locate in the UK, nevertheless I have one or two bottles tucked away, including the 2012 described below. Perhaps I will be able to add a bottle of the 2014, who knows?

The 2012 Clos Roche Blanche Touraine Cuvée Pif (Pif is the name of Didier & Catherine’s dog, as I am sure all CRB fans know, and is a blend of Cabernet Franc and Côt) has a beautiful, vibrant hue, a fine black-crimson colour reminiscent of summer fruit pudding. The nose has some appropriate dark fruit-skin character to it, but there is also a savoury edge, and certainly a little methoxypyrazine greenness at first, veering into a more overt vegetal character with a little air. Ultimately, the aromatics here are heavily laced with the celeriac and celery character of Cabernet Franc in what was obviously a cool and cloudy vintage. The palate shows an elegant, clean, slightly juicy character, carrying flavours matching the aromas on the nose. There is also a nice cool energy to it, with peppery fruit, very light tannins, and bright acidity. To be straight I have mixed feelings about this wine; I like greenness when it comes with otherwise ripe fruit, but here it strays a little too far into the vegetal side for me. All the same, I like the cool, sappy nature of the palate. 14/20 (November 2014)

A Gentle Tour of Vouvray

Take a gentle tour of Vouvray with French rally team Florent Genestet and Romain Vallé, in their Citroen Saxo A6. Florent hails from the Loire Valley but is too preoccupied to provide any commentary, so I have added a few pointers to the sights of interest beneath the video.

Time 0:00: Start just north of Vernou-sur-Brenne (hold cursor over bottom of video screen to see timings).

0:39: Underneath the TGV line (the one that subsequently disappears into a tunnel, the campaign led by the late Gaston Huet having succeeded in prevented it cutting through the vineyards).

1:11: Past the Loge du Foujoin (a beautifully restored cabin where vineyard workers would once take shelter).

1:40: Lots of corn!

2:25: Into the Vallée de Vaugondy – now onto my running route when I am staying in Vouvray (although I’m not quite as fast as this car).

3:33: Now heading up the deuxième côte onto the plateau.

3:51: Over a particular nasty drainage channel – you can see the car bump over it – nearly threw me off my bicycle once.

4:06: Past Le Clos de la Meslerie (behind the big hedge!), Peter Hahn obviously stuck at home for the day here.

5:10: Turn right up the Vallée de Cousse, towards François Pinon. Turning left at 5:22 means we miss François’ house sadly.

5:50: Driving along the deuxième côte here – vines to the left, valley to the right. Thereafter, through mostly arable farmland north of the vineyards.

8:05: Turn right away from Château de Jallanges, one of the more notable châteaux near Vernou-sur-Brenne, and shortly afterwards come to a stop.

Not a bad drive, although anyone with any sense would call in on François and Peter for a tasting. And then buy some wine – it’s surprising how many cases you can fit in a hatchback, even a small one like the Saxo. Maybe next time.