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Loire Misunderstood #2: Muscadet is for Oysters

When I started this series of “Loire Misunderstood” posts with my comments on herbaceousness in red wines I had maybe a handful of topics to cover. A week or two later and that list has grown somewhat; it is now as long as my arm! I was going to continue ticking off my list in this second post by tackling another Loire red wine misconception, but instead – having just returned from a couple of days in Muscadet country – it is to this most misunderstood and maligned wine region I turn next.

Wherever you are reading this, I can guarantee you have at least heard of Muscadet, even if you have never even seen a bottle or tasted the wine. It used to be one of those ubiquitous wine list staples, the name itself becoming a byword for a light, breezy, inoffensive white quaffer. A few decades ago the UK fell in love with it; plantings increased dramatically and production soared, but ultimately quality fell. Eventually (in the UK at least) the name became associated not with something fresh and fun, but something watery and weak. A joke wine. A wine to be avoided, if you valued the enamel on your teeth. Prices plummeted. Generalising wildly, this remains the overarching view of Muscadet (in the UK at least), and although the UK remains an important market in terms of volume, the region’s vignerons are usually much happier selling to the USA and Japan (two other very significant markets) where they can at least get a decent price.

A quick aside; I wonder if there is a lesson in here somewhere for the producers of Prosecco, a word which – as ‘Muscadet’ once did – has entered the lexicon of non-geek UK drinkers (and maybe elsewhere too?). I suspect few of these new Prosecco fans could name any other Italian DOC/DOCG (except perhaps Chianti) but the word Prosecco trips off the tongues of more and more drinkers in recent times. I have heard it name-checked as an after work tipple, and seen it necked back at midday on a train, as I had the misfortune to share a railway carriage with a large hen party on the way to a weekend of drinking (their food match in this case was several bags of Haribo confectionery). Let’s hope the Prosecco producers don’t fluff it up as others have done in the past. But I digress; this is not a story for me to concern myself with here. Back to Muscadet.

If you were to take a straw poll of drinkers, asking for their opinion of Muscadet, I think you might get answers along these lines. The wine is:

1. Cheap, because it should be, because it’s tasteless, characterless wine.
2. It’s lean and acidic, maybe a result of poor ripening in a cool climate, high volume cropping, and a careless approach to viticulture.
3. It’s made for drinking with oysters. Or other weird seafood (last week I tasted sea urchin for the first time – haven’t seen that in my local Aldi or Lidl!) nobody eats. Therefore there’s little point in buying it, as I don’t like oysters. Or I do, but I don’t eat them at home. Or I prefer Chablis. Or Champagne.
4. It’s a simple wine made for drinking young. Avoid buying the 2011 vintage, it’s too old; stick with the 2012s. Old Muscadets aren’t good; they certainly don’t taste like Muscadet any more.

That’s a lot of negativity. And before you decry my pastiche of the Muscadet critic, my imagination is not running wild. I heard some (not all, thankfully!) of these criticisms coming not from the mouths of wine drinkers polled on the street, but from UK wine experts – writers, critics and journalists – who accompanied me on a trip to Muscadet last week. I would disagree with all of the points above. But I’m only going to tackle one here, and let’s start with oysters.

Muscadet and oysters

To be honest, I do think Muscadet is the perfect oyster wine. Others have a different opinion; the inhabitants of Nantes, for example, actually regard Folle Blanche (otherwise delightfully known as Gros Plant de Pays Nantais – sounds disgusting, doesn’t it?) as the ideal oyster wine. In Bordeaux they often pour Pessac-Léognan, naturally. At a rather crazy soirée at Château La Fleur de Boüard a few years ago, hosted by proprietor Hubert de Boüard de Laforest, there were only red wines for drinking. Ugh. But for me it is Muscadet, every day.

That does not mean, however, that Muscadet only works with oysters. Or even only with seafood. Muscadet has changed; there are intra-appellation differences, different soil types giving very different wines, and new crus communaux (if you find the term confusing, just think ‘crus‘ or even ‘premiers crus‘ – this is, essentially, what these new zones are) which yield wines with unique characters and richer substances. The light, zippy, saline bite of a wine from serpentinite or amphibolite (both igneous rocks) is delightful with oysters. But other wines, richer wines from gabbro, gneiss, orthogneiss or the richest of all, granite, will happily see off any shellfish, and also white fish including – in the past week, in Nantes – sea bass and john dory. Step up to the crus communaux, wines made from older vines, with lower yields, aged sur lie typically for two years, and you have wines that work well with white meat, light game meats such as guinea fowl, veal and foie gras (I was in a minority on this one, but it worked for me). Once you move to the extremes of styles coming out of the region you have wines that defy the name Muscadet altogether. Take Cuvée Bruno, from Bruno Cormerais, poured for me blind by David Cobbold in Angers a couple of years ago; this wine had me guessing the grape as Chenin Blanc, Romorantin or even Verdelho before somebody clicked it had to be Melon de Bourgogne. These wines are rewriting the Muscadet rule book.

These experimental wines, and the crus communaux wines, are to generic Muscadet what Le Clos and Valmur are to generic Chablis. They are clearly of the same family, but they operate on a very different level. Chablis might be your choice for fish cakes on a Tuesday evening, but Le Clos would surely be better suited to faison à la Normande served for Sunday dinner. These different purposes do not invalidate either style; they are both, we would hopefully agree, ‘Chablis’. And a generic Muscadet Sèvre et Maine sur lie would be fine on Thursday with a salad of dressed crab, but with roasted guinea fowl on Saturday evening a bottle from Clisson, one of the first three crus communaux to be ratified by the INAO (six more are set to follow), would be my choice.

So, can we please get over this misinformed, blinkered view that Muscadet is just one style of wine, that works with oysters, and nothing else? Because, quite simply, such a view is about ten years out of date.

Fizz from Francois Pinon

It’s been a while since I caught up with the fizzy Vouvrays of François Pinon. Here are notes on two older (but not old – good sparkling Vouvray can age just as well as the tranquille stuff!) bottles from the cellar. Having said that, these two seem to be on a plateau at best.

François Pinon Vouvray

François Pinon Vouvray Brut Non-Dosé 2006: Purchased Summer 2008, at the domaine. A pale straw-golden hue, and after a gently effusive start a rather lazy bead. The nose has evolved here, not surprising as it seems to be three years since I last took a look at this wine. There are scents of toasted hazelnuts now, and a little brioche, although it may sound rich it actually still feels bright and lightly minerally. The palate has a nice substance, and doesn’t display its non-dosé character too plainly, although the end of the palate does feel pretty dry. Rather gentle, attractive, with a firm and defined texture. An attractive wine, although nothing much to be gained here by keeping longer I think. 16.5/20 (May 2013)

François Pinon Vouvray Brut NV: Despite previous bottles having a ‘sparse’ bead, this one seems quite confident. The nose suggests rich apples and coffee, slightly sweet in terms of depth, but also slightly grainy. The palate has the same character on the start of the palate, showing some evolved, honeyed, bitter character, suggestive of coffee grounds, and caramelised apples, mirroring the aromas on the nose. It feels much softer and more integrated than previously, with a burnt sugar twist, but with a flavour that has lost some of its freshness and defined zip as a consequnce. 16/20 (May 2013)

Loire Misunderstood #1: Herbaceousness

It was only yesterday that I came across a curious opinion on the wines of the Loire. Where I came across it, and what that opinion was isn’t important (right now, anyway) but it started me thinking about other beliefs that exist regarding these wines. Some beliefs make perfect sense, but I could also think of some that are blatantly false, or at the very least open to question. In this post, and in a series of future posts (which will no doubt be published at erratic and seemingly random intervals – in other words, whenever I get the time), I will look at some of these beliefs – or misconceptions as I have called them – with a focus on those that, essentially, wind me up the most.

In this first post, herbaceousness in reds.

In particular I am referring to Cabernet Franc in Anjou and Touraine. Clearly there are other varieties planted here (Grolleau, Gamay, Pinot Noir and others) but it is Cabernet that is foremost in my mind, mainly because this variety is the backbone of the Loire ‘heartland’, including Chinon, Bourgueil, St Nicolas de Bourgueil, Saumur and Anjou Rouge. Cabernet Sauvignon also plays a role here of course, notably in Anjou Rouge where it produces (from the likes of Yves Guégniard and Vincent Ogereau) some magnificent wines.

I don’t mean to delve too deeply into a tangential scientific discourse, but it is worth looking quickly at the story of methoxypyrazines, a major cause of the greener aromas and flavours that can be found in Cabernet Franc (pictured above….in Bordeaux, admittedly) and Cabernet Sauvignon. If the word methoxypyrazine sounds vaguely familiar to you, that’s probably because from time to time it crops up in tasting notes for Sauvignon Blanc, as early-picked grapes are still rich in methoxypyrazine when harvested and it is seen as a characteristic (and by some desirable) feature of Sauvignon Blanc. Cabernet Franc is another variety with a tendency to methoxypyrazine production, and so too is Cabernet Sauvignon (hardly surprising when we remember that the latter variety is the progeny of the first two).

Methoxypyrazines exist in high levels in raw vegetables (as well as ‘raw’ unripe grapes I suppose) and their presence lends a vegetal aroma which can veer away from herbaceousness into the vegetable box; green capsicum is classic, but I have sensed everything from green bean, celery and celeriac (quite common) to beetroot, courgette and aubergine (less common). All can be put down to the presence of methoxypyrazines, in particular 2-methoxy-3-isobutylpyrazine.

Methoxypyrazines are synthsised by the grapevine, and levels increase until véraison. Work by Hashizume & Samuta in 1999 demonstrated that once colour change and ripening was underway, however, levels fall rapidly, then continue to slowly decrease as harvest approaches. This occurs under the influence of light, so leaf plucking to increase exposure can help. The key point here for me, though, is that detectable levels of methoxypyrazines (in excess of 15 ng/l) indicate unripeness (although late rain promoting vine growth can also be important). Pick later, you get ripe grapes, and no herbaceous, leafy, green pepper or other vegetal aromas.

Now look at these extracts from decanter.com’s online guide to grape varieties:

On Cabernet Franc:…[o]utside Bordeaux it’s the major red grape of the Loire, where it’s more herbaceous in style…

On Cabernet Sauvignon:…[i]t tends towards herbaceousness when not fully ripe with capsicum and grassy undertones…

This approach mystifies me. For one variety in one region, a wine is regarded as under-ripe when herbaceous. For a second variety in another, it is a matter of ‘style’. As you might imagine, I disagree. I taste a lot of wines from the Loire, and those that are green (celery, green pepper or otherwise) are not expressing a Loire ‘style’, but are in my opinion demonstrating classic Cabernet signs of under-ripeness. We do not define Bordeaux, Burgundy or indeed any other famous wine region by the lesser, under-ripe wines that can be found there, made by uninterested growers or the result of wetter and weaker vintages. We do not drink English red wines, content that the greener flavours are part of the English ‘style’. Why, then, do some insist on doing the same with the Loire?

Taste the wines of a grower who seeks out quality and ripeness – Matthieu Baudry, Yannick Amirault, Antoine Sanzay, Vincent Ogereau to name but four – and you will not, on the whole, find green is a character of the wines. You will find purity, definition, clean fruit, vibrant structures, occasionally soft and welcoming textures. As delicious as any ripe Bordeaux or Burgundy, but still displaying lots of real Loire style, which reflects the terroir, not the ripeness of the fruit.

Terroir is a topic for another day though. For the moment, can we please stop judging the Loire by unripe wines made by co-operatives and bored vignerons, and peddled by those with a perhaps distorted, certainly outdated view of the wines of the Loire?

Further reading: Grape maturity and light exposure affect berry methoxypyrazine concentration, Am J Enol Vitic, 1999, 50:194-198, Hashizume K, Samuta T

Decanter Judging: Grand Variety

Wednesday was another day of judging on behalf of Decanter, on the Decanter World Wine Awards, and sadly this was my last day here this year, as I have commitments on Thursday and Friday that I simply can’t break. That’s a shame, as the Loire judging led by Jim Budd is continuing on for another two days, and no doubt there are many good wines yet to be tasted.

Today’s panel was only slightly different to that of yesterday. Myself and chairman Jim Budd were again joined by Loire expert Richard Kelley MW, pictured below in a similarly serious pose as that struck yesterday.

Decanter World Wine Awards
Replacing Véronique Rivest, who was judging on a different panel today, was Nigel Wilkinson of the RSJ restaurant. Nigel is a stalwart of the Loire panel and he has been tasting, buying, drinking, serving (his restaurant is renowned for its Loire-focused wine list) and judging the wines of the Loire far longer than I have.

Decanter World Wine Awards
There was joy in the variety of wines today, as although there was a fair amount of Sauvignon Blanc in the middle of the day, from almost every Loire appellation you could care to name, there were plenty of other styles too. We started with some sparkling wines and then Muscadet, and finished up with a sequence of flights featuring Chenin Blanc (mainly Savennières, Saumur and a little demi-sec Vouvray), red wines (mainly Touraine Pinot Noir, Gamay and Côt) and then a flight of sweet wines, from the Coteaux du Layon and Bonnezeaux appellations. Quality was up and down (isn’t it always) but there were certainly some gold medal opportunities here today.

Decanter Judging: Sauvignon City

Today was a good day judging at the Decanter World Wine Awards. I think the strongest feature of these awards is the regional focus, and I always judge on the Loire panel. And always intend to, for as long as they keep inviting me back, anyway.

Today’s panel was a strong one; pictured below are panel chairman Jim Budd (on the right) who I suspect needs no introduction. He appears to be listening intently here to fellow panel member Véronique Rivest (on the left), who came fresh from success in a global sommelier competition in Tokyo, where she finished in second place. She is French-Canadian, and has a newspaper column and radio slot as well as working as a sommelier.

Decanter World Wine Awards

Also on the panel was Richard Kelley MW (pictured below, deeply engrossed in a glass of Cheverny, his new favourite appellation). I have a lot of respect for Richard, who knows his stuff and knows the Loire very well, but this is the first chance I have had to taste alongside him. As I expected, I learnt from him during the course of the day, as I listened to his opinions on the wines. Judging with Decanter can be very beneficial that way, I have found.

Decanter World Wine Awards

The tasting day went smoothly; organisation here, led by Sarah Kemp and her team, is always good. Today started with Muscadet, where there were some good wines, with the 2009 and 2012 vintages showing strongest, and we handed out some medals. The same was true with a later flight of Pouilly-Fumé, with the 2012 strutting its stuff here, giving us another medal-awarding opportunity. Along the way we saw sparkling wines, Cheverny, Cour-Cheverny, Saumur, Chinon, Touraine whites and reds and of course plenty more Sauvignon Blanc, from all appellations. There were medal opportunities in every flight.

I will be judging again tomorrow but that will be it for this year, as I have commitments later in the week I can’t break. Let’s hope there are some sweet wines tomorrow, as these are always the highlight, and so I don’t want to miss them with not judging on Thursday or Friday. There may still be some 2010s and certainly some 2011s in the system, both good vintages. Who knows, we might see some more gold medal candidates to add to the golds awarded today.

Decanter Judging, Bordeaux 2012

If it’s April, and the primeurs have passed, then it must be time for Decanter World Wine Awards judgng. Indeed it is, so I’m heading down to London today for a few days judging on the Loire panel, with Jim Budd (pictured below) and no doubt one or two other Loire-knowledgeable tasters.

Jim Budd, DWWA Loire Chairman

I really enjoy judging at Decanter. The wines are streamed into categories and prices, so alongside the reams of Touraine Sauvignon Blanc I know I can anticipate flights of Anjou (Blanc and Rouge), Savennières, Coteaux du Layon, Vouvray, Sancerre, Chinon and more. We even get the occasional Romorantin. It’s always fascinating to compare and contrast the wines in flights, totally blind as to the identity of the wine other than appellation and price point. And there are usually some real gems in the line up, somewhere; the tasting has certainly switched me onto one or two domaines I was previously unfamiliar with, once the results have been revealed in the Awards edition later in the year (there is absolutely no revealing of labels during the tasting week).

Despite being holed up in London I will continue writing and updating my Bordeaux 2012 updates. This was going to be the case anyway, but with the campaign likely to crack on this week – there’s no reason for any domaine to wait now that Parker’s scores are out – it seems even more important. Because of this, as I wrote in my last post, I will be jumping forward to the major communes of the right bank this week, going to Pomerol and St Emilion first, then Castillon and the other appellations including the satellites and Fronsac. Hopefully the only notable effect of posting while on the road will be in timing of some updates.

Loire Valley: 2004 vs. 2011

My recent mini-update on the 2011 vintage in the Loire Valley, featuring a handful of wines from Anjou and Touraine, prompted some discussion with Loire courtier Charles Sydney and I thought it was informative enough to bring out here, on the Winedr blog.

The selection of wines, which were encountered at Charles’s annual Loire Benchmark tasting, were very small in number, and certainly not large enough to produce any valid sweeping generalisations on the vintage. And so when I wrote of the red wines “[t]he closest match from recent history was almost certainly 2004, not a particularly desirable vintage” I was in fact referring not to my tasting assessment (although, to be straight, some of the wines weren’t showing at all well) but to a comparison of independently-produced data published by the Laboratoire de Touraine on the two vintages. I clearly didn’t explain that well enough, and so I thought it was worth clarifying that point.

Secondly, however, Charles added a nuanced point to my interpretation of the Laboratoire’s graphs which is worth noting. The original graph is here:

Touraine 2011 technical data

The two traces of importance in the above graph are on the right hand side, and are for 2011 (bold blue with circles) and 2004 (thin blue with diamonds). Each data point (circle or diamond) represents one analysis of sampled fruit from the vine, each sampling one week apart. Thus, as the plots snake leftwards and upwards, this represents increasing physiological (tannin) and sugar ripeness respectively as the weeks pass, and harvest approaches. As can clearly be seen, the two plots end on exactly the same point, leading to my comparison of the two vintages.

This seems indisputable, but Charles’s point, which I thought insightful and valuable, was this; the Laboratoire de Touraine’s assessments are made on fruit from middling vineyards; they are not vines in the possession of a leading grower, such as Jacky Blot or Philippe Vatan. There is therefore less desire to delay picking on these vineyards, a practice which is of course essential – especially in a less warm and benevolent vintage – in order to obtain maximum ripeness, flavour and quality. Thus, although the 2004 and 2011 plots on the graph above end when the fruit in these vineyards was harvested, other vineyards elsewhere, those in the possession of the more dedicated vignerons, may well have been picked much later, perhaps many weeks later. The plots therefore, although providing an excellent clue as to the character of the growing season, do not necessarily represent the potential quality that might come out of the vintage from the very best domaines.

This seems particularly true when comparing 2004 with 2011; 2004 is remembered in the Loire as a dreadful vintage, one where the growing season ended in a melange of weather-related misery, the harvest described by one vigneron as “les plus emmerdants depuis dix ans“, a comment which I don’t think needs any translation. Suffice to say the harvest wasn’t a particularly pleasant or rewarding one. The 2011 vintage, however, is remembered much more favourably; here, despite the unreassurring technical analyses represented on the above graph, there then came several weeks of beautiful sunshine, allowing for further movement along both ripeness scales. But only at those domaines where the team had the dedication to wait it out, naturally. I guess this is part of the reasoning behind the oft-heard statement that, in the Loire, the quality of the vintage is determined by the September and October weather.

The inevitable conclusion is that the graph is a guide, but can never describe a vintage’s true potential as the analyses cease long before the best vignerons harvest. Having said that, however, it is only correct to point out that 2011 remains, for me, a weaker vintage at present. I have uncovered quite a few less-than-ripe reds, and some leanness in some whites. The rot was not restricted to Muscadet either; I have smelt it and tasted it in Anjou and Touraine. Although, to be fair, I have also encountered some attractive sweet wiens from Anjou. As always, individual analysis of each domaine, and each cuvée is required. I’m therefore not saying avoid at all costs, just do your research before you buy. There’s plenty of relevant material recently added to Winedoctor, and more lined up for publication in coming months. After yesterday’s look at 2011 (and 2010 and 2009) from François Chidaine, tomorrow I present notes on recent releases from Frantz Saumon.

Real Wine Fair 2013

I suspect I might be the only person in the UK to say this, but I was disappointed that this year the Real Wine Fair and RAW, the parallel/similar/rival (delete as appropriate) event arranged by Isabelle Legeron MW are being held months apart. Others might have rued the fact that the two events were held on almost exactly the same dates last year, but for me – travelling to London from afar for the tastings – this only made the trip even more useful, as I had two tastings for the price (or the train fare, at least) of one; day one at RAW, day two at Real.

Not so this year. And so yesterday I trekked down from Edinburgh for the Real Wine Fair. The venue was Tobacco Dock, on Wapping Lane, a rather foreboding venue, its high brick walls perhaps once de rigueur for keeping out the tobacco-interested thieves and vagabonds, but I soon found myself wandering down Wapping Lane wondering where the entrance might be. As it happened a friendly security guard clearly took pity on the country hillbilly sauntering towards him, and he waved to beckon me on with some eagerness – as if I were about to miss a just-departing ferry – while I was still several hundred metres distant. How remarkable; a friendly, mind-reading security guard! Either that, or I look like someone he was expecting; maybe his contact in a cigarette-smuggling gang?

Inside the venue was light and airy; the cellars at Victoria House, the location of last year’s tasting, seem to have come in for some criticism, although I (no doubt in the minority, as usual) thought they were fine. Jim Budd, meanwhile, continually refers to the venue as a ‘Hitlerian bunker’. The Tobacco Dock should come in for no such stick though. It is conveniently located five minutes walk from Shadwell Station on the Docklands Light Railway, which is itself about 20 minutes from King’s Cross Station which is where I arrived in London (only delayed 15 minutes – not bad considering there was some very difficult ‘light drizzle’ for the trains to deal with).

Olivier Cousin

Sadly, however, the turnout from Loire producers – my focus for the day, just for a change, I hear you say – felt much smaller than last year, and so within a couple of hours of arriving I had finished the wines I felt I ‘needed’ to taste. Where last year I met Lise Jousset, Frantz Saumon, Noëlla Morantin, Chahut et Prodiges, Thierry Germain and quite a few others, none of these names were present at this year’s fair. Still, I enjoyed getting to grips with some less familiar names, and the mature wines from Jérôme Lenoir and Domaine de la Chevalerie were attractive, even if they were more indicative of what I would regard as ‘old-school’ Loire Valley. I think they would appeal most to punters who think Loire Cabernet Franc is at its best when it shows that very cliched, herbaceous style, rather than the superbly focused red wines that really lead in the region these days, from the likes of Frédéric Mabileau and Matthieu Baudry. And of course it was a delight to chat (using my Franglais, naturally) with Olivier Cousin (pictured above).

The best wines there on the day, within the Loire at least, were clearly those of Domaine Mosse. Agnès Mosse brought along a selection from the 2011 vintage, including a lovely Savennières, and also the ever-fun Moussamoussettes. Having said that, I also enjoyed the two wines on show from Les Vignes Herbels more than I expected to. Having tasted some wines from Nadège and Laurent Herbel at last year’s event I found the style too marked by oxidation to appeal. Those wines that I tasted this year, however, seemed to strike a better balance between an oxidative character and attractive aromas and flavours directly related to the variety in question, Chenin Blanc, including notes of orange blossom and flowers. This was an impressive feat; I’m looking forward to writing this domaine up, and adding the profile to my ever-growing list of new and updated Loire reports.

Beyond the Loire, whereas there was a smattering from Bordeaux last year, including the excellent Clos Puy Arnaud, this year there were none. I spent the last few hours tasting some less familiar wines, everything from the biodynamic Champagnes of Francis Boulard to prolonged skin-contact and lees-aged Soave. I headed home refreshed, ready to do it all again in May for RAW.

Berserkers Baumard

It is Saturday morning, and I have a busy schedule ahead. Taking one son to rugby, whipping the others into shape on the piano before the imminent Grade 2 and Grade 3 examinations arrive, before encouraging a little homework activity. Who knows, maybe I will have time for a little relaxation too….not until I have prepared my forthcoming updates for Winedoctor next week though. Suddenly, however, I have been distracted, by a thread on the excellent Wineberserkers site on the story of Florent Baumard, his 2012 Quarts de Chaume, and cryo-extraction. I felt compelled to comment; piano practice and homework will just have to wait for half an hour.

My comment is on page three of the thread, which begins here. Having written it, it encompasses much of my thoughts on the story which is, in my opinion, still evolving. I thought, therefore, I would reproduce it here. I have left it exactly as written, so please excuse the references to “other comments” and previously made arguments.

My post in full:

This is a really fascinating thread, and having been quoted so frequently I feel compelled to comment, even though deep down I feel no desire to further stoke the fire on this. I find the events as they unfold fascinating, and I consider this a very important story for the Loire, but it is Jim’s work not mine.

First up, to be clear, I know Jim personally, having met him numerous times at tastings, and having spent time with him in the Loire, especially during the Salon des Vins de Loire. I have also met Florent Baumard a number of times, and have spoken with him directly about the 2012 harvest.

I have to say I find having chunks of my Baumard profile cut and pasted a little disconcerting. I have no problem with the text being taken and picked over, but I sense it is used as a defence for the technique of cryo-extraction. I believe (I need to go back to my profile) that further down the page I cast my own personal doubts on the “renaming” of the method as cryo-selection. I would agree with previous posters that you can’t change what you are doing just by changing the name. I don’t feel that this comes across when you cut and paste chunks away, but I see some have gone and read the whole profile, thanks for that, and thanks for the comments on its factual and objective nature. That was my intent, to present what is done, rather than to judge, and let the reader conclude for him/herself. The disadvantage of this, of course, is that readers might conclude according to their pre-existing prejudices.

Having made some indication of my misgiving as per the technique Baumard is using, I would not say I am against cryo-extraction per se. Its use has unwittingly been perfectly acceptable to me as I know I have tasted many wines and enjoyed them, long before I had realised they had been made with a little help from cryo. In particular I am thinking of Doisy-Védrines, the proprietor of which Olivier Castéja is very open about his use of cryo-extraction to improve a little his harvest. My view of how Olivier uses it, however, is that he takes hard-won botrytised fruit, true to what Sauternes is, and removes a little water. How much I don’t know, as I’ve never asked him, but if I see him at the primeurs in a few weeks I will certainly do so. As for what Baumard does, this is a little more difficult to define, as information is not forthcoming. Nevertheless, Florent (pictured below) told me last year that he has, in at least one vintage, removed more than 80% of the volume using cryo-extraction. When I wrote that up I emailed him to clarify as I found the figure so unbelievable. 80%! Yes, I am sure many vintages are less than this, but I do not have the data to say what the figures are for other vintages, not for want of asking I should add. Even accepting data is limited, the technique does not seem here to be fine-tuning, but is the major process by which the wine is made, in at least some vintages.

Florent Baumard

But here is the rub. Cutting through all the obfuscation (because this debate has been all over Twitter as well as on this forum and the willingness to confuse and obscure the real issue seems full of intent at times), the debate isn’t about the rights and wrongs of cryo-extraction or cryo-selection or whatever you want to call it. It is about how a wine is represented to consumers; the Baumards at present have declared (this is second-hand information from Jim’s blog) a significant volume of Quarts de Chaume in the 2012 vintage, a wine which will be highly priced (for the Loire, for a sweet Layon wine), and in order to do be sold as Quarts de Chaume the wine must meet certain criteria. To my understanding these are:

(a) each tri that is picked must achieve 298 g/l sugar (I believe this is 18.5º alcoholic potential but happy to be corrected by winemakers with proper knowledge!) to qualify as Quarts de Chaume

(b) a tri may be subjected to ‘freezing treatments’ to a temperature of -5ºC but only if they have first registered more than 298 g/l. This is true until the 2020 harvest, when the technique will be outlawed whatever the sugar content at harvest.

My knowledge of the 2012 growing season leads me to conclude that it was not a vintage that favoured the production of a Quarts de Chaume. This is a sweet wine where the concentration comes from botrytis, just like Sauternes. Therefore you need the same conditions, moisture (from mists, here from the Layon) or showers of rain, and drying conditions (romantically, sunny afternoons after misty mornings, but winds and breezes probably more/just as important). Too much rain or humidity and you get grey rot. Bad weather as the grapes succumb to botrytis, in October and November, and you lose the harvest. And October 2012 was very, very, very wet. Claiming that data from a weather station 20 km away is not valid holds no water with me I am afraid; the rain hit all Muscadet, Anjou and Touraine; all weather stations recorded it. And having spoken to owners of vines on the Quarts de Chaume, including Claude Papin (Pierre Bise) and Jo Pithon & Wendy Paillé (Pithon Paillé) the conditions here were dreadful. Pithon Paillé saw the alcoholic potential fall from 13º to 9º during the October rains, something Jo had never seen before, as the vines and grapes sucked up the water. The berries ruptured and grey rot set in.

Later on, if the fruit could survive this, some harvested fruit close to or above the 18.5º potential, but this was much later in the season. Nobody has huge quantities though, except for Florent Baumard who picked in October (I think the accepted dates are 16th and 17th, but I’m not sure where this info comes from) right in the middle of the rains. The implication is that, for his wine to be Quarts de Chaume, the harvested fruit must have been over 18.5º alcoholic potential. It would of course, be illegal to achieve that only after cryo-extraction; just to be clear, I am not for one second alleging that this is what has happened. Nevertheless, it seems fair to ask for some data on the harvested fruit. Jim has done this very publicly and got nowhere it seems, only a wordy response on the ‘attack’ on Florent’s website.

I have asked Florent the same questions, and these are the responses received:

(a) I asked Florent face-to-face at the Salon des Vins de Loire in early February, but he was not able to recall picking dates, or sugar at harvest, or alcoholic potential. He said he did not like to carry such information around in his head. He invited me to ask again at a later date, indicating he would furnish me with the information.

(b) I asked in the midst of a debate on Twitter, prompted by Baumard supporters (and I’m afraid I do sense there are ‘factions’ in this debate), giving Florent a chance to declare the picking dates and concentration/alcoholic potential of his fruit, and therefore put to bed any rumours that the grapes picked from the Quarts de Chaume vineyard, and surely intended for sale as Quarts de Chaume, did not meet the criteria for that to be so. Florent did not respond on Twitter.

(c) About five days later I received an email from Florent, thanking me for my questions, but ultimately not providing any data as he says he finds such numbers “meaningless”.

It seems to me very sad, and also unusual, that Florent should not want to make public the sugar concentration at harvest. This is basic data for a winemaker, not top secret confidential information! It would have quashed any stories, based on pictures prior to harvest, and on data concerning harvest dates and the weather at the time, that the fruit harvested by Baumard had not achieved the sugar concentration required. In the face of continued non-disclosure of this information, I am certain that this debate will rumble on, until definitive information is revealed. That will then put an end to it one way or the other.

This answer doesn’t respond to every post above that deserves merit (“the proof is what’s in the glass” from Jamie Goode deserves a response – really Jamie, in this debate?……and I also don’t think Jim’s credibility as an investigative journalist is up for debate, he has a long track record of uncovering dodgy dealings in wine investment and other wine-related stories), nevertheless I hope it is useful. I would like to think it helps to bring the issue at hand into focus, which is not the rights and wrongs of cryo-extraction and what we call it, but its use in the 2012 Baumard harvest, and whether a wine made with it can *legally* (and the appellation law is quite specific) be called Quarts de Chaume. That, simply, depends on sugar concentration at harvest, information which has been asked for many times, and not given.

Bouvet-Ladubay 2013 Spectacle

During the Salon des Vins de Loire I spent an evening at Bouvet-Ladubay. It was an intimate affair, just me, Jim Budd, Edwina Watson of Lay & Wheeler, Chris Hardy of Majestic, and about 450 other guests. The entertainment was not particularly wine related, but I simply can’t bear the thought of no-one else ever seeing some of these images.

The evening gets underway….Bouvet-Ladubay on ice.

Bouvet-Ladubay 2013 Spectacle


This rope artiste seemed half asleep at first.

Bouvet-Ladubay 2013 Spectacle


But she soon woke up, with several heart-stopping “she’s falling” moments, and no safety net. She is quite some way up in the cellars. At one point she managed to give the illusion of walking up the rope. Overall, a very impressive act.

Bouvet-Ladubay 2013 Spectacle


A ghost in the cellars. I showed this image to my three teenage children; first I had to explain what he was doing (not much). Then I had to explain that the machine on the wall behind was playing a cassette tape, to provide some spooky background music. Then I had to explain what a cassette tape was. Remember this guy, he crops up again later.

Bouvet-Ladubay 2013 Spectacle


This acrobatic pair were one of the highlights of the evening. Don’t be fooled by her dystonic appearance.

Bouvet-Ladubay 2013 Spectacle


This balancing act doesn’t look too difficult.

Bouvet-Ladubay 2013 Spectacle


This was though. Wow!

Bouvet-Ladubay 2013 Spectacle


I told you this guy would crop up again. This was more funny than it looks now. Honest.

Bouvet-Ladubay 2013 Spectacle


No, please don’t do what I think you’re going to do with those weights.

Bouvet-Ladubay 2013 Spectacle


Oh come on, I did ask nicely……

Bouvet-Ladubay 2013 Spectacle


Finally, two other pictures, not quite in focus, but hopefully doing something to capture the spirit of the evening. First a crazy but really quite entertaining woman on a rope swing. Again, pretty high up, and no safety net.

Bouvet-Ladubay 2013 Spectacle


And one of three ladies swinging above the dining hall as we ate.

Bouvet-Ladubay 2013 Spectacle

All entertainers (and those featured above are just a selection – there were stilt-walkers, more acrobats, and even a strange ensemble who managed to pour a glass of Bouvet-Ladubay while one stood atop a step ladder, and the other was doing a hand-stand on top of another’s shoulders), led by the Compagnie Masdemoiselles are available for hire; I have their contact numbers and email address should you wish to arrange a similar spectacle.