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Checking in on. . . . Haut Rasne 2002

Spend some time exploring wine and you will notice that, every now and again, it will throw you a curve ball. I think the 2002 Haut Rasné, from Eric Nicolas of Domaine de Bellivière, is a fine example of this.

One of numerous cuvées made by Eric, Haut Rasné is named for the vineyard of origin, which is populated with young vines. The site is particularly prone to botrytis, and so despite their youth Eric tends to vinify the fruit from these vines separately, and he tends to bottle the wine separately too. I last tasted the wine seven years ago, when I noted that it was “fleshy rather than sweet”. I thought it would be interesting to check in on it again.

Domaine de Bellivière Coteaux du Loire Haut Rasné 2002

The 2002 Haut Rasné from Domaine de Bellivière, poured from a 500ml bottle, has a remarkably deep colour, a rich orange-golden hue. And the nose seems no less striking, being richly polished, and there is no doubt in my mind that this is largely due to a healthy dose of botrytis. We have desiccated tropical fruit, perhaps even a touch of white raisin, blanched almonds and apricots too. It feels characterful and broad, confident in its complexity. The palate is everything you might expect, except for one thing; as I noted on my last taste, this is far from overtly sweet on the palate, and indeed the level of residual sugar seems to have faded further, the wine now edging more towards dry than sweet. And yet there is no shortage of deep, vinous texture, and it is not lacking in flavour, the palate very much matching the botrytis-defined nose in this respect. A long, lingering but dry finish. Delicious, quirky stuff indeed. 17.5/20 (August 2014)

This is a real curiosity, but a delightful one. I’m not really a fan of botrytis in dry wines, but this is different, evidently a fading sweet wine rather than a botrytis-tinged bone-dry one, and it has all the breadth and complexity you could hope for. Viewed in this context the wine seems really quite magnificent. Nevertheless this will perhaps be a somewhat awkward wine for those who open a bottle unprepared for this drier style, but anybody who happens to open one alongside a platter of aged cheese, especially aged Comte, could find themselves in Coteaux du Loir, Comte-matching, curve-ball heaven.

Checking in on. . . . Les Girardieres 2008

Time to check in on another older wine now, at this time I’m taking a look at the 2008 Vouvray Les Girardières, from Domaine des Aubuisières.

Now I can hear snorts of derision at the bank. Yes, I know the 2008 vintage isn’t an ancient one. And we all know Vouvray can evolve in a positive fashion over many decades, indeed a lifetime. But there is a purpose here, based on my knowledge of this wine, which is the only wine in my cellar with a synthetic closure. It was a complete surprise when I ripped the capsule from my first bottle – I generally avoid synthetic closures like the plague.

Domaine des Aubuisières Vouvray Les Girardières 2008

I promised myself I would check in regularly to see how the wine evolved, as synthetic closures aren’t renowned for maintaining a good seal over many years. But, of course, this thought soon slipped my mind, and I was only reminded of the bottles when I visited Bernard Fouquet a few weeks ago. I resolved to pull and pop another.

Domaine des Aubuisières Vouvray Les Girardières 2008: The colour in the glass is reassuring at least, the wine showing a bright, straw-gold hue. And, happily, the nose is fabulous, revealing layers of golden pear and white peach, with a mineral strength behind, and a delicate touch of thyme too. It feels pure and clean, demi-sec as always, with some honeyed nuances poured over the fresh orchard fruit. There follows a beautiful texture on entry, the middle fleshy but with an enticing liquid-stone character, pithy fruit, yellow plum-skin especially, a great density and substance, a beautiful demi-sec sweetness and a lifted balance. Overall, a superb wine, not a hint of premature oxidation despite the synthetic closure, and I hope this will also be the case with future bottles. 18/20 (August 2014)

Ploughing by Horse at Le Clos de la Meslerie

During a recent trip to Vouvray I learnt that a number of domaines in the appellation, plus one or two in Montlouis, have joined forces to begin working with horses on at least a section of their vineyard. A key figure in the project is Vincent Carême, and joining him are a number of his peers. The list of names and domaines kept changing slightly depending on who I asked, but it seems to include Domaine Huet, Peter Hahn of Le Clos de la Meslerie, a young grower named Tanguy Perrault of Domaine Perrault-Jadaud, Domaine Vigneau-Chevreau, Michel Autran, another young grower named Julien Vedel (all in Vouvray) and Damien Delecheneau of Domaine La Grange Tiphaine (in Montlouis). I apologise if I missed anybody out.

Ploughing at Le Clos de la Meslerie

Rather than buy their own animals, the group have engaged the services of Philippe Chigard, who specialises in working with horses. If contracted he will turn up with his horses, and plough your vineyard as required. Pictured above is one of Philippe’s horses in the east parcel of Le Clos de la Meslerie, with the valley of the Brenne beyond.

Ploughing at Le Clos de la Meslerie

This is Junior, a Percheron draught horse, a breed that originated in the former province of Perche, which once lay between Maine and Normandy, but which was divided up after the Revolution. This is a popular breed for this kind of work; I have seen Percherons in other vineyards.

Ploughing at Le Clos de la Meslerie

Above Philippe Chigard (bending over) and a colleague change ploughs. Philippe is ‘hands on’ in the vineyard, but he also teaches students on the use of horses in the vineyard at the local viticultural school. Other notable domaines outside Montlouis and Vouvray, such as Domaine de Bellivière, also use his services.

Ploughing at Le Clos de la Meslerie

Above, Philippe and his colleague work in parallel rows. If I understood correctly, one is simply scarifying the soil, removing vegetation, while the other is turning the soil.

Ploughing at Le Clos de la Meslerie

And above they are returning up the next row. Junior’s friend is named Mascotte, and is a Comtois, a breed that originated in the Jura. This is another popular breed for this kind of work.

In all cases the participants are ploughing only a section of their vineyard; for Peter Hahn it is his east parcel, while Vincent Carême is now working a section of Le Clos (on the première côte) with horses, and has even gone so far as to remove all the posts and wires to facilitate this work.

I believe other domaines will join the group in the future; I hear others have expressed an interest, but times have been tough in Vouvray and for some in Montlouis in recent years, and I expect they will want to reassess their finances before they take on this new expense. I have no idea whether or not the work makes any difference to the wine, but the horses certainly have a lesser impact on the soil compared to a tractor, are potentially more environmentally friendly (although the horses do have to be transported from one vineyard to the next) and they are certainly a beautiful sight among the vines.

New in. . . .the Loire

One of the joys of focusing on one region is getting to know the stars and keeping tabs on how their domaines develop, and of course returning year after year to taste and report on the latest vintages. It will probably come as no surprise to many that I enjoy getting back to the Loire to taste with Pierre Luneau-Papin, Claude Papin, Philippe Foreau, Jean-Marie Bourgeois and their peers. These guys have been making wine for years and achieve not only great quality but also great consistency. It is rare that a bottle will let you down (not impossible of course, but rare).

Of course, making a new discovery is also a joy; the problem is, it’s not as easy as revisiting the standard-bearers, as it often relies on a degree of serendipity. Nevertheless I have always relished writing about a domaine that is new to me, where I have tasted for the first time. I recall, about five years ago, feeling at a loose end; I noted a slightly bored-looking vigneron sitting at an empty stand in the Saumur-Champigny corner of the Salon des Vins de Loire, and so I wandered up to see what he had on offer. I had just met Antoine Sanzay for the first time, now undoubtedly one of the top names in that appellation. It was a real pleasure to visit him at his domaine a few weeks ago, to see how things have come on (are still coming on) five years later.

New in. . . .the Loire

Nevertheless, I have noticed in the past year of so a new wave of young winemakers in the Loire Valley. There seems to be a new generation taking hold, both at favoured, long-established domaines such as Domaine de la Bergerie and Domaine Ogereau, and also at new start-ups, names completely new to me. So, over the next couple of months I will be casting the Winedoctor spotlight in their direction. It will be difficult squeezing this in among my Sancerre profile overhauls, all my new reports from my recent trip to Vouvray, as well as my forthcoming Bordeaux reports on some recent vintages, but I have earmarked my Friday updates for the foreseeable future to be part of a new “New in the Loire….” series. I’ve started today, with Thibaud Boudignon (pictured above), a new name in Savennières to watch out for.

I will be profiling alongside Thibaud a couple of other domaines new in Anjou, these being Clos de l’Elu where Thomas Carsin is turning out some really interesting wines, and also Nicolas Reau. New in and around Saumur are Mai & Kenji Hodgson, perhaps familiar names to those interested in the ‘natural’ wine scene, but I met them for the first time earlier this year and for this reason they are included. I also met Xavier Caillard, who makes remarkable long-barrel-aged wines under the label Les Jardin Esméraldins. New in Chinon is Jérôme Billard, not exactly on his first vintage but it’s not that long since Jérôme took on the family vineyards of Domaine de la Noblaie and I am sure the name will be unfamiliar to many (but not for long I expect), hence he is included too. Two great new discoveries in Vouvray are Domaine Perrault-Jadaud (home to Tanguy Perrault and Anne-Cécile Jadaud) and Florent Cosme (younger brother of Mathieu Cosme) who are worth knowing about, and I will be profiling both. Up in the Vendômois is retired punk-rocker Brendan Tracy, whose wines will probably also soon be regular features on the ‘natural’ wine scene, while down in the Viticole Sologne I will be profiling Etienne Courtois, who works with father Claude Courtois (so not a new domaine, but a new generation) and the delightful Laura Semeria, who makes some of the best Cheverny I have tasted this year under the Château de Montcy label.

That should be enough to keep me going – there are a couple of domaines I would have liked to add to the list but which I haven’t yet managed to visit, so if I get back to the Loire before the end of the year (which is likely) I will try to rectify this, and I may then slip them in at the end.

One Last Look: Vouvray 2011

Having looked at 2013 Vouvray, and 2012 Vouvray, I want to finish off with a quick round-up of 2011 Vouvray. It is, of the three vintages, perhaps the most complex and the most difficult to understand. In order to explain why, I want first to look back to the vintage in general, followed by my initial tastings in February 2012, before then fast-forwarding to my recent trip to Vouvray.

I am always surprised when I review weather data for 2011, because this was the warmest year ever recorded in France. Yes, even warmer than 2003. The difference in 2011 was that there was no summer heatwave, instead temperatures were way above average in spring and autumn, and actually summer was really cool and damp. Nevertheless the spring and autumn temperatures were enough to push it into the number 1 spot. The warm weather during harvest, especially with warm nocturnal temperatures, brought a risk of rot (and not necessarily the good type). My first encounter with the vintage was with Noël Pinguet of Domaine Huet – it often was – and this tasting would always be a significant one in beginning to understand the vintage. I remember my meeting with Noël in February 2012 with great clarity; he told me that the vintage had been difficult, with only a token amount of demi-sec and moelleux wine, all from Le Mont, less than 1000 bottles of both combined.

So regardless of the details of the growing season, in 2012 I began to form an opinion that 2011 was really a vintage for sec only in Vouvray. And so I was surprised when, during a recent visit to Vouvray, many vignerons spoke quite highly of the vintage. Some reminded me of how warm it had been, and is if to prove the point a number of them they pulled out bottles of 2011 moelleux, showing in fact that there had been success in this regard. And then, suddenly, I would encounter wines – especially drier wines – that felt green and under-ripe. It took a long time for me to figure out why this seeming paradox existed, helped by the ever-charming Vincent Carême with some information about harvest-time decisions, what was going on.

Vouvray 2011

I believe the reason for some dry wines seem to be a bit green and under-ripe, and yet some sweet wines have wonderful ripeness and sweetness, is as follows. As harvest approached, after a cool and damp summer the weather began to improve. In fact there was a long period of warm weather, and under these conditions the sugar levels really began to climb. And yet, perhaps reflecting the cool summer, the phenolic ripeness of the berries, including the skins and pips, lagged behind somewhat. This made picking decisions difficult, but the only way to make dry wines is to pick when the sugar concentration is manageable, and so fruit for these wines were duly picked at this moment; my belief is that some of the more raw, greener phenolic compnents have come through into the wine, influencing the flavour profiles. Those that wanted to make a sweet wine, however, left the fruit to continue developing on the vines, allowing not only for the sugars to rise as required, but also for the grape structures (and the stems) to ripen. This meant that when this fruit was picked, the sweetness was there, but the other flavour components had reached a point where they were much more appealing.

Two vignerons who surprised me by producing a very good sweet wine from 2011, prompting me to reappraise the vintage, included François Pinon, who made a very appealing 2011 Moelleux which, although not as exciting as the rather electric 2008 Moelleux, still held a lot of appeal for me, and Florent Cosme, a young vigneron based out in Noizay, who made a rather delightful 2011 Moelleux Audace in his very first vintage. There are good dry wines to be had in the vintage as well though, including 2011 Le Clos from Vincent Carême, and the 2011 Cuvée C from Domaine de la Fontainerie. By far the best dry cuvée in 2011 though comes from Peter Hahn, of Clos de la Meslerie; his 2011 has all the depth found in his 2010 or 2009, both years where the wine is firmly demi-sec, yet it remains dry and full of clean complexity. This is definitely one to look out for in the 2011 vintage.

That is it for my look back at Vouvray in the 2013, 2012 and 2011 vintages. I will leave you with my picture of the setting sun over the vineyards (above), looking up to the Vallée de la Cousse, where François Pinon resides.

Checking in on . . . . Clos du Papillon 2002

The 2002 vintage was a very interesting one in the Loire Valley, especially for white wines made from Chenin Blanc, both in Anjou and Vouvray. The wines continue to do very well; so much so that even in the past couple of weeks I have added more 2002s to my cellar, including wines from Domaine de Bellivière, Domaine des Aubuisières and Jo Pithon (in his first incarnation, before he set up Pithon-Paillé with step-son Jo Paillé).

I thought it might be useful to look back at one or two of these wines to see how they are doing, especially so if I have more than a few bottles. The 2002 Clos du Papillon from Domaine des Baumard is a case in point; I bought a case many years ago now, and this is (I think) bottle number three. One of the first few bottles were troublesome though; off the top of my head I seem to recall one had a very curious and not entirely pleasant ash-like quality to it.

Domaine des Baumard Savennières Clos du Papillon 2002

Happily, on this recent assessment, things seem very different.

Domaine des Baumard Savennières Clos du Papillon 2002: A pale golden hue in the glass, certainly nothing out of the ordinary for a Savennières of this age. A great nose, fresh, expressive and clean; I recall a few years ago this had a curious ash-like note on the nose, but there is certainly nothing like that now. In truth, the nose is really delightful, bright, minerally although soft and charming – surprisingly so – rather than firm. There follows a supple palate, broad, quite polished and harmonious, with some great grip and fresh acidity. Very lovely, balanced and correct with lively substance rather than huge tension, but so much appeal here, all gathering together towards the finish in a long, tingling, confident and savoury grip. Very impressive. 18/20 (August 2014)

On a personal level, I’m happy to see that strange ashy note gone. Was it a phase the wine went through, or was there just something wrong with a previous bottle? On a broader level, it’s good to see this wine singing; I have heard some claims of ‘prem-ox’ in Baumard wines (this bottle comes from before his whole-scale switch to screw-cap, by the way, a shift he made in 2006 with the release of wines from the 2003 and 2004 vintages). I certainly don’t see any oxidation here. On the basis of this tasting I don’t feel there is any rush with the rest of the case.

Getting Back to Vouvray: The 2012 Vintage

After my look at 2013 Vouvray, written on the basis of some 2013s I have tasted, I want to also look back at 2012, and then 2011. I will start with the more recent of these two vintages here, again looking at it in the context of recently tasted wines, during my recent trip to Vouvray.

The 2013 vintage conjures up immediate thoughts of hail, right? So what image springs to mind when presented by a bottle of 2012 Vouvray? Probably none, but like 2013 this was also a vintage hit by one of the adverse weather events that can dog vineyards planted in cooler, northern climes. On April 17th 2012 a frost damaged a significant percentage of the vines in Vouvray (and Chinon too, as it happens). This frost didn’t bring the near-total devastation that some saw with the hail the following year, and there was plenty of time for the vines to recover, so perhaps this event hasn’t lodged in our minds (or my mind, anyway) as firmly as the hail of 2013. Regardless, 2012 got off to a difficult start.

Cool and damp weather in May, June and July didn’t help, retarding the development of the vines, impaired flowering; in conjunction with the frost, this meant 2012 would be a vintage of low yields. The damp weather also encouraged mildew, so the vignerons really had a battle on this year. Happily, warmer and drier weather in August and September helped, but then things turned wet again in October, and there were warm nights, encouraging rot (rather as in 2013). Some of the vineyards saw dramatic downpours – up to 110mm was recorded in one weekend as harvest approached – further holding back potential quality. Organic and biodynamic growers in particular saw miniscule yields, although nobody had it easy.

I first tasted some 2012s from Vouvray during the subsequent Salon des Vins de Loire in February 2013, and it was apparent early on that many had struggled with the conditions during 2012. Those who look to make demi-sec or moelleux wines found it was impossible, there just wasn’t the ripeness in the fruit (there are exceptions to this rule though – see below). Even when it came to the sec wines, they didn’t show the usual texture or level of quality, many wines felt a bit thin and stretched, like butter scraped over too much bread, as Tolkein might say. Some, however, are surprisingly attractive.

Champalou

It is difficult to know where to go first, so I will just run through the wines more or less in the order I made my recent visits. I kicked off with Bernard Fouquet, who did not pour the 2012 Cuvée de Silex, but did show his 2012 Le Marigny, which was very dry in keeping with the nature of the vintage, but with some appealing notes to the flavour profile. The Champalou family have done well, in fact their 2012 Sec was one of my favourite dry wines from this vintage, but the 2012 Les Fondraux was even better, and it carries a remarkable 22 g/l of residual sugar (surely a record for the vintage?). François Pinon poured a fresh, acid-bound 2012 Sec, and summed up the year in frank and pithy form – “it was an average summer, September wasn’t so hot, and it rained. There was a lot of bad rot in 2012 (I think François was talking generally of Vouvray, not just his own domaine) and sec was as ripe as you could get. I will make almost all sparkling in 2012″. Is there a stronger indicator of the vintage than one of the region’s leading vignerons, who I admire greatly, committing almost his entire harvest to sparkling? I don’t think so.

As for Philippe Foreau, his 2012 Sec was saline and lemony, lean and very dry, and was fairly typical of the vintage in this respect. He has it pegged as “a wine for seafood” which says something about its firm acidity and texture I think. I tasted with a number of growers new to me including Florent Cosme and Tanguy Perrault and the 2012s here tended towards the same style as Philippe’s, lean and defined by their acidity. I tasted Peter Hahn’s single cuvée from the 2012 vintage and it also showed the leaner, acid-defined character that typifies the vintage; he has yet to decide but he may not release the wine under the Clos de la Meslerie label as a consequence, an admirable commitment to quality if that is the route he decides to take. And, like the words of François Pinon, another strong indicator of the trials experienced in Vouvray in 2012.

Moving on, like François Pinon Vincent Carême also decided to channel a greater proportion of the harvest into sparkling wine as a response to the character of the vintage, even though yields were down from 40 to 25 hl/ha. I prefer the Brut to the Ancestrale, usually it is the other way round; perhaps the Brut’s liqueur de dégorgement helped, even though it is only 4 g/l as a result. Vincent has made smaller quantities of Le Clos and Le Peu Morier, both sec, and both are good within the leaner style of the vintage, sufficiently so for me to buy some of each to see how they develop with a little bottle age. Finally there is Domaine Huet; I was unable to retaste their 2012s having been barred from the domaine following my previous criticisms of these wines. Since my previously published report on the 2012 Huets in January 2014 I have revisited two of the sec cuvées, bought by a friend and tasted in April 2014 (notes not yet published – I will probably tag them onto my forthcoming tasting notes on the 2013s). My opinion on these wines remains unchanged.

Next time, 2011 Vouvray; no hail or frost, and yet a more complex story to the vintage.

Getting to Grips with Vouvray 2013

How long is “long enough” in Vouvray? Three weeks certainly wasn’t long enough for me, and as ever I left feeling I had only really scratched the surface of this very famous appellation, despite visiting many of the top domaines. Over the course of several days I called upon and tasted with Philippe Foreau, François Pinon, Bernard Fouquet, the Champalou family (Catherine, Didier and Céline), Vincent Carême and Peter Hahn (pictured below) of Le Clos de la Meslerie (who was essentially my neighbour for the three weeks, so I certainly visited his vineyards more than once), and I also ensured I visited some new names in the appellation, tasting for the first time with Florent Cosme (the younger brother of Mathieu Cosme), Catherine Dhoye-Deruet of Domaine de la Fontainerie and Tanguy Perrault of Domaine Perrault-Jadaud, and each one was a worthwhile visit. Of course I was unable to taste at Domaine Huet, having been banned from the estate for criticising the 2012s, but I did pick up some bottles of the 2013 vintage to taste at a future date.

Rather than write tasting reports on all these visits I will use them to update all my Vouvray profiles, many of which feel a little dated to me, and obviously there will be new profiles for those vignerons I visited for the first time. For the moment though, I thought I would sum up my feelings on the three vintages that I tasted most when in Vouvray, 2013, 2012 and 2011, starting with the most recent here. I will look at 2012 and 2011 on another day.

The first words on anyone’s lips when it comes to the 2013 vintage in Vouvray is bound to be “hail”. Certainly, as I wrote in my report on Le 2013 from François Pinon only yesterday, the hail that hit the appellation on June 17th shaped the vintage for many. It was a massive blow, and to be honest I do not think I can find the words to truly express how those worst-hit must have felt when seeing their vineyards completely defoliated by icy napalm. Now is the time, however, to look at the wines, and to remind ourselves that although hail is an economic disaster for some, writing off quantity, it does not necessarily write off quality. Some vineyards escaped the hail entirely. Some saw less damage than others. Careful and dedicated vignerons picked what they could from these partially-hit vineyards, bringing in mere handfuls of grapes in some cases. The quality of this fruit depends on factors other than hail, in particular how the weather held through the summer, and into September and October.

Peter Hahn, May 2012

Nice weather during July and August helped the vines to recover, and the dry conditions helped the injured vines to heal without succumbing to infection. There was even a little heat stress in August (this was at the same time the Bordelais enjoyed a warm and sunny spell, which is why 2013 Bordeaux, while very lean, is not a vintage marked by greenness). Unfortunately September saw a little more rain, nothing disastrous, but not very beneficial either, while conditions deteriorated in October, with cool days bringing little additional ripeness, while warm nights and wet weather brought the risk of rot. The pickers were sent out and everyone crossed their fingers.

Having now tasted a range of 2013s from across the domaines cited above I have to say I find more joy in this vintage than I do on the whole in 2012. I have twice tasted the wines of Bernard Fouquet already this year, in January and February, and thought them very good, and having retasted them with him at the domaine a couple of weeks ago I am glad I gave such handsome scores to the wines, because they continue to show very nicely from bottle. The Champalou wines are also attractive, slightly leaner and more minerally than Bernard’s, but very good. Philippe Foreau’s Sec 2013, bottled in April, showed a little more accessibility than his very saline 2012, although Philippe says the acidity reminded him very much of the 1983 vintage. A barrel tasting of the 2013 vintage with Vincent Carême revealed plenty of good material to work with, some barrels showing appealing fruit and others more minerality, while a similar barrel tasting with Peter Hahn was also very reassuring as well as being informative, the quality very good through the first and second tries, the third tri less appealing and so Peter intends to exclude this from the grand vin and make, for the first time, a sparkling wine (it tastes like perfect material for this, and after tasting it Philippe Foreau said the same thing). Peter’s grand vin will undoubtedly be dry in 2013. François Pinon’s wine is also good, as already written up. Perhaps the best wine, however, comes from the relatively-unknown Michel Autran; although not included in my list of visits above, I tasted with Michel in Philippe Foreau’s cellars, and as a result was able to taste his 2013 Les Enfers which he brought along. This was remarkably good, and could easily be the wine of the vintage. Of course, I have yet to see what Vincent’s and Peter’s wines taste like once assembled, and I have not yet tasted the wines I bought at Domaine Huet.

All in all, good news in 2013 despite the hail, with attractive sec, sec-tendre and occasionally demi-sec (and some fizz to come in future years too, evidently) in this vintage. They are not wines to blow your socks off, there is no denying it was not a perfect vintage, but there plenty of good dry and tender wines to buy and drink with pleasure.

As a last comment, on the 2014 vintage really, I’m happy to report that despite the hail damage the vines have all recovered beautifully, the flowering and fruit set was good, and the volumes in 2014 are destined to be good, including chez Pinon. Fingers crossed for all.

Next time, my renewed thoughts on Vouvray 2012.

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.