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Loire 2018 at Four Years

Loire 2018 at Four Years

It is a fact to both celebrate and rue that the Loire Valley does not engage in some sort of primeur tastings, in the manner of le système Bordelais.

Celebrate because, while I participate in the annual jamboree known as the Bordeaux primeurs, I acknowledge that there are well-described problems and pitfalls associated with the system. It involves tasting close to a thousand barrel samples, all specially prepared for early tasting and thus arguably not representative of the finished wine. None of them can be tasted blind, so all sorts of extraneous influences can be brought to bear. And it is all squeezed into the space of a week or two (or three – with every passing year it seems to soak up more time). If you feel the need to criticise the primeurs system, take aim at your chosen target and fire. With so many points of contention, it’s like shooting fish in a barrel.

I suspect most committed drinkers of Chinon and Cour-Cheverny will stop at this point, content with celebrating the absence of this system from their favoured region, but bear with me.

Rue because, while barrel sample notes and scores have to be viewed with a wary eye, a concentrated tasting of so many wines, in so many styles, facilitates a rapidly acquired, broad and complete understanding of the vintage. During the course of one visit to Bordeaux I will taste hundreds of young red wines, from the entry-level all the way up to the grands vins destined to live out the next two (or more) decades in the cellar. I will also taste many of the dry white wines, again those for drinking now and the grands vins for drinking in the far-distant future. And of course I taste all the sweet wines as well. The primeurs system is easy to criticise, but it is an informative and frankly unparalleled tasting opportunity.

Loire 2018

The absence of a similar opportunity to make a broad and early assessment of the most recent vintage in the Loire Valley is a problem with which I have grappling for some time. The first samples to emerge are always the Muscadets, the region’s many rosés and the entry-level Sauvignons. As I noted in my recent Loire 2021 First Taste report, encounters with the reds are uncommon at this stage, and an early taste of a nascent and perhaps still-fermenting sweet wine is a unicorn-level experience; you think their existence is at least a possibility, you met someone who swears he tasted one yesterday, but any search for a unicorn of your own – maybe a 2021 Quarts de Chaume offered for tasting in early 2022 – is likely to leave you with an empty glass, and blank page in your tasting notebook.

For this reason a few years ago I introduced this review of a handpicked selection of wines from the Loire Valley at initially three and now four years of age, allowing me to take a look not just at early-released wines but also more serious white, red and sweet cuvées from the vintage. The extension by one year was primarily a result of the slowdown in my tasting schedule caused by the Covid-19 pandemic, nevertheless, if the provision of long-élevage red, demi-sec and sweet wines to this report is anything to go by, four years seems like a sensible time to wait. Having said that, the slightly greater provision of sweeter styles this year is perhaps more a reflection of the vintage itself.

And with this mention on the vintage, before I provide some detail regarding the tastings, I will first provide a quick recap on the 2018 season and harvest.

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