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Harvest 2017 in Bourgueil

Over the next couple of weeks I will be spending a lot of time catching up with vignerons in the Loire Valley, learning about the 2017 season and harvest, and tasting the results. So it seems like a good time to look back to a couple of harvest visits I made in September last year. Today Bourgueil, and a trip to Château de Minière.

Turning up late morning I found the pickers in the vines close to the front of the château. It was a surprisingly small team, just a handful of people (perhaps the others had gone to prepare lunch!). The picking for Bourgeuil wasn’t due to begin until the following week; this was an early pick for the sparkling wines.

Château de Minière

This was one of the final hods of Cabernet Franc to be emptied into the trailer. It was grey and overcast; I might have taken a better picture if I had played around with the shutter speed a little more, but you only have one chance!

Château de Minière

Once full the trailer is taken to the cellars, where it is carefully positioned (this took several attempts) so that the extending rear tray is directly over the pneumatic press. Look at all that Cabernet Franc! Heaven!

Château de Minière

The trailer is elevated, and it has a vibrating mechanism, so that once positioned the fruit is simply ‘vibrated’ out into the press. As this is for sparkling, there is no destemming required.

Château de Minière

In it goes….

Château de Minière

The process is supervised from atop the press, to ensure no stray bunches miss the opening, and presumably to remove any stray leaves, snails, frogs, fish or disorientated wildebeest, although most of the sorting has been done in the vineyard. Supervision can be done with the ‘kneeling’ technique….

Château de Minière

….or the straddling technique. The only work required is a little packing down into the press to ensure it all fits in.

Château de Minière

Once done, the juice is collected and pumped to stainless steel vats, for the first fermentation. Having had a taste from a vat which had been filled a week or so earlier, the fermentation mostly completed, I was struck by the pure and vibrant colour, and the classically floral Cabernet Franc character.

Next time, a few harvest pictures from Vouvray…..

Winedoctor Holiday Offer

It’s already the second week of January and while my mind is turning to organising my forthcoming trips out to the Salon des Vins de Loire in Angers and Vinovision in Paris, I know many will be looking further into the future and asking the question; just where to go on summer holiday this year?

I had two fabulous busman’s holidays in 2017, both in my new house in the Loire Valley. We had two weeks of glorious weather in June (“c’est comme août”, exclaimed my only neighbour each time we met) and two further weeks of thankfully less balmy but lovely weather during the harvest, in September. I made some great visits to see some picking with Matthieu Baudry and to Benoit Amirault, and enjoyed calling in on Jérôme Billard and Château de Minière, among others. In the evening I would chill in the hot tub (it’s a hard life, but somebody has to do it) and watch the bats leave their daytime shelter for a night of hunting. Glass in hand, of course.

Hot tub

With subscriber numbers up again during 2017 things are looking good for 2018, and so to celebrate I have decided to offer an exclusive 15% discount to Winedoctor subscribers looking to holiday in the Loire Valley and maybe visit some of the vignerons I write about (that’s optional of course; alternatively, spend your days peering at châteaux, checking out the local restaurants or rowing up and down the Vienne, whatever takes your fancy). The house has three double bedrooms by the way, and the addition of a sofa bed in the third bedroom means the house will sleep eight in total. Anybody with a 12-month subscription to Winedoctor can have a 15% discount on the rental price for the 2018 summer season, and I will keep this offer open until Valentine’s Day, February 14th 2018.

To see more of my gite, including a gallery of images, suggested travel options, prices (don’t forget to subtract 15%) and availability check out Les Lavandes. Please email me if you need any other info, or indeed if you wish to discuss making a booking.

A Look Back on 2017: Part 2

In July I headed out to the Loire Valley for the fourth time in 2017; I spent one night at Les Lavandes before meeting up in Angers with Master of Wine Richard Hemming. From there we struck out together leading a team of Russian sommeliers to some of the region’s top domaines. At first I was very excited for the trip as it seemed like an opportunity to show a group of enthusiastic professionals some of the up-and-coming and unsung names in the region (perfect for sommelier hand-selling, surely?), but the Russians weren’t interested, and instead requested a programme of famous names. So we went to Clos de la Coulée de Serrant, Alphonse Mellot, Didier Dagueneau and the like.

Happily I had some free time each morning (while Richard entertained with an MW-style tasting and probably a tinkle on the ivories too) so I visited some of those up-and-coming names; I called in for the first time on Brendan Stater-West in Saumur, Matthieu Delaporte in Chavignol, as well as visiting some more familiar names such as Gérard Boulay where I enjoyed tasting back to the 1990s and Henri Bourgeois where I had a first taste of their new single-vineyard wines. All in all it was a fun-packed trip that also included visits to Domaine Guiberteau, Domaine Vacheron and Jonathan Pabiot, the latter a fascinating visit during which we checked out some of his vines with Esca, and Jonathan’s radical (although, it has to be said, hardly novel) approach to treating this disease.

A Look Back on 2017

Once done I headed back to Les Lavandes for one night, for some emergency gardening and other repairs before our first tenants arrived for their holidays. We got some good feedback so things seem to have gone well. During August I seemed to mostly be occupied with hunting down the latest releases from Richard Leroy, seemingly ever more difficult to get hold of, for my own cellar. I think I managed two bottles each of the latest vintage.

In September it was back out to Les Lavandes again, partly for a holiday, but I wasn’t going to let the ongoing harvest, early for the Loire Valley, pass me by. I called in on Jérôme Billard again, a brief flying visit, before checking out the harvest with Matthieu Baudry, Benoit Amirault and at Château de Minière again. The team working with Benoit were happy to pose for a nearly-the-end-of-harvest photograph – as you can probably tell this was requested by the three lads on the left.

A Look Back on 2017

In October and November my focus was on Bordeaux (about time, you might say), first with the Union des Grands Crus tasting in London, for the 2015 vintage, and then the Institute of Masters of Wine annual Bordeaux tasting, which featured the 2013 vintage. The first was a hurried affair; a recent (temporary) change in venue means that the time for tasting is shorter than it used to be, so it is impossible to get a complete look at the vintage. It was always impossible anyway, as there are no first growths, super-seconds, supreme St Emilions or prime Pomerols in the tasting. Usually I head out to Bordeaux afterwards to taste these, but some winemakers are unhappy to open their wines so soon after bottling and thus the trip has never been as complete as I would like. So this year I have deferred my visit until June 2018, so I will publish my Bordeaux 2015 in-bottle report then. As for the Bordeaux 2013 tasting, this was a sparsely attended affair, the vintage’s reputation clearly dissuading many from attending. I’m glad I made the effort though, as the only way to judge wine is to taste it, and if the opportunity arises, retaste it. I will publish my report on these wines in January 2018.

A Look Back on 2017

All in all 2017 has been a great year for Winedoctor. I have published 22 brand new Loire profiles and a similar number for Bordeaux, as well as updating others, alongside a huge number of tasting reports and tasting updates (I really can’t face counting these up), as well as my Loire 2016 and Bordeaux 2016 reports of course, and retrospectives on Bordeaux 2007, Loire 2007, Loire 2002 and Loire 1997, with Bordeaux 2013 and Bordeaux 2015 reports yet to come. I also completed my guide to the wines of the Nantais this year. In 2017 I also introduced a new monthly subscription, to sit alongside the pre-existing annual subscription, which seems to have had the effect of pushing subscriber numbers further north once again.

So what of 2018? Hopefully I can continue next year in the same vein. I plan to complete the full round of tastings pretty much as described above, and to add a guide to the Central Vineyards to match that for the Nantais, as well as adding and updating as many Loire and Bordeaux profiles as possible, so that the site remains up-to-date and relevant. I have always viewed it as a permanently evolving ‘online book’ rather than a simple blog where only the most recent article really matters, so in my eyes updating old profiles as well as adding new ones is an essential part of how the site runs. Hopefully, this approach suits my subscribers – I am sure you would let me know if that were not the case!

My thanks go, as always, to all my subscribers. Here’s hoping that all reading this had a similarly joyful 2017, and best wishes to everybody for good fortune in 2018.

A Look Back on 2017: Part 1

It has been a busy old year, 2017, with a heavy focus on the Loire Valley, for perhaps obvious reasons. Here’s a look back on the first six months.

On December 31st 2016 I took possession of Les Lavandes, a restored farmhouse not far from Chinon, perfect for exploring Anjou and Touraine, as well as occasionally striking out further afield. It’s a maison secondaire available to rent – I haven’t emigrated to France, although the thought is increasingly tempting. I first had the chance to visit (as owner, anyway – obviously I viewed it before buying!) during the second week of January. It was freezing; while ideal for a spring, summer or autumn break it will definitely need a heating upgrade before I return during the winter months. A visit to meet Aurélien Revillot was memorable, especially checking out his vines by moonlight, and the episode of rally cross through the vineyards at night. When it came to pushing his van out of the mud, I think Aurélien wished he had worn something more suitable than his slippers.

A Look Back on 2017

Thereafter it was all go for the annual round of Loire tastings, with a focus on the 2016 vintage. First it was the Benchmark tasting by the Sydneys in London, then out to the Salon des Vins de Loire in Angers, then back to the UK and then out the following week for the first ever Vinovision cool climate wine fair in Paris. The 2016 vintage was hit by frost in various parts of the Loire Valley, and these trips were a good opportunity to learn all about it, as well as taste a lot of other wines of course. The highlight of the Salon was perhaps an invitation to a fifteen-vintage vertical tasting at Domaine du Closel. I met familiar faces and some new names here; full marks if you can identify the four below, pictured at Vinovision*.

A Look Back on 2017

After the Bordeaux Index Bordeaux 2007 tasting in February it was judging time. I did quite a few judging panels for Decanter during the year. They were great fun. March was Muscadet (two days of it in total) which was published over about ten pages when it hit the presses, probably the biggest splurge on Muscadet in print in years. Then before long it was out to Bordeaux for the 2016 vintage primeurs, always one of the most important and busiest trips of the year. Apart from being stopped by the gendarmes for failing to come to a halt at a priorité a droite junction it was a thankfully uneventful week in Bordeaux during which I encountered some beautiful young wines and learnt a lot more about the region, especially during a lunch with Michel Rolland. As usual I visited all the big-name châteaux, meeting the teams, such as Aymeric de Gironde and Dominique Arangoïts at Château Cos d’Estournel, and learning about the vintage (I had also visited in December 2016 of course, so it wasn’t exactly new information)

A Look Back on 2017

Later in the year Aymeric left Château Cos d’Estournel to take up a position managing Château Troplong-Mondot, following its sale by Xavier Pariente, undoubtedly one of the more significant news stories to come out of Bordeaux during the year.

Later in April, while still slogging away publishing my primeurs notes I headed down to London again for the Decanter World Wine Awards, where I judged for the full four days (the judging goes on for a whole week, but sitting only on the Loire panel we are usually finished within four days). I have only ever done two or three days before, so it was great to see out the whole tasting, including revisiting the gold-medal winners and deciding on the trophies at the end of the week. I have already booked in for the full four days during 2018. Sadly, as we tasted, we learnt of devastating frosts across France, hitting Bordeaux hard (surely their worst since 1991, at least) and also the Loire Valley (for the second year running, a potential catastrophe). I wrote a series of frost reports at the time, starting with Muscadet. I hope I don’t have to write anything similar for a long time.

A Look Back on 2017

May was a quieter month (thank heavens) on the wine front (I have plenty of other jobs to keep me busy though), but then in June it was back out to Les Lavandes for two weeks of back-breaking DIY, cleaning and gardening during which a few wine visits served as light relief. I called in on Jérôme Billard, Matthieu Baudry, Château de Minière (I was keen to visit after rating one wine very highly in the Decanter Awards) and took a fantastic tour of the Anjou vineyards with Emmanuel Ogereau. It was also great to call in on some local restaurants and wine bars, such as the Auberge du Val de Vienne, La Cabane à Vin and La Cave Voltaire to see where I would be eating most frequently during the coming years!

Continued in part two……..

*Clockwise, from top left; Jean-Philippe Blot, Adèle Rouzé, Arnaud Bourgeois, Céline Champalou.

Back in the Loire: Painting and Picking

I am currently out in the Loire Valley, staying in the house that I bought last year, just south of Chinon. I currently have a two-week schedule of gardening, maintenance and bricolage to look forward to, but hopefully I will also have a little time to take a look at some of the harvest, locally at least.

The weather is holding at the moment, warm but fresher than it was when I was here in June and July. It rained all day long on Sunday, but after a fog-bound Monday morning the skies cleared and Monday afternoon and Tuesday have both been very sunny.

Loire 2017

At about midday on Monday, on the way back from BricoMarché, the boot of my car loaded with paint, I called in on Jérôme Billard of Domaine de la Noblaie. Jérôme (pictued above, on the right) was loading his new pneumatic press with the first picking of his Chenin Blanc. It was really a ‘tidy up’ of the vines, going for the more questionable bunches, with a plan to pick fruit in good condition Tuesday and Wednesday.

Despite the horrendous frost that struck this year (the second frosted vintage in a row) this is stil a vintage with promise, as the weather since June has on the whole been wonderful. The forecast looks good for the moment, as although there was more rain forecast at the end of the week this has now changed, with sunshine and at most light-to-moderate cloud expected through to next Tuesday. I am keeping my fingers crossed (when not painting, anyway).

While I am out in the Loire I won’t be making behind-paywall updates, but will post the occasional blog entry if I have time.

Sunflowers and Sancerre

The sun is shining over the sunflowers south of Chinon this morning. I have come out to the Loire once again for a week of wine work, part Winedoctor research, part tour guide.

Perhaps ‘tour guide’ doesn’t quite cover it. For the next week Richard Hemming MW and I will be leading a group of high-flying sommeliers around some of the leading domaines of the Loire Valley. It’s an interesting programme we have drawn up, starting at the domaine of Nicolas Joly on Monday morning, with subsequent visits to Domaine Guiberteau, Alphonse Mellot (hopefully Alphonse Mellot Senior, France’s coolest septuagenarian, will be there), Louis-Benjamin Dagueneau and a handful of others, finishing up Thursday evening.

Sunflowers

As Richard will be leading some MW-style tutored tastings in the morning I will have some free time, and as that will be mostly up in Sancerre I have arranged some visits of my own, to see Pierre Martin, Vincent Delaporte, Gérard Boulay (all confirmed) and Gitton Père (not yet confirmed – c’mon Pascal!).

Hopefully I will have a half-day back at my house on Friday, and should be able to make a couple of visits in Chinon as well before I return to the UK at the end of the week.

With so many visits, travelling and dinners lined up I don’t think I will have time for regular Winedoctor updates this week. I will try to post a few pictures of where I have been on social media though, as often as I can, making good use of the new EU regulations on roaming charges to do so.

Three from Domaine des Tilleuls

Before I take a break for two weeks of decorating and tasting (hopefully not at the same time) in the Loire Valley, there’s time for one last tasting report on three wines from Domaine des Tilleuls.

This domaine in the Muscadet Sèvre et Maine region has been in the same family for five generations, the latest to arrive being brother and sister Jérôme and Noémie Houssin. I met Jérôme at Vinovision in Paris earlier this year, and then I met his wines again in the recently published Decanter Lees-Aged Muscadet tasting (in the June 2017 edition). I was pleased to receive three sample bottles from Jérôme a few weeks ago.

Domaine des Tilleuls

The philosophy here is conventional, with an agriculture raisonnée approach, the aim being to reduce but not necessarily eradicate vineyard treatments. There are 35 hectares of vines, led by Melon de Bourgogne but with Chardonnay, Sauvignon Blanc and Cabernet Franc for IGP wines. Vinifications are traditional, and some cuvées are bottled under a DIAM closure.

Domaine des Tilleuls Chardonnay Sélection (IGP Val de Loire) 2016: This is classic Loire Chardonnay on the nose, with some slightly bitter notes of leafy white peach and apricot stone, although there is a touch of pine needle and lemon pith vaguely reminiscent of Sauvignon Blanc more than Chardonnay. The palate is fresh, lightly textured, with peach skin and pine needle fruit, a slightly supple, resinous texture, and a short and pithy finish. Quite charming, in the apéro style. 14.5/20 • 89/100 (May 2017)

Domaine des Tilleuls Muscadet Sèvre et Maine sur lie Essentielle 2016: A very pale hue. An atttractive nose, on a classically styled base of salted green pears, but with an aromatic, perfumed note reminiscent of honeysuckle and acacia. The palate has a supple weight, very lightly creamed fruit character moving from pears to white peach skin and apricot stone, with a fresh, tingling acid spine, presented in a very delicate but precise manner. A short finish. This is good. 15/20 • 90/100 (May 2017)

Domaine des Tilleuls Muscadet Sèvre et Maine Les Quatre Chanteaux 2014: This has a pale straw hue. It starts with a nose of salty white peach skin, dried citrus pith, with a dry and bitter character. A firmly constructed palate, with the same pithy substance and energy as suggested by the nose, a dry structure, a bright acid-fresh character and a long pithy bitter finish. Fresh, supple, with a very saline character, but it needs time in the glass to shows its best, a couple of hours at least. A Muscadet for the decanter, maybe? 15.5/20 • 91/100 (May 2017)

A Reduced Salon des Vins de Loire in 2018

News broke this week that the 2018 Salon des Vins de Loire is to receive a serious pruning. For as long as I have attended the Salon it has always been a three-day fair, but the 2018 edition has been pruned to just two days, Monday 5th and Tuesday 6th of February.

In the broader context of Loire Valley wine, while very disheartening, this news is not that surprising. The fair has been losing exhibitors for several years, the figures tumbling from 400 exhibitors in 2016 to just 230 in 2017. The reasons for this are complex. First, taking a stand at the Salon is very expensive, and exhibitors thus need to see some benefit or return (it is, first and foremost, a working trade fair). Secondly, it is arranged by InterLoire, a vital organisation representing the majority of the Loire Valley (the Pays Nantais, Anjou and Touraine) and yet many Loire vignerons feel the body does not serve them well.

Salon des Vins de Loire in 2018

Thirdly, the Loire Valley has had its fair share of crises recently, from hailstorms in Vouvray in 2013, through to damaging frost in 2016, and now even more devastating and more widespread frost in 2017. With less wine to sell, and tighter finances, vignerons naturally see less appeal in attending an expensive trade fair. Fourthly, this year saw the birth of Vinovision, which was held the following week in Paris. I went to Vinovision, and felt that it was fairly quiet compared to the Salon des Vins de Loire, it was much smaller, and many visitors seemed more interested in the small Jura, Champagne and Burgundy sections than the more expansive Loire section. Nevertheless, it is competition.

The 2016 Salon was very quiet on the first day, a Sunday, partly I suspect because (a) many who visited didn’t want to spoil their weekend, and delayed coming until Monday, which was busier, and (b) numerous competing ‘off’ salons are also held over the weekend, e.g. Les Anonymes, Les Pénitentes, La Dive Bouteille in Saumur and the Renaissance tasting in the Grenier and Hôpital Saint Jean. Nevertheless it is Sunday that InterLoire has decided to prune. This is very sad for the Loire Valley as a region, and my only hope is that somehow (perhaps with some less frost-bitten vintages, fingers crossed) InterLoire can in 2019 and 2020 turn around what seems at the moment to be an inevitable and possibly terminal decline.

A Dozen Random Wines

A handful of notes on a dozen random wines recently tasted:

First, six from the Loire Valley…

Domaine Sylvain Gaudron La Symphonie Triple Zéro 2009: A sparkling cuvée made presumably along the same lines of Jacky Blot’s Triple Zero, with no chaptalisation, no added sugar in the liqueur de tirage, and no dosage. From a warmer vintage, this has an appealing nose of ripe fruit, white peach and sweet grilled pears, quite perfumed with nuances of white pepper and saffron, pâté d’amandes and orange zest. The palate has a quite soft and plush character, peach cream lifted by notes of orange leaf, but with bitterness and acidity for balance. It has a bright mousse, and it remains long, fresh and energetic through the finish. Good. 16/20 • 92/100 (May 2017)

Domaine Huet Vouvray Pétillant 2009: A pale straw hue in the glass, with a plentiful bead. The nose speaks of the ripeness of the vintage, with poached pears and preserved lemons, quite exotic in style, with little touches of saffron, honeyed cashew, white pepper and mineral. The palate shows a creamy minerality and bright acidity, wrapped within the same exuberant fruit, giving it a supple character. It remains fresh and pure, with orange zest and sweet pear vitality, but underneath that little touch of nut is moving more into a lightly caramelised note of gingerbread. A bitter Chenin bite in the end, a gentle and sweet texture, and a prickling pétillance leading into a dry and pithy finish. Very good indeed. 17.5/20 • 95/100 (May 2017)

Château de Varennes Savennières 2010: One of the grandes dames of the Savennières appellation, along with Château de la Roches aux Moines, Château de Chamboureau and others, this is an estate I have encountered less often than its peers. It is in the same ownership as Château Belle-Rive in Quarts de Chaume, and Château Yon-Figeac in St Emilion. The 2010 has a confident if rather pale straw hue. That is one of the more appealing features of the wine, which has rather dry, bitter, baked-lemon nose. The palate follows this lead, showing a bitter, lemony acidity, a loose and strident character, with lean fruit and a short and bitter finish. 12/20 • 84/100 (May 2017)

Patrice Colin Coteaux du Vendômois Rouge 2013: This has a very pale hue, quite typical of Pineau d’Aunis. There are no real surprises on the nose either, which kicks off with scents of dry and grainy red-cherry fruit, spiced with some decidedly green notes of pepper, menthol, cherry leaf and angelica. This theme continues on the palate, with a lean and tense style, a chalky composure, with tart redcurrant fruit. It has a sappy substance and a fresh, acid-bright, sour-fruit finish. It lacks a little harmony and charm. But it was a very difficult vintage for reds. 13/20 • 86/100 (May 2017)

Domaine M. & S. Bouchet Le Sylphe (Vin de France) 2012: This domaine is run by Matthieu Bouchet, the son of the late François Bouchet, who could easily be regarded as the godfather of biodynamics in the Loire Valley. It has a good colour, dark with a slightly dusty and claretty rim. There follows a nose of grilled cherries, softly degraded and a little warm and diffuse, with an increasingly apparent note of game which hints persistently of Brettanomyces. It has a rather cool entry, lightly silky, maintaining a nice texture through the middle, but with more Brett character here, flattening out in the finish, and ultimately turning a little sour. 13.5/20 • 87/100 (May 2017)

Clos des Quarterons St Nicolas de Bourgueil Les Quarterons 2013: From one of the most unreliable vintages in recent memory, this wine – from a domaine certified biodynamic in this vintage – has an unsurprisingly translucent hue. The nose offers up a little cooked raspberry and waxy candle smoke. In the mouth it is soft, lightly peppery, delicate in terms of its tannic structure, overall rather relaxed, loose and open. It is clean though, which is something, and there are some touches of spice and energy, but it shows more structure than fruit or substance. And there is a little waxy-oily note to it, matching the aromatic profile. All I can say is that, for the vintage, it’s a good effort. Tasted at 28-50. 13.5/20 • 87/100 (May 2017)

And six more from other regions….

Bruno Paillard Blanc de Blancs Grand Cru NV: Made using only Chardonnay from the Côte des Blancs, with reserve wines from 25 vintages, dating back to 1985, this wine spent four months sur lattes, with a further ten months after disgorgement before release. It has a lemon-gold hue, with a fresh and plentiful bead. The nose is all dried orchard fruits, presented in a very pure style. There is a light touch of ground almond to it but on the whole it remains very fresh and primary. The palate is rich in orchard fruit flavours, matching the nose, but with a citrus vivacity here, wrapped within a vinous substance coming from those reserve wines, lightly minerally at the end, with fine acidity and a plentiful mousse. Beautifully direct, with a fine, pithy confidence and acid definition to the finish. 17/20 • 94/100 (May 2017)

Bollinger Grande Année Rosé 1999: From a mix of 82% grand and 18% premier cru vineyards, using 63% Pinot Noir and 37% Chardonnay. This was then topped up with Pinot Noir from the Côte aux Enfants. It has a gloriously confident sunset-pink hue. I find a richly polished character on the nose, all strawberry and raspberry cream, intertwined with soft biscuit and vanilla macaroon. Aromatically this is a reassuring and confident wine, nevertheless it still steps up a gear on the palate which is pure and confident, with a vibrant acidity and lively but still quite fine mousse. This is evolving nicely, showing vanilla-coated summer fruits, pure, deliciously elegant, poised and composed, with a long and confident finish. Absolutely top drawer. 18/20 • 96/100 (May 2017)

Domaine de la Grand Cour Fleurie 2013: It’s a long time since a glass of Fleurie was last raised to my lips. This one doesn’t have an inspiring visual impact, with a cherry-red, loose and lightly hazy appearance. In keeping with this the nose is very open and bright, with scents of strawberry leaf, crystallised cherry, red liquorice, angelica, nettles and fennel. This is followed by bright and grainy strawberry and red cherry fruit on the palate, rested on a gravelly substance, within a very light and juicy texture. Lean, with a firm acid frame, it culminates in a sour and sappy finish. It is bright, sappy and direct, and would work well with a plate of finocchiona. 15.5/20 • 91/100 (May 2017)

Trimbach Pinot Gris Sélection de Grains Nobles 1986: The last of a handful of half bottles from my cellar, encountered by chance when excavating long-buried bottled. This is a rich gold with a tinge of green in the glass. On the nose I get bacon and baked orchard fruits, with white pepper, grilled oranges, ginger and clove. It is sweet and polished, with a grippy texture, and a touch of coffee and walnut. It focuses down into a gentle sweetness on the palate, with a quite charming style. This is a wine that has faded somewhat, but it remains convincing, with plenty of spice and energy, as well as a savoury, pithy-peppery succulence. It holds up well even into the finish, which has a beautiful texture, drying out a little perhaps, but with a good sense of balance. This is fading and yet still nebulously delightful. 17/20 • 94/100 (May 2017)

Henriques & Henriques Madeira Malvasia Ten Years Old NV: This wine has a really roasted-walnut brown appearance, with a wide green rim. The nose is all walnuts and raisins, and toast spread with axle grease, and yet despite this richness it remains quite bright and pure. A fresh style, sweetly polished but with vigorous lifted acidity, giving it a sense of cool demeanour. It has raisined fruit though to the finish, all caramel and walnuts, yet it remains so fresh and vivacious thanks to that acidity. A long and warming finish completes the picture. 16/20 • 92/100

Dow’s Crusted Port NV: This wine has a wonderful appearance in the glass, showing a dark black core with a crimson rim. The aromatics are just charming, with scents of black raspberry, sweet cranberry and black cherry, spiced up with cigar tobacco and rose petals. The palate is textured, with creamed fruit, grippy and bright and admittedly lightly spirity, but there is plenty of character and charm here. It is bright, with raspberry rubbed in charcoal, lifted cherry skins, sweet fruit and scented rose petals. A punchy, fragrant, fruit-rich style. 16.5/20 • 93/100 (May 2017)

Centre Frost, April 2017

After an extensive look at the 2017 frost damage in Muscadet, Anjou and Touraine, we come finally to the vineyards in Centre. These included some of the Loire Valley’s most famous appellations, Sancerre and Pouilly-Fumé, as well as the less-widely appreciated Menetou-Salon, Reuilly, Quincy and the like.

I spoke first with Stéphane Gerardin, of Henri Bourgeois. This long-established family firm is based in Chavignol, and is best known for its various cuvées of Sancerre, but they have vines dotted across many of the other Centre appellations, and through their work as a négociant they take fruit from many other regions.

Stéphane told me, “The frost particularly hit Pouilly this year. It also affected various spots around Sancerre, but – like last year – not as bad as Pouilly. Our vines suffered significant damage despite the collective efforts of the vignerons to fight the frost. We lit fires and burnt candles or bales of straw at the end of the night to try to warm the air around the vines, and we moved the air using wind turbines where possible. It is sadly too soon to estimate the level of damage, but it is clear that the harvest will be reduced”. It seems that the northern and eastern sectors were worst hit, including Sainte-Gemme, Sury-en-Vaux, Maimbray, Chaudenay, Verdigny and Thauvenay, with some vineyards 100% damaged.

Frost 2017

Also in Sancerre, Thibaut Boulay and I spoke a week ago about the situation there. Thibaut is the son of Gérard Boulay. “It is always difficult to state the exact proportion of buds killed by the frost. In Chavignol, the slopes have been relatively spared. It is at the base of the slopes that the damage is most marked. On these vulnerable parts, we can estimate a loss of 20% to 25%”. Thibaut was another to highlight the more significant damage in Pouilly this year. “The damage sadly seems more significant there, despite the measures taken”.

The level of damage in Pouilly is made plain by a bulletin released locally, which Stéphane forwarded to me. “In Pouilly at least one-third of the vineyard has had more than 80% damage, and one-third has between 30% and 70% damage”. This seems very extensive, at a similar level to the damage done in Montlouis.

Looking elsewhere, I also spoke to Bertrand Minchin (pictured above), of La Tour Saint-Martin. It was last Thursday that we spoke. “Up until today the vineyards of Menetou-Salon have been spared. It is not the case in Valençay though, where I have lost two-thirds of my red crop, and one-third of the white”. Sadly, even with Menetou-Salon spared, I am sure the loss of a large percentage in Valençay, especially taking into account the frost damage also suffered last year, will make things difficult for Bertrand.

The vignerons of Centre-Val-de-Loire, and indeed all those along the Loire Valley, and of course those who have suffered in other regions in France and Germany, remain foremost in my thoughts this week.