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Langlois-Chateau Crémant de Loire Quadrille 2002

I was sitting in the passenger seat of a small Citroen combi-van, a half-car-half-van affair perfect for the small-scale agriculteur, such as a vigneron with just a few hectares to look after. Just the sort of vehicle that made Citroen famous of course, that being the exact premise on which the Deux Chevaux or 2CV was built; small and cheap, with removable seats to facilitate the transport of animals instead of people, the car was famously described as "capable of driving across a ploughed field with a sheep in the back and a pile of eggs on the front seat". First produced in 1948, the 2CV brought affordable motoring to the French rural masses; in production for more than forty years, no wonder it became such an icon of French life.

This was no Deux Chevaux though but a much more modern affair, although from the dirt, wear and tear it exhibited it was still very obviously employed as a rural workhorse. And at the wheel none other than top Anjou vigneron Richard Leroy; having been for a bumpy ride around his Noëls de Montbenault vineyard we were now en route back to his house in Rablay-sur-Layon. As we talked, he enquired as to who else I was visiting that week. Hopefully Frantz Saumon, I replied, although Frantz had not yet returned my calls. As it turned out Richard and Frantz are friends, and they had spoke by telephone only the previous evening; thus I learnt that following some dramatic storms over Vouvray and Montlouis Frantz had been very busy in the vineyard dealing with damaged vines and fruit. My chances of a meeting were looking slim. I threw out a few other names, such as Jacky Blot and Vincent Carême, the latter another which met with Richard's approval; in his opinion Vincent is making the best wines in Vouvray. And then I mentioned Langlois-Chateau.

Richard's eyes rolled towards the sky (or towards the roof of his car, at least). This was one name that didn't seem to bring an approving smile to his face.

Langlois-Chateau Cremant de Loire Quadrille 2002

To be honest I wasn't surprised; Richard Leroy is as committed to his two small plots of land and his vines as any other man in the Loire Valley. He knows every square inch of his 2.7 hectares of vineyard and the age of each vine. His barrels are few and carefully selected, from a broad range of coopers, his use of sulphur as low as it could possibly be, and the wines exquisite and highly desirable. The juice of his vines and perhaps his wine too runs in his veins, I think. The kind of work that goes on at a giant producer of sparkling wine such as Langlois-Chateau, selecting vast quantities of wines from loosely-defined terroirs - as seen in my tasting of Langlois-Chateau vins clairs in early 2010 - must be anathema to a dedicated producer of low-yield, naturally-made, terroir-expressing wine such as Richard Leroy.

And no doubt there are many consumers who would follow Richard's habit of eschewing such producers and their wines, although I readily confess I'm not one of them. I adore Richard's wines, just as I do those of some other of the Loire's shining but under-publicised stars, such as Eric Nicolas, Clos Rougeard, Eric Morgat and many others. But there is also room in my cellar for the wines of much larger domaines, even when we are talking about sparkling wine houses such as Langlois-Chateau and Bouvet-Ladubay that work to a semi-industrial scale. Provided the quality can be found in the glass, and the style suits my palate, then I'm prepared to drink the wine. And with Langlois-Chateau, effectively a Bollinger outpost in the Loire, there is no shortage of quality. Sure, the wines might not be as cutting-edge as those offered by the likes of Huet, Careme or Jacky Blot, but being a completely different style from a distant appellation this hardly seems like an appropriate comparison to make anyway. Within the spectrum of wine offered by Saumur and the more flexible Crémant de Loire appellations they are certainly in the premier league, particular the house's top vintage cuvée, Quadrille.

And so to this week's wine, 2002 Crémant de Loire Quadrille from Langlois-Chateau, a selection from four distinct terroirs of clay and limestone at Montreuil-Bellay which provides red varieties for the blend, with white varieties grown on more sandy limestone soils at St-Hilaire-St-Florent, St-Léger-de-Montbrillais and Dampierre-sur-Loire. Cabernet Franc and Cabernet Sauvignon are 15% and 5% of the blend respectively, the balance being 30% Chardonnay and 50% Chenin Blanc. The second fermentation is méthode traditionelle, and once completed the wine spends four years on the lees before disgorgement. In this vintage it has a moderately pale lemon-gold hue with a plentiful bead, rather fat-looking at first but soon settling down into something finer, although no less effervescent. It is rather restrained on the nose, showing apple fruit, warm and sweet and autumnal rather than anything crisper, with a little chalky perfume to it. The palate carries these impressions along very nicely, showing a rather crisp and talcy minerality behind a plump, well polished palate of ripe, perfumed, red-skinned apples and a little spiced and orangey citrus zest. The mouthfeel has a creamy element to it, and it is remarkable to think this is dosed to only 4 g/l. To me this wine doesn't show quite the finesse that it did when tasting at the domaine in February this year (isn't that always the case?) but it is still giving plenty of pleasure and will behave very nicely in the cellar for a few years I am sure. 17+/20 (4/10/10)

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