Verdier-Logel Côtes du Forez Cuvée des Gourmets 2014
As I know I have written elsewhere before now it was Sancerre that first drew me to the Loire Valley, more than two decades ago. An appreciation of wines from Chinon, Saumur-Champigny, Savennières and the like came later, but not too much later. I came to Muscadet last, believe it or not, only realising when I tasted the wines for myself, instead of believing the words written by others, that this was a region in fact rich in vibrant and exciting wines, and was not merely a source of flavourless and soulless battery acid, as some seemed determined to maintain. And that was that. I had ‘done’ the Loire.
Or so I thought.
There was no revelation, no moment of discovery that I can put a finger on. Instead there was a gradual realisation that there was more to the Loire Valley than the four main vineyards (five, if you think of Saumur as a distinct region, which it is really) that hug the banks of the river. First, there are all those interesting pockets of vines that lie away from the Loire, the Fiefs-Vendéens for example, the vineyards along the banks of the Loir such as Jasnières and the Coteaux du Vendômois, and more southerly sections such as Châteaumeillant and Haut-Poitou. Second, there are those vineyards that lie on the river that have fallen into obscurity, for example Orléans, Orléans-Cléry and the Coteaux Charitois (just upstream of Sancerre, in case that last one threw you). It’s not unheard of for some of these to be missing from maps of the Loire Valley wine regions altogether. Thirdly, having got to grips with all these distant and obscure pockets of vineyard, I realised there was yet more, when I discovered the wines of the Upper Loire. And when I say upper……
The vineyards of the Upper Loire span three départementes, Allier, Puy de Dôme and Loire. Those in Allier (St Pourçain) and Loire (Côtes du Forez, Côte Roannaise and the Vin de Pays d’Urfé) all lie pretty much on the banks of the Loire as it flows north on its way to Sancerre. Despite this, I have noticed that some wine writers seem almost offended by the notion that these wines should be considered part of the Loire Valley pantheon, rather akin to the manner in which some writers seem to be offended by the existence of ‘natural’ wines (or perhaps the use of the term ‘natural’ itself), while others seem to be offended by those who find ‘natural’ wines offensive. I can only imagine the distress that would be encountered if these writers attended the Salon des Vins de Loire and encountered the Domaine Sérol stand, or Thierry Bonneton, or Domaine des Pothiers, or any of the other domaines of the Upper Loire that I have encountered there in the past. Would we see reluctant acceptance of their presence, or would the enraged wine writer, his apoplectic fury and screams of “but they don’t belong here” having eventually attracted the attention of security staff, end up being ejected from the Salon? I would hope for the former, although I must admit the latter might also be quite entertaining.
All this fantasising has left me little room to say much about what makes the Côtes du Forez what it is, but thankfully I have other wines coming up in the future that will allow me to do this, as well as a couple of domaine profiles pertaining to the region in the pipeline, and of course I won’t overlook the region when I finally get started on my expanded Loire Valley wine guide (this year, I promise). Lying west of Lyon (indeed, we are so far upriver here we are closer to Geneva than we are to Sancerre), the predominant terroirs are volcanic, from the Massif Central, with granite, migmatite (a mix of igneous and metamorphic rocks) and basalt, overlaid with sand or clay. The only permitted grape variety is Gamay Noir, with older plantings known locally as Gamay St Romain, usually cited as a synonym for the variety although as it is a local name, relating to a vine nursery in St Romain, it may in fact reflect a distinct group of clones. The planting of Gamay Teinturiers (the varieties with red flesh) is not permitted but established vines may be included, up to a certain percentage. Only a handful of growers work the vineyards, which amount to less than 200 hectares, and Verdier-Logel is one of the best known. The Cuvée des Gourmets comes from granite soils, ans is clearly intended for early drinking, being the first wine I have encountered for some time sealed with a synthetic closure. The 2014 has a vibrant, plum colour in the glass. There follows a simply glorious nose, pure and full of the vibrant aromas of summer fruits, all cherries, raspberries and blackcurrants, blended together in a juicy summer pudding. The palate is full of similarly fresh fruit, with none of the strange confections that can bother Gamay. After such a promising nose it does not disappoint, being pure and convincing, with wonderful vivacity. There is a gentle lick of ripe tannin, a very subtle edge, just lending it a little backbone, assisted by some fresh acidity. The whole package just works beautifully, a blast of summer to come, and it is an absolute joy to drink. There aren’t many wines that have literally made me clap my hands with joy, but this is one of them. Overall a delicious example of Loire Valley Gamay, showing Beaujolais (which is north and east of the Côtes du Forez) how it should be done. 16.5/20 (9/3/15)
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