I think it is true that the more experience you have with wine, the more years you have been drinking it and tasting it, the less easy it is for wine to surprise or impress. After all, you have discovered all the commonly encountered varieties, tasted all the commonly encountered styles, and you have finished your explorations of the world’s many wine regions. After that you are looking for mere nuances, points of interest in wines that differ from one another only slightly. Is this Cornas better than that one? Is this Coonawarra Cabernet Sauvignon really so much better than all the other wines from the same region already tasted?
No wonder then that so many of us seek out new themes in wine. The garagistes of St Emilion and all their new oak in the 1990s were one, the much more recent ‘natural’ wine movement is another; although they undoubtedly appealed to very different people, both did fundamentally the same thing, which was to offer drinkers new taste experiences. The discovery of these wines was very exciting, and both types of wine gave believers a new ‘movement’ to get behind.
Although there is nothing really new about the wines of the Côte Roannaise and the other appellations of the Upper Loire, my slowly ongoing process of discovering and attempting to understand the wines of these regions gives me the same sense of excitement. This is an interesting development, because there is nothing new here about the varieties or the terroir. The local vignerons favour Gamay and Pinot Noir, both very familiar thanks to my previous tasting experiences, in Touraine and Sancerre especially. The soils and rocks underfoot are granitic and acidic, and there is a familiarity here also, the rocks having similar origins to those you find west of Angers, in Anjou and of course Muscadet. I think, though, that the combination of the two is really exciting, and every time I encounter a wine from the region, with all its bright and genuine fruit, tense acidity and especially all that tingling minerality, it feels like an alarm clock has gone off in my head. It’s my own, personal (it feels that way) garagiste phenomenon. My first taste of the wines of Le Picatier gave me the exact same experience.