It is 1993, and I am in the Couly-Dutheil tasting room not far from the Fortresse Royale in Chinon. I am not sure how I found my way here, but nevertheless I arrived, my final steps guided by a large sign outside the tasting room. My young eyes are overwhelmed by the tasting opportunities available, white, rosé and red in multiple cuvées, including more than a handful of vintages of Clos de l’Echo. The wines were poured by two attentive ladies, one of whom nodded in agreement with my decision to buy several bottles of the 1989 Clos de l’Echo (the straight cuvée, this being six years before the introduction of the Crescendo super-cuvée) a wine which I continued to imbibe in a state of exhilaration throughout the 1990s. It was perhaps one of the greatest Loire Valley reds I have ever had the pleasure of drinking.
More than a decade later and I am back in Chinon, searching in vain for that tasting room. Everything seems to have changed; the tastings are now offered in a smart little house that sits close to the Clos de l’Echo, and the structure that closest resembles the tasting room of the early 1990s, the memory of which is now quite soft and fuzzy, appears to be a glassware gallery and shop. It is strange how the passage of time dulls the memory, and how the few vague recollections which remain can be erroneously linked together. I wandered by, and wondered to myself if I had perhaps imagined that first visit to a mysteriously vanished Couly-Dutheil tasting room.
Another decade passes and once again I find myself skirting the Clos de l’Echo, this time graciously chauffeured around by none other than Arnaud Couly. It would seem I have gone up in the world, or at the very least the Loire Valley wine world. Reaching the foot of this most famous of all Chinon’s vineyards, we come across a low-slung building, encrusted with emerald-green ivy. From the side of the road it looked unfamiliar, but seen from the side of the vineyard a little row of arched, green-framed doorways evoke a clear and vivid memory of that first visit, despite more than 25 years having since passed. “It was my mother and aunt who would staff this tasting room”, Arnaud told me, which fitted exactly with my memory of those two ladies. It was a joy to rediscover it, a little like finding a treasured but long-lost possession, so formative was that first tasting trip through the vineyards of the Loire Valley.