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Salon 2018: Nearly Done

It’s Tuesday morning and I have three days of tasting under my belt. I spent Saturday at the Renaissance tasting in the glorious venue of the Hôpital Saint-Jean, where I thought two Savennières domaines, in particular Damien Laureau (sporting handsome beard) and Tessa Laroche of Domaine aux Moines were some of the stars of the show, especially Tessa who has completely turned around the family domaine which always made interesting but rather old-school wines. Until Tessa took over that is, as today they are minerally, precise and profoundly better.

One other star of the show was Domaine de Bellivière, but then Eric’s wines are nearly always remarkable, so maybe this is not really news. Usually I might also mention Richard Leroy at this point, but of course Richard wasn’t there. As I described in my Anjou 2016 report last year, Richard suffered a total wipe-out in the 2016 frost and made no wine. And so there was little point in him coming to smile sweetly at people with no wine to pour. His absence is just one small example of how devastating the frosts of 2016 and 2017 have been for some people. All fingers crossed for 2018.

On Sunday I went to Les Pénitentes, a tasting group led by Thierry Puzelat, René Mosse and Hervé Villemade. This was a really funky way to spend a Sunday morning. And when I say funky, I mean funky. After a few hours I headed back to Renaissance, where I revelled in the pure and perfumed Roannaise Gamays of Domaine Sérol and Domaine de Pothiers, both domaines having enjoyed success in the 2017 vintage. Some of their superior cuvées are seriously delicious, and although I have drunk some of their lower- and mid-level wines at home, I really must track down some of the top single-vineyard wines some time soon.

Salon des Vins de Loire 2018

It was soon Monday, and I headed up to the Salon des Vins de Loire proper, and after a rather patchy weekend (yin and yang – the highlights described above were balanced out by any number of vinous lows) the quality of wines was overall very good indeed. With only two days of tasting at the Salon this year I drew up a list of a dozen domaines where I simply had to taste, and I visited eleven of them, exceeding my expectations, making for a successful day. But as my ‘hit list’ included Domaine de la Pépière, Château Pierre-Bise, François Pinon, Philippe Alliet, and Alphonse Mellot, is it surprising that quality was so high?

Indeed, the only thing about the Salon week in Angers that does surprise me, and it surprises me every year, is that many visitors to the region only go to the ‘off’ salons that focus on ‘natural’, organic and biodynamic domaines, thereby missing out on some of the region’s very best wines. There is dogma in wine-writing and wine-blogging as well as winemaking, it seems. I am content that I am sufficiently open-minded to visit a selection of salons, and taste with a number of groups of vignerons bound by a variety of different philosophies and aims, rather than just restrict myself to one ‘type’ of wine. To do so would certainly give a rather blinkered view of what the Loire Valley, a great wine region, is achieving.

Today (that’s Tuesday, in case you haven’t been following the scheme) I will cross off number twelve on that list, François Chidaine. After that I have now drawn up a reserve list for today. I don’t normally do this but I didn’t want to get to Tuesday evening and have that ‘oh crap’ moment when I realise I missed out an important visit. Any vignerons who I don’t see before the end of the Salon, if you are at Vinovision, I will hook up with you there. And I will be making some visits in May, in a combined Bordeaux-Loire trip, and October for the harvest.

Salon 2018: The Rock Star Lifestyle

After a tasting of the 2008 Bordeaux vintage with Bordeaux Index on Thursday, and dinner in London on Thursday evening, I spent Friday ambling down to Angers. It was my second super-early rise in two days, for my second early flight in two days, this time to Paris. This was followed by a couple of hours hanging around Paris CDG airport, after which I boarded the train to Angers. My hotel is a short walk from the railway station in Angers. By 6 pm I was falling asleep on my bed and rather than fight it I just gave in to sleep.

Who says wine writers can’t have a rock-star lifestyle?

So I am in Angers, principally for the 2018 Salon des Vins de Loire, although as most readers will know the Salon comes with various ‘off’ events, the most useful of which I find to be the Renaissance tasting (Nicolas Joly, Richard Leroy, Mark Angeli, Eric Nicolas and many more), so this is where I will be spending the best part of the weekend. Then on Monday and Tuesday I will be at the Salon-proper, which also incorporates a tasting of wines from La Levée de la Loire, a great group focusing on organic and biodynamic methods.

The city of Angers is naturally already thronging with British wine journalists*, the UK being an important export market for the Loire Valley for this region. They are attracted here not only by an eagerness to get away from the tedious treadmill of all-expenses-paid free press trips, but also by the stunning scenery, the sweeping vistas, the dramatic clifftop vineyards, the lakes and the waterfalls. You only have to look at the view from my hotel bedroom window, taken at 6am this morning, to get a taste of the atmosphere. Just a few seconds before I took the photograph a herd of elephants had gone by, but I just missed them, sorry.

Salon des Vins de Loire 2018

When I manage to drag myself away from my window I will head out to start four days of concentrated tasting. The difficulty this year will be knowing where to focus my energies, as although I have all weekend in the ‘off’ salons (hurrah!), the Salon-proper has been cut down to two days this year (boo!). It has been on the decline for a few years now, having lost the support of many previous exhibitors, partly because it is very expensive to exhibit at, partly because some vignerons don’t agree with the direction taken by the organising body, InterLoire, all compounded by the considerable financial pressures experienced in the region recently. Both 2016 and 2017 saw extensive frosts, and many parts of the region had difficult times before that, for example 2008 and 2012 also saw frost visit Muscadet, Montlouis has been hit in multiple vintages, and there have been destructive hailstorms in some regions, especially Vouvray in 2013. If you have little wine to sell, and little cash to spare, taking a huge stand at a fair is an expensive folly.

As a consequence I will probably focus on the big names during those two days, domaines I simply don’t want to miss, such as Domaine de la Pépière, Château Pierre-Bise, François Chidaine and so on. Those I know I can meet up with at Vinovision next week, the likes of Luneau-Papin and Domaine de la Taille aux Loups, I will leave until then. Those I can visit when out at my house near Chinon in May or October, especially in Chinon, Bourgueil or Vouvray, will have to wait. Last year I used my time at Vinovision to taste with a lot of less familiar domaines, such as Adèle Rouzé, Jean-Marc Biet and Domaine des Ouches, among others, and I expect this year that will again be a good opportunity to make some new discoveries.

Time to taste now. After all, that’s why I am here.

*This is obviously not true.

Harvest 2017 in Bourgueil

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

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

Château de Minière

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

Château de Minière

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

Château de Minière

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

Château de Minière

In it goes….

Château de Minière

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

Château de Minière

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

Château de Minière

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

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

Winedoctor: Service Notice

Please note that I am currently (as of 3pm on January 11th 2018) in the process of moving Winedoctor to a new server.

This process should not result in any downtime and the new server, with increased processing power and more memory, should provide Winedoctor webpages more quickly and more reliably.

The website may take 24-28 hours to ‘bed in’ on the new server, and during this time you may be looking at pages from either the old or new server. If you see any glitches or if the website behaves in an unexpected manner during this time this is probably the reason, so please bear with me.

Thanks

Chris Kissack

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Three from Domaine Serisier

Richard Serisier can trace his winemaking heritage back to 1839 when an ancestor, Jean Emile Serisier, left Bordeaux for Australia. No sooner had he arrived than he planted his first vines, in New South Wales. Fast forward a few years (to 2005 in fact, so quite a few) and a few generations and Richard Serisier became the new proprietor of Château Cadillac which, despite the name at first suggesting it might lie elsewhere, is located on the right bank, not too far from the vineyards of Fronsac and Pomerol.

Rather than chasing along on the coat tails of grander appellations Richard has chosen what I might call “the Reignac route”, working within the Bordeaux Supérieur appellation but in no way being confined by its rather generic image or reputation, akin to the work at Château de Reignac, or perhaps Château Grand Village or Roc de Cambes, where the Guinaudeau family and François Mitjavile also push the boundaries of their low-key appellations. From his vineyard he produces two cuvées, the small-production Château Montrevel and the larger-production Le Bout du Monde.

Le Bout du Monde & Château Montrevel

These are serious wines, with a lot more tannin and oak than I was expecting. They are not bright and breezy fruit-dominated wines for easy, early drinking. Without a doubt they need to be left in the cellar for five, maybe ten years. The 2014s are superior to the 2012, although the latter is clearly a good effort, even more so now I have realised this was Richard’s first ever vintage. My thanks go to Richard for the opportunity to taste these wines.

Château Montrevel (Bordeaux Supérieur) 2014: Made from the fruit of 35-year old Merlot vines, a very limited production of just 2,000 bottles. Vinified in small cement cuves, then malolactic and an élevage lasting 23 months in 100% new oak barrels. A bright crimson rim around a black tulip core to this wine, and enticing aromatics of rose petals, smoked blackcurrant, and black raspberry, and although there are some oak spices here it is nicely blanketed by the fruit. This also seems to be the case on the palate, which maintains a supple and succulent style, with intense cigar smoke, ripe blackcurrant and a herby edge of bay leaf. Very focused, with succulent acid and a grained tannic structure supporting admirable substance through the middle and finish, peppery and firm. This should go some distance in the cellar. 16/20 • 92/100 (January 2018)

Le Bout du Monde (Bordeaux Supérieur) 2014: This cuvée comes from younger vines, aged 25 years, 100% Merlot, with a production of 13,800 bottles. Vinified in small cement cuves, then 15 months in oak, using 60% new barrels. A rich and bright hue in the glass. It has a nose of sweet dark fruit, and despite using only 60% new oak the fruit is currently straitjacketed by a solid frame of sweet oak, coming through as toasted coconut and minty chocolate, and right now the fruit doesn’t shine through. The palate is exactly as the nose suggests, dark fruit framed by rich oak flavours, with a solid backbone of firm tannins which feel oak-influenced, swirled with intensely sweet fruit, dried blackcurrants, olives, black liquorice and currants. It is medium-bodied, with a long warming finish. There is some good raw material here, and lots of effort, but it needs to be tucked away in the cellar for five to ten years, like any grand vin, to absorb that oak and to soften those tannins. 15.5/20 • 91/100 (January 2018)

Le Bout du Monde (Bordeaux Supérieur) 2012: From 25-year old vines, 100% Merlot, with a production of 12,000 bottles. Vinified in small cement cuves, then 14 months in oak in this vintage, using 50% new and 50% second-fill barrels. A rich and bright hue in the glass. Like the 2014 though, while this is rich in berry fruit, showing a slightly roasted character, currently contained within a prominent frame of toffee, caramel and chocolate-laced oak. The palate carries on in the same vein, the fruit here more defined and seemingly more true to my perception of the vintage, showing a cooler red cherry character, albeit with a grilled edge, sitting in a bed of vanillin oak. A very nicely structured wine, with some finely defined tannins, and delightfully fresh acidity, all fashioned into a charming finish with a confident length. An attractive and honest style that shows some nice vintage typicity. 14.5/20 • 89/100 (January 2018)

Disclosure: These were samples received for tasting.

Winedoctor Holiday Offer

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

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

Hot tub

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

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

A Look Back on 2017: Part 2

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

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

A Look Back on 2017

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

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

A Look Back on 2017

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

A Look Back on 2017

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

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

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

A Look Back on 2017: Part 1

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

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

A Look Back on 2017

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

A Look Back on 2017

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

A Look Back on 2017

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

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

A Look Back on 2017

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

Continued in part two……..

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

R.I.P. Patrick Maroteaux

I was very saddened this morning to learn of the passing of Patrick Maroteaux, at just 67 years of age.

Patrick Maroteaux was in recent years best known as the owner of Château Branaire-Ducru, and I enjoyed his warm and friendly greetings at many Bordeaux tastings, both in London and in Bordeaux.

Patrick Maroteaux

Not that long ago, however, he was also president of the Union des Grands Crus de Bordeaux, a position he took up in 2000, only stepping down in 2008.

Patrick passed away on Sunday 19th November, after a long illness. My condolences to his family, and all the team at Château Branaire-Ducru.

Exploring Sherry #21: Lustau Fino En Rama

I chanced upon this bottle recently. Sometimes the best wine discoveries are entirely serendipitous, and this was one of those times. I have recognised over the past few years that I enjoy the style of fino that veers away from overpowering acetaldehyde character (and yes, I know the flor aroma could be regarded as the very soul of the fino style) and instead I have found myself favouring fresher and brighter styles, one or two examples marked by really interesting reductive notes, veering more towards matchstick and flint.

Lustau Fino En Rama

Lustau Fino de Jerez En Rama: This was bottled during spring 2017, which confounds the notion that you really need to get to fino as soon as humanly possible after bottling in order to see it at its best. It is one of just 1200 500-ml bottles produced. It has a pale yellow-gold hue in the glass, fresh and clear. The aromatics are just brilliant (to my mind), with scents of green olive and preserved lemon, but more notably a firm, confidently expressed, reductive flint and matchstick note which conveys a great vigour and confidence. The palate has read the script, showing this same character, pungent notes of olive swirled with sour citrus fruits and a vigorous acid backbone. It has a white-pepper length, clean and well defined, a truly great en rama style that really seems to me to catch the spirit of the wine, although it might not please those hunting for rampant flor character. 17.5/20 • 95/100 (November 2017)