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Bordeaux 2015: Bed Collapse

It is Monday morning and I am about to head out for Chateau Pape-Clément, my first visit in a day of tasting Pessac-Leognan and Sauternes. It’s April, and of course I am in Bordeaux for the primeurs.

It has been an eventful few days. I could write a book chapter on it, the outline for which would include a cancelled flight, one and a half days living as Mehran Karimi Nasseri, a broken sat-nav device (fortunately all my days of driving around Bordeaux do seem to have sunk in so I am coping with this, only two wrong turns so far), a damaged hire car, a 4am bed-collapse and two exploding tanker trucks. No wonder Bordeaux tourism is picking up – it’s simply amazing how much you can squeeze into a weekend here.

Although you may find it hard to believe, I have also tasted some wine since arriving in Bordeaux. This includes a shed-load of St Emilion, piles of Pomerol, a miniscule amount of minor right-bank and left-bank wines, and a slew of Sauternes.

Jonathan Maltus, April 2016

I kicked off yesterday with a visit to see Jonathan Maltus (pictured above), in St Emilion, who was on fine form for a Sunday morning. I was particularly proud to have located him at Château Teyssier in Vignonet without the help of my sat-nav. This is especially impressive when you consider that many vignerons living up the road in St Emilion don’t even know where Vignonet is. Jonathan impressed with a tasting sheet with my name printed on it, automatically qualifying him for 100 points. Afterwards I called in at Château La Dominique, not only to taste their wines but I also bathed myself in the Michel Rolland collection. Even though he gave up consulting at a number of properties quite a few years ago he was still showing over a hundred wines.

Later I popped into Château Cambon-la-Pelouse to see how the Biturica group of estates (Château Belle-Vue, Château Agassac, Château Cambon-la-Pelouse and a few others) did in 2015, but was disappointed to find it deserted. I subsequently found out the group seems to have disbanded, a real shame, as the tasting often revealed a few cru bourgeois gems. Fortunately, I picked up many of the wines at Château Rauzan-Ségla, at the Ulysse Cazabonne négociant tasting, so it all came good at the end. Thereafter I headed up to Château Lagrange, for a tour, tasting and dinner, featuring wines from 2010 back to 1985. It was the only formal dinner I am attending during the primeurs, and it was a good choice.

That was Sunday. On Saturday I was no less busy tasting, although the day was less fragmented. Having risen at 4am I flew in that morning, picked up my hire car and then drove to St Emilion. I spent the best part of the day with the Cercle Rive Droite at Château Bellefont-Belcier, tasting about 60 or 70 right-bankers (and trying not to fall asleep after that early start, easier said than done), followed up by an evening of Sauternes, from the very entry-level wines up to top classed growths. It was a pretty smart tasting, in a really interesting vintage, one where there is quality to be had, but there is also variability, although I don’t think I will get a handle on that until I get to the Médoc, on Tuesday.

More detail on all this, especially that collapsing bed (I know this is why people subscribe, nothing to do with detail, analysis, tasting notes and all that nonsense), in my subscriber reports which start next week. For now, I am off to Pessac-Léognan via the Rocade, Bordeaux’s delightful ring road which is always very quiet, and never becomes gridlocked with rain or accidents, especially at this time of the morning.

Winedoctor Philosophies, Year 4

In the past week Winedoctor passed an important landmark. It is not a true birthday – this site first appeared in May 2000, so it will hit its 16th birthday in about seven weeks time – nevertheless it is now three completed years since I moved away from the business model of advertiser dependence, to a subscription-based model. So at about this time of year, as well as pondering the forthcoming Bordeaux primeurs, I always take a look back at the past twelve months, and ponder the year ahead. The fact that I am holed up in an airport hotel en route to Bordeaux with little else to do might also have something to do with it.

My philosophy when it comes to wine writing online has developed as Winedoctor has grown. I came to realise that if I was to write something with real depth that would inform readers, I should probably focus on one or two regions, and then dig as deep as I could, year after year. Naturally I settled for the two regions I knew and loved most, the Loire Valley and Bordeaux. This meant I could ditch the dependence on press trips; having done press trips both to the Loire Valley and Bordeaux in the past, but having also explored both regions much more extensively alone, it is clear to me what a blinkered, tunnel-vision view of a region press trips give, even those arranged by regional bodies rather than single producers. I have read too many vacuous press trip reports filled with pretty pictures of beaming faces, lush lunches and boozy dinners, as well as fleeting impressions of wines, but seemingly devoid of substance.

Happily, having a subscription-based income isolates me from this endless marathon of stuffed-cheek blogging, because thankfully I now write for graciously paying subscribers, and thus I don’t see an endless stream of freebies as my imbursement. I have a week in Bordeaux just kicking off now, and shall be busy maintaining my distance from the besuited Bordelais, not because I don’t like them (I do!) but because that’s a professional, non-freebie-dependent approach. I see serious reporting on wine, reporting that readers are actually prepared to make buying decisions on, as a business rather than a lifestyle, and I feel happiest doing it while standing some distance from the trough. During the forthcoming week in Bordeaux I have only one dinner scheduled; I generally allow myself one per primeurs trip, and this year Château Lagrange tempted me in with the promise of a vertical tasting first. As always I will declare this support on relevant articles, and in my annual support disclosure. It would be a very professional approach for freebie-chasers to do the same, but it won’t happen, for obvious reasons.

Detailed reports and a willingness to describe wines both good and bad in an honest, open and transparent fashion has long seemed, to me, to be the right way to go with Winedoctor. This applies both in Bordeaux and the Loire Valley. After my Bordeaux 2013 reports were published I had several emails from Bordeaux complaining I had scored the wines too low. It struck me that this was great feedback, implying I was doing something right. No wine writer should ever find only positive things to say, it isn’t realistic. The word ‘critic’ does carry some meaning, after all, unless you are happy being part of the marketing machine that says only positive things (I can feel myself returning to press trips here). The same applies in the Loire Valley, where I get the feeling some writers, merchants, bloggers and sommeliers coo too much over wines based on the naturalista-style viticultural and winemaking dogma involved, rather than the finished result. I have had too many oxidised, refermenting, Brett-laden, rotten and botrytis-laden wines to follow this mantra. The latest report from the Loire Valley, published this week for subscribers, hopefully makes that clear.

Hopefully Winedoctor subscribers agree with these philosophies, and they seem to be spreading the word. Subscriber numbers grew again in year three, by just under 14%, and I would like to thank all those who renewed their subscriptions, and welcome all those who signed up for the first time. Looking at the year ahead, building on this success I will for year four hold the subscription price down to just £45 per annum, the same price I launched at three years ago. As far as I am aware the number of months in the year hasn’t changed, so this is still the equivalent of £3.75 per month for almost continuous daily updates (I do have a summer holiday, and I still take Christmas Day off!). There is a trial period open to those who haven’t subscribed before, and that remains £15 for a month’s access (you can top up the remaining eleven months for £30). I intend to leave this trial offer available during the entire year, including during the publication of my primeur reports. If you’re wondering what my themes for the year ahead are, as well as my usual vintage reports (2015, 2012 and 2006 Bordeaux to come, also 2014 but I might carry that over into 2017 after another visit to the region, in the Loire just 2006 to come) I will be continuing the expansion of my coverage of both St Emilion and St Julien, and in the Loire I will home in on some of the red wine appellations, with tastings and reports of the successful 2014 and 2015 vintages from visits lined up for July. Complete with first tastings from barrel of the latter, I hope.

R.I.P. Paul Pontallier, Man of Margaux

I am deeply saddened by news today of the death of Paul Pontallier, managing director of Château Margaux. He was very young, aged just 59 years.

Paul Pontallier was the face of Château Margaux for as long as I have known it. Having studied in Paris, Montpellier and Bordeaux, he took up a position at Château Margaux, working for Corinne Mentzelopoulos, in 1983. In 1990 he replaced Philippe Barré, who was set to retire, as managing director. It was a post Paul (pictured below) was to hold for more than 25 years.

My first ever visit to Bordeaux, a press trip in the depths of December as it happened, included a few hours at Château Margaux. It was, I think, the first time I had ever met Paul. He was charming and clearly deeply knowledgable about not just Margaux and its vineyard, but about all things Bordeaux. About rootstocks, terroir, varieties, canopy management and more. His mind was insightful and enquiring, evidence of which I was fortunate to experience many years later when tasting some of the wines from the Margaux Research Programme.

Paul Pontallier

Paul Pontallier was, technically speaking, an employee, although to see him and Corinne Mentzelopoulos working together at Château Margaux it was clear that there was a relationship of mutual respect and trust. I recall one tasting, perhaps back in 2008 or 2009, when Paul captivated the crowd of assembled tasters with his report on the vintage and opinion of the wine, while Corinne bustled away alongside, pouring the wines. Each was completely at ease in their respective roles, even though you might have thought they had it the wrong way round. It was a joy to watch.

Many of those visits were diluted by the number of people present. During the primeurs there are always crowds of tasters at the big-name châteaux, but I soon discovered that when I visited Bordeaux alone Paul was no less open, amiable and free with both his knowledge and his time. And yet he always remained humble. I recall standing in the usual tasting room (before tastings were moved down to the orangerie because of the recent building work), just Paul and I around a bottle or two of his wine, chewing the fat regarding recent vintages. I expressed an opinion that 2010 was particularly strong in the Margaux appellation. He seemed genuinely interested, and it soon became clear why – “I wouldn’t know”, he said, “I really haven’t had the chance to taste many”. His mind and palate had been focused solely on Margaux’s grand vin.

Under Paul’s direction Château Margaux rose from the doldrums of the 1970s, when it was frequently accused of under-performing, to produce some of the finest wines this estate has ever produced. He focused more and more on the heart of the domaine, its gravelly core, and pushing quality, expressed through the finesse rather than the power of the wines, ever higher. Is it possible for one man to achieve anything more significant in wine? He leaves behind a formidable legacy, and many, many people who are very saddened by his premature departure. These include a son Thibault who also now works at Château Margaux. My condolences to Thibault and the rest of Paul’s family, and to Corinne and the team at Château Margaux.

Exploring Sherry #16: Fernando de Castilla Antique Oloroso

My interest in Bodegas Rey Fernando de Castillo was piqued by an encounter with the Don Fernando sherries carried by a certain UK supermarket. Proof, perhaps, that it doesn’t do any harm to let a little of your stock go down the own-label route; I’m not at all sure, if it weren’t for these wines, exactly how and when I would have discovered this bodegas.

Bodegas Rey Fernando de Castillo was born in the 1960s, founded by Fernando Andrada-Vanderwilde, and was named for Fernando III, an influential 13th-century king who was canonised by Pope Clément X in 1671. It was revitalised following its acquisition by Norwegian Jan Pettersen in 1999.

Fernando de Castilla

There are essentially two ranges of wines; the Classic range, generally up to nine years of age, and the superior Antique range, which may be as old as twenty years on average. No prizes for guessing which range this wine comes from.

I am a little clueless as to the story behind the Fernando de Castilla Antique Oloroso; the Fernando de Castilla website is informative with regard to its weight (1.03 kg per bottle, 835 kg per pallet), and dimensions (310 x 69 x 69 mm) but says nothing of the origin of the wine, the aging, the solera, and so on. One taste, however, and I soon forget such oversights. This wine has a fine, golden, light-bronze hue, with tinge of green age at the rim. There are wonderfully expressed aromatics, toasty, with crisp and warm walnuts, pistachio too, lightly peppery and savoury, very defined and very enticing. And the palate is remarkable, warm and yet energetic, soothing and comforting, but with taut and tangy acidity to give it energy. In the midpalate it unfurls to reveal further charm and complexity, endowed here with texture and the umami of high quality stock, broad and deep, savoury and full of conviction. This is ridiculously delicious, and definitely a candidate for my favourite sherry so far. 18/20 (February 2016)

The Salons of Angers, Day 5

The final day of the Salon des Vins de Loire is, sadly, always dominated by the long trek home. A bus down to the station, a train to Paris (with two changes for added fun this year), several hours of hanging about in Paris Charles de Gaulle Airport, then the flight home. Sometimes I think the airport wait is the worst part of it. Despite being a huge international hub, the facilities are lacking. After security there was only one café serving hot food, which I couldn’t even chase down with a coffee because their hot-beverage-pretending-to-be-coffee machine was broken. The options for shopping, if you are into that sort of thing, include gift shops selling over-priced and rather tatty gifts (pots of foie gras, factory-made macarons, that sort of thing), hugely expensive fripperies from branded stores such as Prada, Cartier, Hermès or Dior (scarves for €350, watches for €7500), and a rip-off upmarket-booze-and-fag store. The price of Bordeaux on sale here particularly took the biscuit – how about Château Pouget for €121? I snapped the price label below before being told photography was interdit. I’m not surprised – if I was running a business selling wine at such rip-off prices to unsuspecting travellers with more money than sense I would also want to suppress wider knowledge of these prices.

And to cap it all, when I logged on to the free wi-fi, I couldn’t look at any wine sites, because apparently they contravene the ethical rules of the airport (the blocking page puts wine up there with sites encouraging terrorism, domestic violence and unusual sexual tastes). So it’s not just the English Chief Medical Officer who has it in for wine, I see. By coincidence (I am sure), the block prevents access to informed opinion on wine quality and prices, about which the booze-and-fag retailer must be delighted.

Salon des Vins de Loire

Alright, what about the last day (or rather morning – I left just after lunch) at the Salon? It was pretty busy, with more frenzied tasting as the hours rattled on. I visited Sancerre, Vouvray, Montlouis, the Coteaux de l’Aubance and perhaps one or two other appellations that have slipped my mind. Looking back over the five days, I have of course tasted a lot of wines. Hundreds of wines, although I wouldn’t like to hazard a more accurate a guess than that. I have covered dozens of domaines, from Muscadet and the Fiefs Vendéens all the way up to Sancerre and Pouilly-Fumé and on to the upper reaches of the Loire. And yet these days my interest in the domaines of the Loire Valley is so broad I didn’t have time to taste everywhere. This year I omitted, purely through lack of time rather than any plan, a couple of notable Anjou domaines where I would normally taste. My apologies to anyone who was disappointed when I didn’t roll up at your stand, glass in hand; I just couldn’t spread myself thinly enough to get to you.

For every domaine that misses out, however, I taste somewhere else that is new to me, or catch up with a grower I haven’t tasted with for a few years. This year for example, I caught up with Damien Laureau, who I haven’t tasted with for about two years; as he is one of the top-tier winegrowers in Savennieres, that’s an important tasting. I also tasted with Ludovic Chanson, whose first vintages I found impressive when I tasted them in London about three years ago, and this was my first chance to check them out again. That’s important too. I also tasted with Tanguy Perrault from Vouvray, the first time since the summer of 2014; it is vital to return to see how these young up-and-coming growers are getting along. And I tasted with Romain Guiberteau (or rather with Robert, his father), who I haven’t seen at the Salon before. A leading domaine in the Saumur appellation, who wouldn’t want to check these wines out?

So, while I used every minute productively, I have to think of some solutions to this failure to taste everything, everywhere. The obvious answer is to return to the Loire again, which of course I will do. I have already warned Matthieu Baudry, Anne-Charlotte Genet and Jérome Billard that I will be coming to see them in July. I will make other visits too; probably Yannick and Benoit Amirault, maybe good old Couly-Dutheil, who knows? Other solutions and suggestions, such as looking at other Loire wine fairs (I hear rumours about a new Loire fair in Paris), or other fairs where Loire growers exhibit, are welcome.

The Salons of Angers, Day 4

I read a news report this morning describing research which revealed that men aged 45 to 59 years report the lowest level of life satisfaction. This age group also reported more anxiety, and men were worse off than women. The authors proposed that this could be because of having to care for children or elderly parents (or both), or because of the difficulties in balancing work and life issues.

What the authors have described is nothing more than what we all know as a mid-life crisis, so this isn’t really a groundbreaking discovery. They also noted that older people are happier, and in order to assist the authors I propose two plausible reasons for this. These are; (1) they have accepted their fate, or (2) they drink a lot of Sancerre. The latter is possibly my preferred reason. Judging by the quality of wines I tasted today at the Salon des Vins de Loire, it would be a very wise decision.

Pierre Morin

Yesterday, as the above suggests, I tasted with a lot of Sancerre (and also Pouilly-Fumé) domaines, including Domaine Vacheron, Masson-Blondelet, Pierre Morin (pictured above), Claude Riffault, Michel Redde and others. There were a lot of really good wines on offer, so much so that I was happy putting my original plan of tasting red wines on hold to do so.

In fact I had a really varied and exciting day (again!). Alongside these aforementioned domaines, I touched on Muscadet with Domaine de la Pepière, Savennières with Thibaud Boudignon, Eric Morgat and Damien Laureau, St Nicolas de Bourgueil with Clos des Quarterons, Montlouis with François Chidaine as well as one or two others. It has been a pretty full, busy day.

Today (Wednesday), I have just a half day at the Salon, and then much more than half a day of travelling home by train and plane. My ninth Salon des Vins de Loire draws to an end.

The Salons of Angers, Day 3

As I have alluded in some of my previous posts, the Salon des Vins de Loire is not seen as a ‘hip’ tasting to go to by a great number of Loire fans. For many buyers of Loire wines, the organic, biodynamic and natural wines to be found at the various parallel salons hold more appeal.

Nevertheless, after spending time at these other salons, I spent today at the Salon proper, and had the best day of tasting since I arrived here. First and foremost this reflects the quality of the wines, but there is more to it than that. The Salon proper is held in a large exhibition hall, well-lit and airy, so unlike the dungeon-like tasting environment of Renaissance and Dive Bouteille I could actually see what I was tasting, and I could see the notes I was writing. Second, it wasn’t like tasting in a sardine can; while the Salon proper was definitely busier than expected today (especially on popular stands such as François Chidaine, Luneau-Papin and so on) I could still move about. I could find somewhere to perch my laptop. I could taste without someone breathing/talking/laughing directly into my left lughole, elbowing me in the ribs, and continually knocking into me or the camera slung over my shoulder. In addition, with less pressure on space and time, I could chat more with the vignerons. I had a good chat with Vincent Carême about the 2015 vintage, with Lionel Gosseaume about the technicalities of carbonic maceration, with Bernard Fouquet about balance and acidity in Vouvray, and so on.

Vincent Carême

At this point I was going to write something more about the high quality of many of the wines I tasted, from 2014 and 2015 in particular, but let me just continue my digression. Something came to me as I tasted with Vincent Carême (pictured above, when I visited in 2014) today. For a long time there has been a top tier in Vouvray that comprised four domaines; Huet, Foreau, Champalou and Fouquet. Personally I have long held the belief that this top tier actually had a mezzanine level (stick with me on this); on the upper level of the mezzanine are Foreau, who gives us moments of breathtaking brilliance in some cuvées, and some vintages, and Huet, a domaine which gives us supreme wines but also great consistency. It is rare that you find a disappointing wine from Huet; one exception was the 2012 vintage, which I didn’t like, I said so and got banned from tasting at the domaine as a result. As I have never spoken to Sarah Hwang since as far as I know this ban still stands. Nevertheless, I have been invited to taste with Jean-Bernard Berthomé at the Renaissance tasting (and I have occasionally purchased wines to taste as well), so I know the Huet 2013s were very good for a difficult vintage (there was hail), and the two 2014s I tasted this weekend were delightful, really very good indeed, top tier stuff. Also top tier, but off the mezzanine, are Fouquet and Champalou, both turning out delightful wines with an identifiable house style. This top tier position was really secured with the 1989 and 1990 vintages, so not much has changed in over 25 years.

Perhaps you can see where I am going with this. I have long liked the wines of Vincent Carême, but tasting his 2014s and a couple of 2015 barrel samples today they easily ranked alongside those of Bernard Fouquet. It is a few days since I tasted the Huet 2014s, but I think a comparison between the two, based solely on quality, would also be valid. Neither the Champalou family nor Foreau come to the Salon, but if Catherine pops up on the Terra Vitis stand I will take a look at her wines too. Whatever happens, if the quality of the 2014s and 2015s chez Carême is maintained through subsequent vintages, this domaine deserves a place on the top tier (lower mezzanine level!) at least. If you feel disinclined towards this sentiment (nobody likes change, not least when suggested by an insignificant ‘blogger’ such as myself) do try to taste their 2014s when they come onto the market. They are simply stunning, precise, defined wines, which have not only textured confidence but also a fine acid frame and a seam of minerality that has lifted them up a level I think. Basically, they’re really top tier.

As noted Vincent’s 2015s are also really good, as are those 2015s I have tasted from François Crochet, Romain Guiberteau, Philippe Alliet, Luneau-Papin, Vincent Caillé and quite a few others. Today (Tuesday) I will be looking to reinforce these first impressions with more tastes of 2015 and 2014.

The Salons of Angers, Day 2

There is an episode in series 2 of Father Ted (entitled ‘New Jack City’ for the FT geeks) in which Father Jack develops an advanced case of Hairy Hands Syndrome (stage 6, a fairly advanced case). There was, unless I am mistaken, no known cause or cure, and the only solution was to ship Father Jack off to St Clabbert’s Hospital for (usually elderly) wayward priests, otherwise known as ‘Jurassic Park’.

Of course Father Ted was filmed twenty years ago, and more recent medical research has since firmly linked Jack’s affliction with the consumption of too much ‘natural’ wine (which was of course very popular on Craggy Island during the 1990s). This explains why, after a day immersed in the world of organic, biodynamic, ‘natural’, zero-sulphur and similar wines the backs of my hands have taken on an appearance that no werewolf would be ashamed off. I have also developed a very glazed, faraway expression. I reckon I am at stage 3, at the very least.

Tessa Laroche

In truth I tasted some really super wines today, perhaps not always in the most obvious quarters. The wines of Tessa Laroche (pictured above) of Domaine aux Moines were particularly noteworthy, quite different to the rather solid and very traditional style (which needed at least a decade to show any interest) I recall from four of five years ago. Now they have a very pure and pointed precision, and she has been busy replanting too, so the domaine seems very much on the up. I also tasted at a number of domaines new to me, although I didn’t discover any really exciting new names (here’s hoping that comes on another day). I got some more chat about 2015 too, a vintage that is looking really good in most places. It is a rich vintage, for those who enjoy acidity perhaps a bit too rich in some parts of the valley. I will keep plugging away at this and will write a full vintage report (with a slightly different look to it this year) once I return.

In the evening I headed over to the Brasserie de la Gare for a bite to eat. I have had some very decent meals in this brasserie before now, although I am aware some wouldn’t touch it with a bargepole. I thought my meal (foie gras then ris de veau) was really very decent, and certainly value for money compared to every dining experience I can recall in Edinburgh recently, but the service was of Fawlty Towers standard. The bulles (Pithon-Paillé Crémant de Loire) were too warm, the white (Chidaine Montlouis Clos du Breuil 2014) was fine (a good job too as François was sitting on the next table) but the red (Domaine de Bablut Anjou-Villages Petra Alba 2009) was too cold, and the latter bottle arrived almost as we finished our main course. Everything that we wanted (bread, a carafe of water, more bread, the red wine, yet more bread) we had to ask for at least three times, it was ages before anything happened and also ages between courses, the wrong wine was brought to start with, the waiter had to come back to check the identity of the third wine even though we had asked for it twice already, and so on. All I can say is that Basil would have been proud. I believe they have rooms, so I am tempted to stay here next year so I can go to the window, complain about the lack of a sea view, and see if I get a Serengeti-wildebeest-related response.

Today (Monday), it’s on with the Salon proper. Watch out Luneau-Papin, François Chidaine, Pithon-Paillé, François Pinon and Domaine Vacheron, I am heading your way!

The Salons of Angers, Day 1

When I was packing for this trip I distinctly recall looking at my umbrella and deciding against it; I always try to travel light, with hand luggage only, and that was the last thing I wanted to be squeezing into my luggage. Of course, on Saturday it rained all day, the intensity varying from moderate to heavy (never light!). I started the day a soggy taster.

I kicked off at the Renaissance tasting, which felt much quieter than it did last year. Or indeed any other year. It usually becomes a bit of a scrum, elbow-room only, but it felt more relaxed today. Possibly this is because I left at 2pm, and maybe it just got really busy later on. Alternatively, one exposant whispered in my ear that there were thirty fewer exhibitors this year (15 missing from the Loire, 15 from elsewhere) but scanning the list of adherents I couldn’t figure out who might be missing, so I am not sure if this is right.

Emmanuel Ogereau

After tasting with the likes of Richard Leroy, Virginie Joly, Laura Semeria and numerous others I left and headed out to Domaine de la Bergerie for a tasting and dinner. First up was Emmanuel Ogereau (pictured), who is doing lots of exciting things now that he is increasingly taking the reins from his father Vincent. There was a more minerally style to the wines, several new cuvées, even new labels (about time too). Then came René Papin, Claude’s son, with all his wines from the 2014 vintage, and here there were also lots of exciting things. Again, I sensed a little more minerally definition in some of the wines, especially the two Anjou Blanc cuvées, although minerality is nothing new chez Papin of course.

We finished up with the wines of Yves Guégniard, from a variety of years, including two super vintages of Evanescence, his 100% Cabernet Sauvignon, in 2011 and 2014. Like Emmanuel though Yves also showed one or two reds from 2013 which, for a washout vintage, were really impressive. Much better than most of the 2013 Bordeaux I tasted not that long ago. For a start the wines were not completely dried out by oak. After the tasting we finished up with dinner in La Table de la Bergerie; chef David Guitton turned out a pretty fabulous meal which we washed down with a range of older vintages from the three domaines.

I had a lot of chat about the 2015 vintage during the day and so far everyone I have spoken to is delighted with it. There a lot of good indicators for the vintage, which (where I have tasted) has a rich and ripe style. I will taste more today (Sunday) though.

To the Salon! (2016 Edition)

The coldest place in the world is commonly (or should I say probably) thought to be somewhere in Antarctica, a windswept white desert of sub-zero temperatures. Those who pass through Paris Charles de Gaulle Airport en route to the annual Salon des Vins de Loire each year, however, know different. The coldest place in the world is actually near the end of platform 6 in the TGV railway station buried deep in the bowels of Terminal 2D. I know. I hung around there for two and a half hours yesterday waiting for my train down to Angers.

Yes, it’s time for the first of this year’s trips to the Loire Valley to get to grips with the latest vintage, taste all (well, some) of the newest releases, and to chew the cud with more Ligérian vignerons than you could shake an icicle at. Today (Saturday) I will be off to the Renaissance tasting to see Nicolas Joly’s and Mark Angeli’s jolly band of organic, biodynamic and full-blown ‘natural’ adherents. I will taste as widely as I can, but high points of the tasting are often Richard Leroy (pictured) and Eric Nicolas (I get in here early before the crowds arrive), although there are always dozens of other notable domaines. Then I will follow this up with a trip out to see Claude Papin, Yves Guégniard and Vincent Ogereau this evening, for a tasting and maybe a bite to eat.

Richard Leroy

On Sunday there is the option of other tastings besides the Renaissance, and then from Monday I will be attending the Salon proper. I know many visitors to the region at this time of year, both journalists and buyers, now avoid the Salon altogether and restrict themselves just to the parallel tastings (Renaissance in Angers, Dive Bouteille in Saumur, Thierry Puzelat’s Les Pénitents and so on) but I prefer to taste and report as widely as possible. I want to keep a foot in the main flow of the Loire as well as its very dynamic organic and biodynamic tributaries. Besides, the Salon des Vins de Loire now incorporates the Levée de la Loire group, and a Demeter tasting too, so there is plenty there that appeals. I also don’t believe in choosing wines to taste or drink according to winemaking dogma; you cut yourself off from experiencing a lot of super wines doing that. There are great wines in both camps (and there is rubbish in both as well).

Anyway, before I get started with a rambling rant on this issue, back to the intended point of this post, which is to make subscribers aware that I am currently in the Loire Valley, and there will be no behind-paywall updates until I return to the UK later in the week. There simply isn’t time, when tasting all day until 7pm, then following up with other tastings or dinners in the evenings, to be writing daily updates as well. I will, however, post brief daily reports from the Salon just so that everybody can be sure I am working hard. And there is no need for concern over potential frostbite resulting from the very low temperatures endured on platform 6; this is my ninth year at the Salon des Vins de Loire (I’m expecting the organisers to throw a party next year), and I learnt long ago to always pack an extra sweater and a woolly hat.