Les Sommets de Loire Côte Roannaise Altitude 430 2018
I returned from five days of wine travel last night, which explains (in case you were wondering) why I have not added any new articles to Winedoctor this week. I spent four days in Angers, the first two at Renaissance des Appellations, an organisation and tasting created by Nicolas Joly (and friends) to bring together a group of like-minded organic, biodynamic and natural winemakers under one title. These days the tasting seems to have several pseudonyms, including the rather more informative name of Salon St Jean (named for the venue, the Hôpital St Jean, a fabulous 12th-century hospital building on the banks of the Maine) as well as Salon Madavin (which reflects the fact that funds raised by charging a modest entry fee go towards a reforestation project in Madagascar). A lot of vignerons seem to be using Madavin, so perhaps I should get used to doing the same?
On days three and four I headed to the Salon des Vins de Loire, the annual and almost-all-encompassing Loire Valley trade fair. There have always been some notable absences, but in general this is a great opportunity to taste the wines of this region, from the Côtes du Forez and Côte Roannaise down to Muscadet and the Fiefs-Vendéens, all under one roof. The salon has withered a little during the time I have been attending (this was my 12th consecutive year), having been pruned from three days to two, and a number of important exhibitors have evaporated away. The arrival of La Levée de la Loire, an association of organic vignerons who exhibit alongside the main salon, helped to stem the decline, and this year both tastings felt busy and worthwhile. Indeed, there was a real buzz at the salon proper, with lots of visitors, especially on the first of the two days.
For my fifth day of wine travels I headed up to London to take part in a panel tasting for Decanter magazine, looking at 90 Loire Valley Sauvignon Blancs, focusing on the 2019, 2018 and 2017 vintages. My fellow judges were Jim Budd and Rebecca Gibb, and I would hope they would agree that this was an enjoyable, useful and informative tasting. Some wines we adored, some we didn’t, and perhaps most interesting of all there were a couple we disagreed on, sometimes with a ten-point difference in our scores. I am looking forward to seeing the tasting written up for the magazine.
All this travelling means my Weekend Wine is delayed until Thursday (having a weekend that lasts right through to Wednesday seems like a good idea to me) and unusually it came from the shelves of la grande distribution in France. I was intrigued by this wine, the 2018 Côte Roannaise Altitude 430 from Les Sommets de Loire, because it seemed to offer no real clue as to the domaine of origin, although a little internet detective work suggested the Sérol family may have been involved. As it turns out, having quizzed Stéphane and Carine Sérol about it the next day, this isn’t quite true. The fruit comes from a conventionally farmed vineyard (while Domaine Sérol, the leading domaine in the appellation, is entirely organic and biodynamic), and Carine Sérol’s sole responsibility was setting up the deal between the grower in question and the retailer, who have used their own label.
The wine is of course 100% Gamay, or Gamay-Saint-Romain to be as precise as the Côte Roannaise growers themselves, and it thus provides an interesting contrast with the recently encountered 2018 Touraine Première Vendange Gamay from Domaine de la Charmoise. It displays a fabulous colour in the glass, dark and saturated, showing a dusty and opaque hue, with a vibrant claret-crimson rim. The nose is packed with fruit character and it has some complexity to it, kicking off with the rich blackcurrant, cherry and currant fruits of the vintage, nuanced with fragrant and expressive rose-petal notes from the variety, as well as a more sauvage expression, reminiscent of grilled beef. The vintage also comes across in the texture of the palate, which is richly creamed, with very substantial character, underpinned by a very light touch of tannin but also some exciting and very appropriate acidity. All in all this is absolutely delicious, and it conveys with conviction several features, not only the joy of Gamay when grown on the volcanic soils of this appellation, but also the success of the 2018 vintage for reds, in seemingly all corners of the Loire Valley. 93/100 (10/12/18)
Read more in:
- A profile of the appellation’s leading name, Domaine Sérol
- My report on the Loire 2018 vintage
- A guide to Gamay