Earlier this week I set foot in the 33rd edition of the Salon des Vins de Loire, in Angers. It was my eleventh time at this salon, and in writing this I realised I must have missed the celebrations that will have inevitably been in place to commemorate my tenth consecutive visit last year. I would have expected trumpets, cheering crowds and maybe a small-firearms volley in salute. Perhaps I went in via the wrong entrance? In truth though, ten (now eleven) salons is nothing. There is currently a thread on Facebook between merchants sorting out who has been the most often, and eleven lags behind their figures by some considerable margin; the British wine trade know how popular the wines of the Loire Valley are with British consumers, and quite rightly many famous (and some not so famous) merchants seem to have a presence here.
There also seemed to be a strong presence from the USA this year, although I noted this was more evident in the ‘off’ events, or rather the one ‘off’ event I actually had time to attend, which was the Salon St-Jean, an organic-biodynamic tasting previously named Renaissance, than I did in the Salon proper. This might just be coincidence though; the Salon proper is much more spread out, in a huge hall, and it can be difficult to be certain of anything just eyeballing the number of people around you. Even so, it felt like a busier Salon this year, especially on Monday, especially nearer the entrance to the tasting halls. Moving deeper into the halls, admittedly it felt quieter. I have been waiting for a press release confirming visitor numbers for this year, but four days after the doors closed I am still waiting. I hope that doesn’t signify anything of note…..
On the press side of things, representation from the UK was, as usual, pretty dismal. Here my attendance ranks somewhat higher, second behind long-time Loire expert Jim Budd who has attended every year since it began, save for last year, when he had a sick note. Indeed, I would not be surprised if it turned out the first-ever Salon was his idea, such is his influence and the high regard that he is held in the region. So on the score card I come in second place, but who is in third place? Nobody, it seems*. Considering the size of the region, the volume of wine produced, the fame of some of its appellations (Sancerre, Pouilly-Fumé, Vouvray, Chinon, Coteaux du Layon, Muscadet) and the value it offers this is utterly shameful. Bearing in mind that there are several global wine publications with huge teams of writers and tasters, it is amazing that one cannot be dispatched to the biggest annual event in the Loire Valley. It seems it is more interesting to have yet another yawn-inducing deep dive on the latest Bordeaux vintage (I’m all for reviewing Bordeaux obviously – but I’m also for achieving a sense of balance) than it is checking out the world’s best Sauvignon Blanc, Chenin Blanc and Cabernet Franc, all of which emanate from this region. It’s an approach I just find head-scratchingly impossible to understand.
So how was the 33rd Salon des Vins de Loire? It was a busy four days. Day one I spent at the Salon St-Jean, with the wines of Nicolas Joly, Eric Nicolas, Mark Angeli, Vincent Caillé, Damien Laureau, Tessa Laroche and many others. These are all famous names, and some of their wines I adore, some I am completely ambivalent about, and subscribers will no doubt see (or already suspect) which is which. On day two I ditched the usual Salon schedule and headed out into the vines with Jo Pithon and Ivan Massonnat; Jo has sold his domaine to Ivan, who has augmented it with new vineyards, and he has christened it Domaine Belargus.
This was a great visit, checking out vineyards in Savennières, Quarts de Chaume and Anjou/Coteaux du Layon, before a tasting at the cellars. Jo will continue to advise and work with Ivan and his team for a while, and I feel very positive about the project as a whole, but at times it did feel as if it was a sad farewell for Jo, something which I thought came across when we visited Les Treilles (pictured above). I will profile this new domaine very soon, probably as soon as I have my Loire 2018 report and Muscadet reports for this year done (unless the Bordeaux primeurs get in the way, which is possible). Later on day two I headed back to Salon St-Jean for a final hour or two there. Days three and four I spent at the Salon des Vins de Loire, and with just two days (the fair was cut from three to two days a few years ago) to taste, this meant checking in with the crème de la crème rather than exploring. So I enjoyed tasting with Domaine Luneau-Papin, Domaine de la Pépière, Château Pierre-Bise, Philippe Alliet, Xavier Weisskopf, Vincent Carême, Paul-Henry Pellé, Alphonse Mellot, Domaine Vacheron and more. By 4 pm on day four I was really flagging, and gave up, heading for the railway station and home.
I will put many of my thoughts about the 2018s tasted in my aforementioned Loire 2018 report and Muscadet reports, but the key is 2018 is a very fine vintage, perhaps a truly great one, at the very least to be ranked alongside the likes of 2009, 2005 and 2003, maybe even 1990 and 1989. There are many reasons for the success, but climate is clearly one of them. That is something I think I will examine in a future post. Tomorrow I am off to Wine Paris, so expect another delay in posts next week, followed by my Loire 2018 report the week after.
*If you are a UK blogger or journalist and you were at the Salon des Vins de Loire, do get in touch and put me straight.