Needing to be in Tours for business, we decided to use the opportunity to follow the river Cher down to Villandry, drift through the Azay-le-Rideau vineyards and tour the wine growing areas of Chinon and Bourgueil, on either side of the Loire.
The region is about two weeks away from harvest time, after a year which might be described as “challenging”. The maritime climatic influence has protected vineyards from the worst of the late frosts which have devastated the more northern Loire wine areas, but they still had frost, too much summer rain and a lack of sun which has meant extra work and many more worries. In the end though, it would appear to be an average harvest both in quality and quantity, if local vignerons are to be believed.
We lunched at Chinon on the river Vienne, 10km south of the Loire and went in search of the tourist office, Maison de Vin and the wine growers’ Co-op, all of which were closed especially for our visit. Heading off north, somewhat disgruntled, in the direction of Bourgueil, we happened on the Maison des Vins et du Tourism at Véron, one of the Chinon villages, where we were made very welcome and enjoyed a good chat about their wines and the 2012 season. The wine we tasted was a bit woody for my liking but we will return one day soon to do a proper tasting.
Suitably fortified and encouraged, we continued across the Loire to Bourgueil, where the Maison des Vins is a great example of how these things should be done. Owned by the wine makers of the appellation, each grower is represented by three wines, all of which can be purchased and several of which can be sampled on a rotating basis to ensure fairness. The staff were knowledgeable and friendly and introduced us to the idea of two styles of Bourgueil (and St. Nicholas de B.) wines, depending on their location – either river valley or limestone hills. The river valley wines are lighter, fruitier and can be drunk much younger. The limestone cliffs and hills produce a much more tannic wine which keeps longer – and suits my pallet better.
St. Nicholas also has a Maison des Vins, based in a restaurant in the centre of the village. This was closed, but to be fair, most people seemed to be tending to vines before the impending harvest. We were told about a cellar, La Cave du Pays de Bourgueil, which welcomes tourists and houses a museum of wine pressing equipment, where Bourgueil and St. Nicholas could be tasted side by side. This is on the agenda for our next wine tour to the region later in the month.
All these regions, Chinon and Bourgueil with their associated villages, produce red wine from Cabernet Franc, a grape intoduced to the region in the 17th century. It was placed in the care of the Abbot Breton at Bourgueil, whose named is used for the variety in these parts. Rosé wine is also produced from this grape. The area is important for other crops, notably tree fruit – apples and pears in particular – with dried pears a gastronomic speciality.