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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.