A Look Back on 2017: Part 1
It has been a busy old year, 2017, with a heavy focus on the Loire Valley, for perhaps obvious reasons. Here’s a look back on the first six months.
On December 31st 2016 I took possession of Les Lavandes, a restored farmhouse not far from Chinon, perfect for exploring Anjou and Touraine, as well as occasionally striking out further afield. It’s a maison secondaire available to rent – I haven’t emigrated to France, although the thought is increasingly tempting. I first had the chance to visit (as owner, anyway – obviously I viewed it before buying!) during the second week of January. It was freezing; while ideal for a spring, summer or autumn break it will definitely need a heating upgrade before I return during the winter months. A visit to meet Aurélien Revillot was memorable, especially checking out his vines by moonlight, and the episode of rally cross through the vineyards at night. When it came to pushing his van out of the mud, I think Aurélien wished he had worn something more suitable than his slippers.
Thereafter it was all go for the annual round of Loire tastings, with a focus on the 2016 vintage. First it was the Benchmark tasting by the Sydneys in London, then out to the Salon des Vins de Loire in Angers, then back to the UK and then out the following week for the first ever Vinovision cool climate wine fair in Paris. The 2016 vintage was hit by frost in various parts of the Loire Valley, and these trips were a good opportunity to learn all about it, as well as taste a lot of other wines of course. The highlight of the Salon was perhaps an invitation to a fifteen-vintage vertical tasting at Domaine du Closel. I met familiar faces and some new names here; full marks if you can identify the four below, pictured at Vinovision*.
After the Bordeaux Index Bordeaux 2007 tasting in February it was judging time. I did quite a few judging panels for Decanter during the year. They were great fun. March was Muscadet (two days of it in total) which was published over about ten pages when it hit the presses, probably the biggest splurge on Muscadet in print in years. Then before long it was out to Bordeaux for the 2016 vintage primeurs, always one of the most important and busiest trips of the year. Apart from being stopped by the gendarmes for failing to come to a halt at a priorité a droite junction it was a thankfully uneventful week in Bordeaux during which I encountered some beautiful young wines and learnt a lot more about the region, especially during a lunch with Michel Rolland. As usual I visited all the big-name châteaux, meeting the teams, such as Aymeric de Gironde and Dominique Arangoïts at Château Cos d’Estournel, and learning about the vintage (I had also visited in December 2016 of course, so it wasn’t exactly new information)
Later in the year Aymeric left Château Cos d’Estournel to take up a position managing Château Troplong-Mondot, following its sale by Xavier Pariente, undoubtedly one of the more significant news stories to come out of Bordeaux during the year.
Later in April, while still slogging away publishing my primeurs notes I headed down to London again for the Decanter World Wine Awards, where I judged for the full four days (the judging goes on for a whole week, but sitting only on the Loire panel we are usually finished within four days). I have only ever done two or three days before, so it was great to see out the whole tasting, including revisiting the gold-medal winners and deciding on the trophies at the end of the week. I have already booked in for the full four days during 2018. Sadly, as we tasted, we learnt of devastating frosts across France, hitting Bordeaux hard (surely their worst since 1991, at least) and also the Loire Valley (for the second year running, a potential catastrophe). I wrote a series of frost reports at the time, starting with Muscadet. I hope I don’t have to write anything similar for a long time.
May was a quieter month (thank heavens) on the wine front (I have plenty of other jobs to keep me busy though), but then in June it was back out to Les Lavandes for two weeks of back-breaking DIY, cleaning and gardening during which a few wine visits served as light relief. I called in on Jérôme Billard, Matthieu Baudry, Château de Minière (I was keen to visit after rating one wine very highly in the Decanter Awards) and took a fantastic tour of the Anjou vineyards with Emmanuel Ogereau. It was also great to call in on some local restaurants and wine bars, such as the Auberge du Val de Vienne, La Cabane à Vin and La Cave Voltaire to see where I would be eating most frequently during the coming years!
*Clockwise, from top left; Jean-Philippe Blot, Adèle Rouzé, Arnaud Bourgeois, Céline Champalou.