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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.

2013 Winedoctor Disclosures

For several years now I have made an annual statement of support for Winedoctor; a way of ensuring transparency regarding who in Bordeaux and the Loire Valley (and anywhere else for that matter) helps me out, so that readers can take this into account when I report on the wines. I used to store these disclosure statements in my ‘Features’ section, and although this part of the Winedoctor website is still free to read, outside the paywall, I thought I should bring my disclosure statement out onto the blog lest I be criticised for hiding it in an inaccessible corner of the website.

I would usually publish this review in late December but the past six weeks have been particularly hectic chez Winedoctor, hence the delay.

First of all, as is customary, some details of support and other benefits received during the course of 2013:

InterLoire: Through Sopexa, who currently handle marketing for InterLoire, the generic promotional body for most of the Loire’s appellations, I received support to attend the Salon des Vins de Loire in Angers in February. I was reimbursed the cost of my petrol, airport parking, flights and rail fares in France. InterLoire also paid two nights accommodation directly to my hotel. I paid for the other nights myself. In addition, I also accepted a trip to the Muscadet region in spring, funded by InterLoire and arranged through Sopexa. Costs involved included flights from Edinburgh to Nantes, via London City Airport, accommodation for two nights, transport over three days, and subsistence including lunches and two ‘winemaker dinners’.
Le Bureau Interprofessionnel des Vins du Centre: I accepted two nights accommodation in a hotel in Chavignol, the expense met by the BIVC, the regional body for the Central Loire appellations including Sancerre, Pouilly-Fumé and so on. Other expenses I met myself.
Bouvet-Ladubay: I attended a spectacle, a party in the Bouvet-Ladubay cellars during the 2013 Salon des Vins de Loire. I took advantage of free transport there from Angers and back again at the end of the evening.
Yvon Mau: I was grateful for accommodation provided by the Bordeaux négociant Yvon Mau during the primeurs week. I accepted five nights in a left-bank château, uncatered accommodation and possibly the most spooky stay in Bordeaux I have ever experienced – I was alone in a very big cru bourgeois château, in the wilds of the Médoc. Other aspects of the trip and expenses I met myself (see below).
Gifts received: A Christmas hamper from Sopexa, sent to all journalists who submitted suggestions for the Cracking Wines from France tasting. I received two bottles of wine, from Domaine Luneau-Papin and Les Vignerons du Pallet, during my trip to Muscadet.
Samples received: a small number of wine samples were received, principally from UK merchants such as Cadman Fine Wines and Hyde Park Wines, and where the wines have been written up this has been declared.
Lunching and dining: I accepted dinner on one night paid for by Yvon Mau at Les Sources de Caudalie during the Bordeaux primeurs. I also had lunch at Château Haut-Bailly. I had lunch with Claude Lafond, in Reuilly (pictured below). During the Salon des Vins de Loire I had dinner with Claude Papin, Vincent Ogereau and Yves Guégniard which the three vignerons paid for.

On the whole I think I have managed to cut back further on my dependence/association with the wine trade in 2013. Much of the costs associated with my trips to Bordeaux and the Loire I have met myself, and in each case outside funding has come from négociants or generic bodies rather than individual producers. The only other region I visited during 2013 was Madeira, again I funded this myself. I have not taken any other press trips, single producer or otherwise.

2013 Winedoctor Disclosures

As is customary I also document below the expenses I met myself during the course of 2013:

London, Loire Benchmark: I met the cost of a trip to London for the Loire Benchmark Tasting, principally for the Loire 2012 vintage. Costs included rail fare to London and subsistence.
Angers: Most travel expenses for the Salon des Vins de Loire were met my InterLoire, but I paid for three nights in a hotel and all my subsistence other than my dinner with Claude Papin & co (see above).
Bordeaux, Primeurs: I travelled to Bordeaux for a week and met my travel costs myself; this includes transport to airport, flights to Bordeaux, and hire car for eight days. Other than one meal paid for by Yvon Mau I met all subsistence costs myself. I paid for two nights in a hotel in Libourne to complement my stay in the château on the left bank.
London, RAW and Real Wine Fairs: In 2013 these fairs were at different times (I enjoyed the convenience of ‘competing’ fairs in 2012) and I paid for travel from Edinburgh to both, by train in each case, myself. Extra costs were incurred in each case, (a) by missing my train and having to stay overnight in London for one, and (b) hitting a deer on the way home from the railway station on the other. These were expensive tastings to attend; I probably could have bought all the wines I tasted online and had them shipped to Edinburgh for less than the cost of the repairs to my car. Such is life. Still, I suppose I came off better than the deer.
Madeira: I covered the costs of transfers, flights, hire car and accommodation in Madeira myself. I paid for travel to visit Barbeito and Blandy’s.
London: Costs associated with attendance at four London tastings in March, September, October and November, these being the Union des Grands de Bordeaux, Institute of Masters of Wine, Cru Bourgeois and Bordeaux Index tastings were met by me. In the latter case this was by train; for the other three tastings, the costs included flights from Edinburgh, transfers, parking and so on.
Loire, Harvest Trip: I covered the expenses incurred during this trip, including parking and flights, myself. I did not pay for the two nights in Chavignol (see above). I stayed and travelled with Jim Budd so there were no other accommodation costs, but I contributed towards subsistence.
Bordeaux, Harvest Trip: I covered the cost of this trip myself; this includes flights from London and back to Edinburgh, airport parking, hire car for four days, subsistence and three nights in Bordeaux hotels.

That concludes my disclosure statement for 2013. As indicated above, I have added disclosures to wine sample reviews where appropriate, so I hope transparency is adequate. As for the year ahead I will, as I stated in my recent report on the Gitton Père et Fils Sancerre X-elis, be focusing on Sancerre and other Central Loire appellations (as I have neglected them for so long, and my enthusiasm has been reignited by my recent trip to the Loire), reporting on Loire 2013, and expanding my coverage throughout. For Bordeaux, I will have my usual cycle of Bordeaux reports (expect detail on the 2013, 2012, 2010 and 2004 vintages, as well as from-my-cellar reports on 2001 and 1999), more Bordeaux profiles for smaller estates (smaller in ambition, and in price too) from left and right banks, and the completion of my Bordeaux guide (at which point I move onto the Loire, a daunting prospect indeed). Santé!

2013 Reflections: Loire

It has been a busy year for me as far as the Loire is concerned. I visited in February, staying over for five days for the Salon des Vins de Loire, visiting the Renaissance and Dive Bouteille tastings at the same time. I returned in June, passing a couple of days in the Muscadet region, visiting and tasting at a handful of top domaines. Finally, I returned in October, making some harvest-time visits with Jim Budd in Bourgueil, St-Nicolas-de-Bourgueil, Vouvray, other Touraine vineyards, Reuilly, Menetou-Salon, Sancerre and Pouilly-Fumé. As a consequence I have made 90 Loire updates to Winedoctor this year, including tasting and vintage reports, reports on latest releases from a number of domaines, as well as new profiles and profile updates. This doesn’t include my weekend wine reports, which also tend to feature the Loire. I can’t be sure how many new tasting notes or words written that would translate into, other than “a lot”.

A scan through my tasting notes reveals about fifteen wines that really rose a notch above all the wines of the Loire Valley that I tasted and drank this year. Unsurprisingly, these make for a roll-call of the great and the good from the Loire.

From Muscadet, both the Muscadet Sèvre et Maine sur lie Le L d’Or 2012 and the Muscadet Sèvre et Maine Château-Thébaud Clos des Morines 2010 showed superb potential; both were samples from cuve though (the Château-Thébaud cuvée is a cru communal prototype which sees three years on the lees before bottling). In each case new blood is at least partially responsible; at Luneau-Papin, Pierre-Marie Luneau and his wife Marie Chartier (pictured below) are now in charge, while at Domaine de la Pépière Rémi Branger works alongside Marc Ollivier.

Loire 2013

Although I found some enticing examples of Sancerre and Pouilly-Fumé this year, from the likes of Vacheron, Pierre Martin and Jonathon Pabiot, none really pushed all the buttons required to make it into my list of favourite wines. And as I haven’t really got to grips with the Côte Roannaise, that means all our other wines come from the Loire heartland of Anjou, Saumur and Touraine. Well, just Anjou and Touraine, actually.

I have always been keen to promote the Loire as an excellent source of dry white wine and also red wine, rather than just the sweet wines which are already widely appreciated, nevertheless my look back at 2013 might suggest that sweet wines rule the roost. Two dry wines, the 2009 Les Noëls de Montbenault and 2005 Les Noëls de Montbenault from Richard Leroy were superb, but no other dry wines could quite match up to their performance, although to be fair many wines from the likes of Pithon-Paillé came close, clearly showing what an exciting source of dry whites the Anjou appellation can be.

Loire 2013

It was the sweet wines that dominate my memories of 2013 though, in particular from Château Pierre-Bise and Domaine de la Bergerie, many of which I tasted with proprietors Claude Papin and Yves Guégniard early on in the year. From Claude, the 2011 Chaume was an absolute delight, really the equal of his 2010 Quarts de Chaume. But from Yves three vintages of his Quarts de Chaume, 2011, 2009 and 2007, served in succession were simply breathtaking, the 2007 tear-jerking in its lifted purity and almost ethereal aromatics. I have been tucking the Pierre-Bise wines – dry as well as sweet of course – away in the cellar for some time, but if anyone would like to tell me where I can get hold of Yves’ wines (other than at the ‘cellar door’) I would be very interested to know. Why does nobody import these wines?

The region with the biggest and best showing, though is Touraine, where my favourite wines come in all forms, sparkling, white, red and sweet. I have had some superb experiences with the Chinons of the 2009 and 2010 vintages recently, having featured many from Bernard Baudry, Couly-Dutheil and Philippe Alliet as my ‘weekend wines’, but it is the first of these three domaines that put on the greatest show, with the 2009 Chinon La Croix Boissée, a stunning wine set to do great things in the future. Looking further back in time though, the 1989 Chinon Clos de la Dioterie from Charles Joguet, tasted later in the year, was also a striking wine.

Loire 2013

Otherwise Vouvray is the order of the day, with one lonely Montlouis popping up. The latter is a wine I have featured before, and simply can’t praise enough, the 2008 Clos Habert Demi-Sec from François Chidaine; this is a stunning wine which takes my breath away whenever I taste it. To be fair though, François (pictured above) has a superb portfolio with an amazing combination of high quality and consistency. Why he hasn’t been elevated to the level of Dagueneau, Clos Rougeard or similar I can’t understand; buy these wines while you still can is my advice.

One young upstart who makes it into my list is Vincent Carême, across the river in Vouvray; I am sure he and his wife Tania would rather I talk about his still wines, which are of a very good quality, but I am still having too much fun with the sparkling 2008 L’Ancestrale. Otherwise, the old guard still dominates, with a trio of Moelleux Réserve cuvées from Philippe Foreau – the 2009, 2005 and 2003 – all simply breathtaking in their depth and complexity, the 2002 Pétillant Réserve and 2008 Le Mont Demi-Sec from Domaine Huet both remarkable, and the 2009 Cuvée Alexandre from Domaine des Auibuisières showing huge potential.

Loire 2013

In the case of Foreau, I see no need for further comment; the wines here can frequently be stunning. The wines of Huet deserve a few clarifying words though; there have been concerns raised about a number of wines from this domaine, especially in the 2002 vintage, where there have been reports of oxidation. This wasn’t an issue with this bottle (pictured above, and drank sometime back in February) but I will have more detail on this in the next few weeks, in a forthcoming report covering younger and older (the range is from 2002 to 2012) vintages of sparkling and sec Vouvray from this domaine, looking both at quality (in 2012 especially) and at whether or not the wines show any signs of oxidation.

It has been a great year for Loire drinking and buying, with 2009 and 2010 giving us great reds, 2009, 2010 and 2011 giving us some superb sweet wines from Anjou, 2010 and 2012 being very fine vintages for Muscadet and 2012 a tip-top year for Touraine and Central Vineyard Sauvignons. Sadly, 2013 probably won’t live up to any of these high standards, but there is always 2014 I suppose……

Tomorrow, all going well, a look back at Bordeaux.

2013 Reflections

It’s that time where all wine writers want to look back on the year just gone, often through choosing a list of favourite wines from the last twelve months, or a count of articles published and words written, books published or awards won. In fact, maybe that time of year has already passed – it is something most writers seem to want to get out of the way by Christmas, even though it seems quite likely that festive drinking should throw up a few bottles eligible for the “best wines” list. I know mine has.

In previous years I have often published a more tongue-in-cheek review of the year, accounts of my mishaps and misadventures in the pursuit of wine knowledge. This year wasn’t really short of such misadventures, perhaps the most dramatic of which occurred during my journey home after judging at the Decanter World Wine Awards. Having travelled back up from London by train I made my way home from the train station by car. Travelling along unlit country roads, very late at night, it was pretty quiet; with a lone car coming towards me in the opposite direction I dipped my headlights, reducing (sadly) my ability to see into the dark gloom ahead. And then it appeared in the beam of the headlights, a life-form, alien-like, a brown body seemingly floating above the ground. Within an instant I perceived four spindly legs – so not ‘floating’ at all then – and each leg was trying to go in a different direction. I’m afraid an instant later the strange being made contact with the front of my car.

Deer Damage, May 2013

Being a very small deer – it all happened so fast that the impact had occurred before I even realised what this strangely put-together lifeform with no head (which must have been bent down, or perhaps up out of the beam of my dipped headlights) could be – the damage to my car (as above) was not that great. You can still see bits of fur embedded in the bumper. The photograph doesn’t show the dent on the bonnet where I believe its head impacted. I checked the deer – it was quite dead, and having been travelling at 60 mph (spot on the speed limit) I am certain it was, thankfully, killed instantly. The repairs were not cheap though, despite the unimpressive appearance above. I am afraid my attendance at the Decanter World Wine Awards turned out to be rather more expensive than expected.

I am sure that, if I were to sit and reflect, I would find other droll or disastrous moments during 2013 to discuss (not least being refused admission to the last train to Scotland in Kings Cross Station later in the year because, despite the fact it had not left the platform, the doors were locked ready for departure), but it is the requirement to “sit and reflect” that is the problem. This year I haven’t really had much time to spend on thinking, or reflecting, or planning. The reason is that I have been working so hard on improving and expanding the information behind the Winedoctor paywall, which was established on March 31st this year, in order to give my subscribers the best possible service for their money. It has been this move to running a subscription service, more than anything else, that I will remember when I think back to 2013.

The move from funding Winedoctor through advertising to a subscription service was not one I undertook lightly. Who would subscribe? How many? How much to charge? There was some welcome support from a number of quarters, including Will Lyons (of the Wall Street Journal) and Gavin Quinney (of Château Bauduc) and I very much appreciated their words at the time. Interestingly, there were also a couple of snarky comments from better established wine writers; I know the wine writing world is not without its fair share of bitchiness, but the willingness of some higher up the wine-writing ladder to take a kick from above was certainly new to me.

Although nerve-wracking (and also exciting at the same time), the move to a subscription basis has also been quite a liberating experience, because I no longer worry about vanity metrics such as Klout and other ranking systems, many of which tend to reflect how active you are on social media. Such ranking systems never take into account how many subscribers you have – in other words, how many people are willing to pay for what you write. It is my subscribers that matter now, and I am happy to say there are many hundreds. I’m looking forward to the day (hopefully!) when I can write thousands instead of hundreds. Who knows, it might just come.

Madeira terraces, July 2013

I would like to thank all my subscribers for their support during 2013; it was a sink-or-swim year for Winedoctor, and I am delighted that Winedoctor is front-crawling along very confidently, hopefully based on my commitment to keep visiting and exploring my two regions of interest, Bordeaux (two visits this year) and the Loire Valley (three visits this year) plus the occasional other region (this year I also visited and reported on Madeira, above). My year-one target for subscribers (I’m not usually this organised, but I had to draw up some targets for a business plan to submit to the bank and the credit card handling company) was reached ten days after putting up the firewall, and my year-two target after one month. After nine months I am edging towards my year-five target – come April, and the end of the first year of Winedoctor subscriptions, it seems clear I will have to develop some new targets!

I would also like to thank some notable UK retailers and merchants, in particular Giles Cooper of Bordeaux Index, Charles Lea of Lea & Sandeman, and the team at Lay & Wheeler, all of whom have been supportive in the last year, either through invitations to significant tastings, or publicising my notes and other writings. Thanks also as always to Jim Budd and Richard Bampfield, who have been supportive in setting up visits and in Jim’s case even arranging and hosting an entire harvest-time trip.

I shall round off here by wishing all my readers festive best wishes, and much joy in the year to come. Over the next few days I will publish a few reflections on my favourite wines of the year, as well my plans for the year ahead (which will include a Winedoctor-led four-day tour of Bordeaux – full details to follow) and also my annual statement of disclosure, a now-regular ritual that seems to delight some, and infuriate others. All the more reason to press on with it then.