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Domaine des Baumard Crémant de Loire Tirage 2004

Looking back through all my featured wines in my Weekend Wine posting, many of which originate from the appellations of the Loire Valley, I was surprised to see I have never focused in on Crémant de Loire. Perhaps it just doesn't have the cachet or other sparkling wine appellations such as Vouvray or Saumur? The former of this pair has a strong following in some quarters, the wines popular either on the grounds of their intrinsic quality (which with some domaines can be extraordinarily high) and I suspect for some geeky, acid-hungry cliques they offer something to drink which is different to what everybody else is imbibing. The latter appellation might not instil such anorak-rich fervour but Saumur does provide an awful lot of drinkers with an awful lot of fizz (some of which is a long way from being awful), Saumur being the largest source of sparkling wine anywhere in the world outside of Champagne.

Domaine des Baumard Cremant de Loire Tirage 2004But every region of France (or most, anyway) has its version of crémant, and the Loire is no exception. And despite the fact that this is a relatively young appellation, having only been born in 1975, it today provides an important avenue for the production of good quality sparklers outside the longer-established and more localised appellations. This is a multi-regional wine, as the fruit may be sourced from a very wide area spread across much of Anjou & Saumur, and also Touraine. And just as the wines have broad geographical origins they also have a much broader base in terms of variety; whereas Saumur Mousseux restricts Chardonnay and Sauvignon Blanc to 20% of the blend, and red varieties to 60%, the rules here are much more relaxed. And the range is wider too; eligible varieties include Chenin Blanc, Menu Pineau (also known as Arbois or Petit Verdet) or Chardonnay (no Sauvignon Blanc, unlike Saumur), Grolleau Gris and Noir, the two Cabernets, Pineau d'Aunis and Pinot Noir.

Although this wide choice of varieties may seem rather lax, and yields can also be high (50 hl/ha plus the annual plafond limite de classement which may increase this by up to 20%), Crémant de Loire is subject to other regulations which are intended to enhance quality. These include stipulation of transport of the harvest in small récipients non étanches (non-watertight crates), pressing by helical or chain-based techniques are forbidden, maximum pressure is stipulated, and the wine must spend twelve months in bottle before release, including nine months on its lees. As a result it might be a natural conclusion that wines bottled as Crémant de Loire are more set to give pleasure than those bottled as Saumur, but on tasting it becomes clear - depending on your preferred style - that there are naturally exceptions to this rather flimsy rule. For the quality-orientated the appellation does, however, facilitate the production of some excellent wines, often featuring large proportions of Chardonnay or Chenin Blanc.

Many of the Saumur houses produce a good Crémant, but only Langlois-Chateau make a strong feature of it; of the five sparkling wines produced here, four are Crémant, one (the 100% Cabernet Franc red sparkler Carmin Dry) is a Vin Mousseux de Qualité. A number of smaller domaines also channel some fruit into this style of wine, and one example is Domaine des Baumard. As well as the non-vintage Carte Turquoise (which features Chenin Blanc) and Carte Corail (a delicious Cabernet Franc rosé) there is this week's wine, Tirage, a vintage cuvée which casts the spotlight on Chardonnay. Having picked up some at the domaine a few years ago I recently decided it was time to let one of them see the light of day. In the glass, the Domaine des Baumard Crémant de Loire Tirage 2004 displays a vibrant colour, a very pale yellow, tinged with green, and with a gentle bead. The nose is fresh and lively, a mix of lemons rolled with stones, tinged with a little face cream and herby tarragon. On the palate there is a nicely rounded feel to it, although the focus of wine is the vibrant acidity, the lean and stony texture. Around it there is swirled the zest of lemon and lime, mixed with a sherbetty, soft, creamy minerality which gives the wine lovely breadth in the mouth. Lovely length of flavour through the palate, and a little persistence at the end. A wine not really showing much in terms of complexity, but there is a fine composition to it. Overall, it's good. If I had any more bottles I would have absolute confidence that they could go for years in the cellar yet, but sadly I have just realised that this bottle was my last one. Tant pis! 16/20 (10/5/10)

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