Focus on Saumur, 2010

Hands in pockets, I sauntered along the Quai Mayaud towards the centre of town. On my right flowed the Loire, the muddy waters meandering lazily along between the river’s ceaselessly shifting sandbanks, to be joined just downstream by those of the Thouet, yet another tributary emptying into Europe’s greatest untamed river. High on the hill to my left, behind the rooftops, the famous château, keeping its eternal watch over the town. Behind me was my hotel, which I had just left; the Anne d’Anjou certainly wasn’t the cheapest roof-over-my-head I could have chosen, but despite my dwindling finances – in fact, make that non-existent finances, as the bank balance was permanently negative in those heady student days – I figured I deserved a treat. Later on, I would be dining in the hotel’s restaurant Les Ménestrels, an evening where I would single-handedly bring down the average age of the clientele by at least 20 years. Surrounded by seemingly wealthy late-middle-aged couples of British origin, I found myself viewed with suspicion. “I suspect he’s a journalist“, I heard one lady whisper, the final word layered with obvious disdain. Fortunately, the dining experience rose above the frostiness of my neighbours; it would a great meal.


As I continued my stroll into the town I discovered, upon turning a corner, a Maison du Vin, the display window festooned with bottles. Taking a perch at the tasting bar inside I chose a few wines to taste, names largely unfamiliar to me. The experience was thrilling; bright and vibrant raspberry fruit exploded on my palate. My tasting vocabulary at the time was poor, but looking back (yes, through rose-tinted spectacles I admit) the wines had vivacity and freshness, elegance rather than deep substance, and were endowed with deliciously crisp acidity. This was something new!

It was the summer of 1993, and I had just discovered Saumur.

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