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One for the Luneau-Papin fans

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

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

Luneau-Papin - the new L d'Or label

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

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

To Sancerre! And Other Places!

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

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

Les Monts Damnés, Chavignol, October 2013

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

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

Banned from Tasting 2013 Domaine Huet

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

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

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

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

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

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

Taking a Break

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

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

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

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

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

Humility in Wine

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

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

Salon des Vins de Loire, Day 2

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

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

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

Claude Papin

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

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

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

Salon des Vins de Loire, Day 1

Don’t get me wrong; I think the ‘off’ events that circle around the Salon des Vins de Loire, such as the Renaissance tasting, are great tastings, well worth going to. There are some really excellent wines there, as well as lots of interested, enthusiastic, dedicated growers, and it is fascinating to hear their stories and find out a little about their wines. But for me there is no match for the Salon-proper. This where I get to taste with, for example, Marc Ollivier of Domaine de la Pépière, Claude Papin of Château Pierre-Bise, François Chidaine (actually François was at Renaissance as well, but there are more wines here at the Salon), and the Vacheron family of Domaine Vacheron, with their striking single-vineyard wines. And so it was all go on the tasting front on Monday.

Although I flitted about during the course of the day, everywhere from Muscadet, up through Vouvray and to the Central Vineyards, it was in the latter that I spent most time. And there are plenty of good wines to taste. At some domaines the 2012s are now coming online, with the range of white single-vineyard cuvées from Domaine Vacheron showing particularly well. But the 2013s, where I was able to taste them, are also surprisingly good. The vintage was a difficult one, with rot in the vineyard, although most growers report clean-tasting musts despite this, thanks no doubt to fairly strict selection. Some growers I spoke to jettisoned as much as 50% with rot on certain parcels, although 25-30% was a much more commonly heard figure. In the entire day I picked up overt rot in just one 2013 cuvée, out of dozens tasted; even in this case, all the other wines in the range were as clean as a whistle. But then with rot different parcels are affected in different ways, usually depending on the soil type and whether the rows are enherbé.

Paul-Henry Pellé

I made sure to taste outside the famous appellations of Sancerre and Pouilly-Fumé though, with one obvious port of call being Domaine Henry Pellé, where I tasted with Anne Pellé and her son Paul-Henry Pellé, (pictured above). The wines here have long been good, but there is a really comprehensively successful range of wines here now, and again here they have been able to take advantage of the very favourable 2012 vintage.

Further downriver, there was a very strong range of wines from Marc Olliver and Rémi Branger at Domaine de la Pépière, and that fits in with my other experiences tasting Muscadet before I came out to the Salon. In Touraine, I tasted at several domaines in Vouvray, although the wines on show ranged from 2009 upwards, with few pouring tastes of 2013. One that did was Bernard Fouquet, and these wines showed well; nevertheless the vintage for Vouvray was a disaster for many, in that some growers lost a large chunk of the harvest due to the June hailstorm. François Pinon, for example, who I mentioned in yesterday’s post, turned in just 95 hectolitres – for the entire domaine. To help you visualise that, that is one large stainless steel vat from all his vineyards. But where the fruit escaped the hail, the quality can be good it seems, but the harvests were difficult, late, and carried out under rain-filled skies. Only the most dedicated will make very good wines, and there will be a lot of pétillant wines made in 2013.

To finish off, before I head off for a day of tasting with a focus on Anjou, a quick note on one domaine that I did try to taste at today, Domaine Huet. In fact, as this is perhaps one of the most signficant domaines in the entire Loire Valley, I made a beeline for the Huet stand early on the first day (this has long been my routine when attending the Salon). I was not able to taste the wines, however, and I will describe why and how this situation came about in more detail in another post.

Renaissance 2014, Day 2: More discoveries

Sunday was another busy day of tasting and chatting with the growers here in Angers; well, for it to have been anything else would have been a surprise wouldn’t it? I went to the Renaissance tasting again; I decided to return for a second day, rather than head off to a different tasting, because there were just so many growers here that I didn’t get time to chat with and to taste with on Saturday.

The tasting started a little more slowly on Sunday morning than it did on Saturday morning (hmmm… I wonder why?). Louis-Jean Sylvos of Château de la Roche en Loire was there early though and I kicked off with his wines, which were true to his house style, interesting appley yet minerally Chenin Blancs and vibrant fruit in his reds, blends of Cabernet Franc, Grolleau and Côt. Louis-Jean is a charming guy, always smiling, and that personality comes through in his wines I think.

Michel Gendrier

After focusing on Saumur and Saumur-Champigny last year I wasn’t really intending to extend my coverage this year, and yet I seem to be doing that, as I tasted with Mathieu Vallée of Château Yvonne, and also Guillaume Pire of Château de Fosse-Sèche. These weren’t the most impressive and surprising wines of the morning though, as these came from Cheverny and Cour-Cheverny, from two domaines with adjacent tables. First was Michel Gendrier (pictured above, mid-pour) of Domaine des Huards, and then Michel Quenioux of Domaine de Veilloux. The first makes an interesting range of Cour-Chevernys, all 100% Romorantin of course, that come in a rather pure and focused style, all the evolving complexity coming from the fruit and nothing else. He also made some really good red Cheverny; these wines, and his Cour-Chevernys, prove that even the most obscure appellations and blends (I am quite confident only the Loire geeks will know that red Cheverny is Gamay and Pinot Noir, with minor contributions from Cabernet Franc and Côt) can bring joy. Thank heavens the entire world hasn’t been planted with Cabernet Sauvgnon and Chardonnay as some would wish. Next door, Michel Quenioux made some really good wines, all Cheverny, where he blends Sauvignon Blanc with Arbois; using Arbois (or Menu Pineau as it is also known) rather than the more common Chardonnay really influences the character of the wines here, and I really liked some of them. In short, these two estates turn out some of the best Chevernys I have tasted. Another victory for diversity and obscure grape varieties!

François Pinon

I tasted many more wines, some of which I won’t dwell on, but special mention must go to Sylvain Potin of Clau de Nell, an estate new to me. This is a very new project funded by Anne-Claude Leflaive, with three wines, all red, a Grolleau (Anne-Claude obviously doesn’t mind engaging with a little obscurity), a Cabernet Franc and a blend of the two Cabernets. These are swish, concentrated, textured wines, the Grolleau of remarkable quality, perhaps one of the best I have tasted, the other wines no less interesting. I enjoyed Sylvain’s cheeky humour and learning about the estate, and will obviously be writing up this new addition to the Anjou portfolio soon.

Finally, I spotted a few notable vignerons who weren’t exhibiting at the tasting but were visiting, no doubt to meet old friends, to taste and to chat. Catherine Roussel of Clos Roche Blanche was one, François Pinon (pictured above) another. François was, as most readers will already know, one of the worst-hit by the hail last June, losing his entre 2013 crop. I didn’t get a chance to speak to him at Renaissance but if I see him at the Salon I will find out more.

Renaissance 2014, Day 1: Amphorae and more

Arriving just as yesterday’s Renaissance tasting opened its doors – in fact I think I got there ten minutes early – was a real advantage. There are some tables where the crowds are usually three deep, but this early in the day the hall was nearly empty, save for the growers themselves, many of whom were still scurrying about bringing in their last few boxes of samples. And so I kicked off with Richard Leroy, who was pouring his 2012s, as was Virginie Joly (pictured below, sharing a joke on a mobile with Thierry Michon – you could submit your own captions for this but I propose “Look at what that Kissack idiot has said about your wines“). It was nice to see the Joly wines down to just 14% (!!) and seemingly free of significant botrytis on the nose and palate. After tasting with Virginie it was then onto Marc Angeli, followed by the Muscadet domaines of Jo Landron and then Domaine de l’Ecu, with Frédéric Niger van Herck, with Guy Bossard hovering somewhere close by (pictured further down the page); it was interesting to learn of (and taste) new experimental wines from these two domaines, both Melon de Bourgogne fermented in amphorae, but being 2013s these wines are stll embryonic). By the time I finished here the hall was really filling up, and I was glad to have had the chance to chat with these growers before the full assault began.

Virginie Joly and Thierry Michon

Thereafter I tasted pretty widely and I have to confess I can’t remember what order things progressed in from here. But it was very good to catch up with Sébastien Riffault, whose 2011s all seem to have a much stronger oxidative character than the more pure, crystalline 2010s last year. In the same part of the world I tasted the wines of Philippe Gilbert which showed nicely. From Touraine I tasted with Yannick Amirault and Sébastien David, both great guys who make excellent wines, one range very pure and traditional, the other completely off-the-wall although the results are very good indeed. I will leave you to figure out which is which.

Frédéric Niger van Herck and Guy Bossard

Some interesting discoveries were made, including Laura Semeria of Château de Montcy, good Romorantin here, and Aymeric Hilaire of Clos Mélaric in Saumur, who makes a very good range of wines, tense and lightly oaked whites and reds that speak of limestone, under the Saumur and Saumur Puy-Notre-Dame appellations.

As always there were some fairly unusual wines here, but it was often the story that was more striking than the wine. Isn’t that often the way? Take the wines of Xavier Caillard for example; just two cuvées, Chenin Blanc and Cabernet Franc, both from the 2005 vintage, and both have spent nine years in barrel and are due for bottling this year. Both, remarkably, tasted clean as a whistle and fresh as a daisy.

I did taste elsewhere, Chinon, Coteau de Loir, Jasnières and also a couple of domaines in Bordeaux (again, interesting stories….) but that’s for another time. I’m off for more tasting today. Full notes, new profiles, updates and reports will be published in the subscriber area in the coming months.

PS. As I will be tasting at the Salon on Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday this week I won’t be making my usual site updates; normal service will resume Thursday.

Salon des Vins de Loire: Good Enough?

I made an early start out from Edinburgh on Friday morning and headed down to Angers via Paris. And if it’s Angers….. well, it must be time for the annual Salon des Vins de Loire.

The Salon is the fair for tasting the wines of the Loire and for meeting the growers. If you know how it works, and are familiar with the foibles, poor planning and unimaginative organisation then you can have a great experience here. Many of the region’s top winemakers are here pouring their wines. Sure, some big names (Foreau, Foucault and one or two others) stay away, but all the Huet, Carême, Vacheron, Pépière, Luneau-Papin, Bergerie, Ogereau, Reverdy, Pinon, Landron, Cazin, Oosterlinck, Fouquet, Champalou, Alliet, Baudry, Chidaine, Cady, Cormerais, Villeneuve, Roches Neuves and others (I don’t need to go on with more, do I?) make up for this, more than a hundred times over. And if organic, biodynamic and natural wines are your thing, than you can hook up with the likes of Joly, Angeli (pictured below, at last year’s Renaissance tasting), Pesnot and others in one of the many Salon spin-off events.

Back to the Loire: Marc Angeli

So there will be plenty of tasting over the next few days, starting with the ‘off’ tastings over the weekend, then the Salon proper on Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday. But before I sign off (I’m ready for dinner – I think I hear the Brasserie de la Gare calling) I should just return to the issue of poor organisation and weak communication around this conference. This is a chronic problem and I really believe InterLoire should do something to change how this Salon is presented to the public, and how it is run. Only in the past week Jim Budd published a letter from a US importer, forwarded to him by a Loire grower, explaining why he wouldn’t be coming to the Salon. A trade fair that does so much to alienate a valuable trade visitor? That really is something InterLoire should take notice of. To add fuel to the fire, another grower got in touch with me today to complain about the communication around the Salon, in particular the poor quality of the website (I certainly concur with that) and also – considering this fair is supposed to attract an international clientele – the lack of any language other than French. What about English? Or Chinese? (Later edit: it has since been pointed out to me that the site does have a Google translation menu, but that is a poor service for those who don’t speak French, and only adds to the amateurish feel of the site in my opinion).

To me the Salon des Vins de Loire seems stagnant. I will always come, because the tasting opportunities are unparalleled and I have contacts in and around the system so I can sort out my visit with ease. Others will not be so well connected, and will be more easily dissuaded from visiting. The only major change I have seen in six years of attending the Salon (other than a remarkable decline in attendance by UK journalists – why is that I wonder?) was a temporary move of the dates a few years ago, which I still believe – regardless of any denials – was done to divorce the Salon from the ‘off’ events which benefited from its existence but which contributed no revenue. But these ‘off’ events in themselves attract a lot of visitors, so this was a classic case of InterLoire shooting itself in the foot. But at least it showed that change is possible; the next change for new InterLoire president Gérard Vinet to consider might well be revolutionising the backroom organisation and the communication surrounding the event. There’s nothing wrong with the venue, or the growers, or the wines; these are good enough. It’s how the rest of it ticks behind the scenes that needs reinvigorating.