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Angers – centre of the wine world.

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Salons de Vins de Loire

During the first week of February the attention of the wine world focuses to a small town on the banks of the river Maine in central France, in the heart of the Loire Valley wine region.

Angers is the venue for the Salons des Vins de Loire, promoting the third largest wine producing area of France with a production of around 400 million bottles from 70,000 Ha (173,000 acres) of vines.

The Salons des Vins de Loire is the only major exhibition in Europe which features the wines of a single region, with 600 stands receiving around 9,000 wine-trade visitors from around the world. At the same time, eight fringe shows attract these potential clients before, during and after the exhibition, making this the “must see” heart of the wine world, for this week at the very least.

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Vins Anonymes show, Angers

Needless to say I have tickets and I’m very excited to be attending for the first time, but I am also considering which of the other shows I should visit. At the ancient Collégiale Saint-Martin d’Angers the organisation representing a number of young winemakers called Les Vins Anonymes are exhibiting ‘natural’ wines from some thirty French producers, a good selection from the Loire amongst them.

I have been invited to a tasting of organic wines at the Greniers Saint Jean in Angers, whose organisers are also involved in the Diva Bouteille show at the Chateau Brézé, a fantastic venue in the huge underground caves beneath the ancient castle down river from Angers in the Saumur appellation.

This show features a selection of 45 organic wine producers from the Loire, but also some from the regions of Champagne, Alsace, Jura, Savoie, Bourgogne, Beaujolais, Bordeaux and the South-west, Rhône, Languedoc, Roussillon and Provence – Corsica. In addition a number of growers from other European and American countries are coming over for the event.

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Dive wine tasting

This all sounds like a great day out and I have invited our friend Stanley Browne, the ex-Chairman of the Vintners’ Association and a Loire wine expert, to join us on the Sunday. I gather he is arranging train connections from the UK as we speak!

On Monday I shall be working, on my own and concentrating on the Salons des Vins. That should be more than enough excitement for one day.

Wine Fair – Blois November 2012

Blois wine fair

There are a lot of wine shows and winery open days at the moment. On Remembrance Day Sunday we travelled up through the Sologne woodlands to Blois, where a Vinomedia wine fair was being held at the Grain Market.

With forty-three stands, this was not a huge show, but great value and a lot of fun all the same. Vinomedia are a commercial outfit who put on shows of this sort throughout France. On this occasion they had winemakers from 33 appellations represented. Those from the Loire included Les Vignes Herbal from Anjou, Domaine de Poterne from Chinon, Domaine de la Closerie of Coteaux du Layon, Domaine des Tileuls offering Muscadet and Florent Bardin showing Pouilly Fumé and Sancerre.

This great range of Loire wine producers were joined by others from area France, from the Alsace in the east to Bordeaux in the west, and right down to the Languedoc and Roussillon in the south. Samples were enthusiastically offered and included Champagne and Cognac; having tasted we could not resist a few cases for the cellar. In addition to Bordeaux’s from the Medoc and St. Emillion, we purchased a Moulin à Vent, all from the 2010 crop. From the Loire we selected a rather lovely sweet Coteaux du Layon produced from old Chenin Blanc (Pineau de la Loire) vines. These are harvested very ripe fruit, sun-dried on the vine, called passerillé grapes.

Journées Gastronomiques de Sologne

Wine from the Coteaux du Cher

This weekend was an important one for those interested in food and wine in France and especially the centre of france where we are based. The 35th Journées Gastronomiques de Sologne was held in Romorantin, capital of the Sologne region, with some of Frances top chefs in attendance to demonstrate their art and judge the work of others.

Each year the cuisine of a guest country is highlighted alongside the culinary delights of the region and this time it was the turn of Turkey. The main focus was on top chefs and  local apprentices as always, with competitions for bread, deserts, sugar-work and with live demonstrations of the experts and their trainees. It also hosts national level competitions for wine and for cheese.

Wine-makers where out in force and we were able to taste a selection from the Loire region and beyond. The Confrerie des Vignerons des Coteaux du Cher, the guild or fraternity of winemakers from the towns and villages close to where we live, put on a display while several individual producers also had stands. We sampled wines from Vouvray, Sancerre, Coteaux-du-vendomois and all over the Touraine. I will report on the wine awards when the winners are declared.

More news from Bourgueil

A trip was organised to Saumur on a dull and damp day this week, picking up American clients and touring Bourgueil & St Nicholas de Bourgueil, fast becoming favourite wine areas in the huge stretch of the Loire Valley that we consider our territory.

There is no finer way to understand a wine than to drink it in the region of its production and get out into the vineyards and we do this often, both professionally and when visiting other parts of France in our free time.

Damp but happy in the vineyards of Bourgueil

We are beginning to get a handle on Bourgueil & St Nicolas de Bourgueil, separate AOCs which at first glance make no sense at all. The wines are produced in the same way, in neighbouring villages and using the same Cabernet Franc grape variety. Both AOICs came into existence in July 1937.From the point of view of a consumer the region needs reorganising into three new Appellations’: the land down on the ancient sandy islands of the Loire River, the deep soil of the alluvial plain and vineyards up on the limestone ridge. These three geological areas produce quite different wines, while those in the same soil type in the neighbouring villages are very hard to tell apart.

This reorganisation is not going to happen any time soon, if only because of the deep political and social rivalries between the two communities. I am told the folks in Bourgueil consider themselves on a higher social level to those working in the fields of St. Nicolas and co-operation for their mutual benefit seems highly unlikely.

The Maison des Vins in Bourgueil has tried to make it easier for consumers. They display examples of wines from many of the winegrowers of Bourgueil and offer tastings of a selection. They have labels above each wine indicating which soil type the wine comes from. Suddenly you feel the air is clearing and you have half a chance of negotiating your way around the wines on offer. Staff is knowledgeable and friendly and an hour spent in the Maison des Vins is never wasted: I have been several times, learnt much and rarely resist a small purchase.

In the Cave du Pays de Bourgueil

We moved on to the Cave du Pays de Bourgueil for another excellent tasting, with a unique opportunity to taste St. Nicolas de Bourgueil and Bourgueil wines side by side. The Cave houses a museum of winemaking in the limestone quarry tunnels which date back to the year 990 when the Abbey at Bourgueil was built from its stone.

It was here that I discovered the Bourgueil “Vin de Sable” or “Vin de Cote” wines for the first time. This wine is not widely known outside the region, is light and easy to drink, ideal BBQ and summer party wine which is purchased eagerly by the locals. You won’t find it in your supermarket, wherever you live!

16thC winepress at the museum of Cave du Pays de Bourgueil

When you move up to the gravel alluvium or to the more tannic wines on the tufa limestone ridge of both Bourgueil and St Nicolas de Bourgueil, the differences are mostly derived from production techniques. The limestone Bourgueils spend a year in oak barrels and are macerated on their skins for longer, for instance, while the winemakers in St Nicolas they rely on their old vines, many up to 70 years or more, to give the wine its character.

St Nicolas de Bourgueil is produced only in the village of the same name and has vineyard covering just under 1000 Ha, while Bourgueil wine can be produced in the villages of Benais, Bourgueil, La Chapelle-sur-Loire, Chouzé-sur-Loire, Ingrandes-de-Touraine, Restigné, St Nicolas de Bourgueil and Saint-Patrice, with around 1,400Ha in production.

Our midday meal this trip was a real treat with a stop at a great restaurant right in the heart of the village of St. Nicolas. Saint Nicolas Gourmand uses fresh, local produce and home-made dishes, presented in the ‘nouveau cuisine’ style, with beautifully arranged dishes in modest portions but of the very highest quality: just the way I like it. It was suggested by others that we leave the choice of wine to the waitress and this was not bad advice. The St. Nic (from alluvial soil) went well with main courses of duck, local river fish and even my wild boar – no mean achievement.

Not even the wet weather could dampen our spirits after such a trip. I trust I shall be returning to this end of “our patch” soon.

The Loire Valley Harvest

A recent visit to Vouvray confirmed what we had observed throughout the Loire Valley region – the season was a month late.At Monmouseau they started picking on 9th September last year, while this year it was not until 9th October. The winemakers were waiting for grapes to arrive and with time on their hands gave us a fascinating tour of their facilities, deep in the cliffs of the Rochecorbon district. They also confirmed that sweet Vouvray wine would not be produced this year – it had not been warm enough.

At Montluoise sur Loire we tried the Cave Touristique for a tasting visit but were disappointed, not by the wines, but by the attention a seriously overworked staff could give us. It is a sales operation for several local producers and the sales man, while speaking English, was not the most expert I have encountered. Several points he made were quite wrong and I began to wonder if I should take anything he said seriously.

Cabernet Franc grapes are laoded into the press.

We were also able to watch Cabernet Franc grapes arriving at the co-op in Francueil. Hand picked grapes were loaded onto convayors after a test was made to confirm the sugar levels. After tasting the grapes we were allowed to tour the production facilities: the largest hydrolic press in the Loire and fermentation vessels dating back to the 1920’s (they have state-of-the-art stainless steel vessels as well, but the original old lined-concrete versions are wonderful). They are enthusiasts at Francueil and I had a long discussion with the co-op chairman about the history of the area as reflected in the names of the wines offered.

All winemakers are also confirming that while quantities are shockingly small this year, wine quality will be high. Unfortunately areas like this are unlikely to be able to charge any more for this scarce product, so incomes will be very low.

Sommelier Wine Awards 2012 Winners – Loire Valley

I’ve just been looking at the award winners in Imbibe’s Sommelier awards and a few Loire wines did very well:

Gold Award

Domaine Vacheron Sancerre Blanc, 2010, Loire, France

An accomplished, complex Sancerre, with a fine mix of smoke, minerals, soft white fruits, elderflower and citrus notes on the nose. ‘Mineral palate of lemon zest and stones, with a lengthy finish and good balance,’ said Tom Forrest, Vinopolis, adding ‘Waxy notes, apples in the background’. ‘Classical Sancerre – elegant and refined,’ said Louise Gordon, Rib Room at the Jumeirah Carlton Hotel. Try with prawn cocktail, or seafood.

£15.00 Stevens Garnier Wine Agency http://www.stevensgarnier.co.uk

Laporte Le Rochoy Sancerre Blanc, 2010, Loire, France

With classic Sancerre notes of gooseberry, fresh cut grass and hay, minerals and – of course – cats pee on the nose, this shows a fine acidity and complexity on the palate – think stone fruit, apples, pears and zippy gooseberries – and a medium finish. Goat’s cheese salad was the popular match.

£12.75 Laporte http://www.laporte-sancerre.com

La Cabriole Saumur Blanc, 2010, Loire, France

With a grassy note on the nose, this starts restrained and elegant, continuing to a youthful, dry, green apple and citrus-infused palate with breezy acidity. ‘Lovely minerality with some depth,’ said Fionnuala Synnott, Pollen Street Social. ‘A lot of white pepper on the palate,’ said Northcote’s Adam Pawlowski, adding ‘Serve as an aperitif, or with fish, shellfish or salads.’

£6.35 Enotria http://www.enotria.co.uk

Silver award

Domaine Vacheron Le Paradis Sancerre Blanc, 2010, Loire, France

With plenty of citrusy length on the palate, the judges liked the lemon zest and apple flavours, hints of stony minerals and grassy notes. ‘Smoked bacon, steely nuttiness, lanolin and grapefruit,’ noted Diego Muntoni, OXO Tower Restaurant. Might well have gone further, aside from the price.

£23.00 Stevens Garnier Wine Agency http://www.stevensgarnier.co.uk

Domaine des Marnières Cheverny Blanc, 2010, Loire, France

A textured – and many would say, textbook – Sauvignon, this has fresh green characters of Granny Smith, zippy nettley aromas, gooseberry and lime with a streak of minerality. With its soft juicy palate and nice finish, Hamish Anderson’s The Tate Group, called it ‘Good entry point stuff.’

£7.18 Berkmann Wine Cellars http://www.berkmann.co.uk

Hubert Brochard Pouilly-Fumé, 2010, Loire, France

With flint and gunsmoke on the restrained herbaceous nose, there’s ‘oranges and satsumas, apricots and peaches on a zingy palate’, said Igor Sotric, China Tang at The Dorchester Hotel. ‘Quite a classic style,’ said consultant Angela Reddin, adding ‘the subtle flavours and definition are excellent.’

£9.50 Greene King http://www.greeneking.co.uk

Bouchié-Chatellier Premier Millésimé Pouilly-Fumé, 2010, Loire, France

Plenty of texture and complexity with this expresive wine. An opulent nose of white peach with herbal hints, the palate shows a fine minerality and good, lengthy finish. Already good, would some bottle age help it open up and evolve more?

£11.75 Boutinot Ltd http://www.boutinot.com

Eric Louis La Côte Blanche Sancerre Rouge, 2010, Loire, France

Pale garnet in colour, this boasts light earthy aromas of red fruits, with a fine flourish of red cherries and berries on the palate, rose petals, fresh acidity and moderate tannins. ‘Elegant and light,’ commented Mariyana Radulova, Royal Thames Yacht Club.

£11.50 Bibendum Wine http://www.bibendum-wine.co.uk

Bronze award

Les Vignerons du Pallet, Château des Templiers Muscadet Sèvre et Maine Sur Lie, 2009, Loire, France

Bright and tangy, as Muscadet should be, with pear fruit on the nose, and a zesty, fresh palate with a dash of perfume. ‘Good minerality on the mid-palate and a breezy finish,’ said Jade Koch, consultant.

£5.00 Cavendish Wines http://www.cavendishwines.com

Philippe Girard Silex Sancerre Blanc, 2010, Loire, France

‘Green aromas of gooseberry and grass lead to a rounded mineral palate with some ripeness and tropical fruit on this zippy Sancerre,’ said Vinopolis’ Tom Forrest. ‘A strong mineral dryness leads to a refreshing length.’

£10.40 Boutinot Ltd http://www.boutinot.com

Les Coteaux Tufiers Vouvray Demi-Sec, 2009, Loire, France

After an attractive, sweet jasmine and honey perfumed nose, the palate is juicy and vibrant, with apricot, passionfruit and peach, plus good minerality. ‘Could be more complex, but fun as it is,’ said consultant Jade Koch.

£5.65 Boutinot Ltd http://www.boutinot.com

Domaine Tinel-Blondelet Pouilly-Fumé, 2011, Loire, France

Aromas of cooking apples mix with Turkish Delight and herbal notes on the nose, leading to a palate with ripe apples and pears, punchy acidity, an elegant minerality and a long finish. Available to the UK on-trade via Jascots Wine Merchants.

£11.80 Jascots Wine Merchants http://www.jascots.co.uk

Domaine Pellé Le Silex du Carroir Menetou-Salon Morogues, 2010, Loire, France

‘Lovely clean scents, herbaceous hints and a flinty top note lead through to excellent layering in the mouth,’ said consultant Angela Reddin, adding that it ‘manages to be crunchy and smooth at the same time – great finish.’

£11.95 Boutinot Ltd http://www.boutinot.com

Many thanks to Imbibe.com for this fascinating insight.