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Kir – Loire Valley versions

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When we are touring and tasting in the Loire Valley we might treat ourselves to a little cocktail before lunching at our chosen restaurant.

In Montrichard, the ancient town on the Cher which is often our midday venue when visiting Touraine vineyards, we will sip on a Kir made from Sauvignon blanc and crème de cassis. Relaxing in the sunshine in the old market square below the romantic ruins of the 15thC castle, nothing could be finer. On the Loire Sauvignon blanc may be replaced by Chenin blanc.

In Bourgueil, further down the Loire in fine red wine country, the Kir is made from a light Cabernet franc and is called a Cadinal or a Communard.

Of course, if we are really going to spoil ourselves, we could ask for a Kir Pétillant – made with local sparkling wine – or a Kir Royal – using Champagne. And the variations do not end here; in the south of France you may be offered a Kir made with peach, raspberry or even Fig liqueurs, while here in the ancient French region of the Berry, Kir Berrichon is made with red wine and blackberry liqueur (Crème de mûres).

Kir ingredients

A selection of Kir ingredients

Originally called blanc-cassis, the drink is  named after Félix Kir, mayor of Dijon in Burgundy from 1945 until his death in 1968. Kir, an ordained priest and Second World War resistance fighter, was a pioneer of the town twinning movement, intended to foster friendship and understanding  between former foes as an act of peace and reconciliation.

He is said to have popularised the drink by offering it at receptions to visiting delegations. Besides treating his international guests well, he was also promoting two economic products of the region: crème de cassis and white Burgundy wine.

Recipes for Kir vary according to taste with between 1 part in 5 and 1 part in 10 liqueur to wine being the normal range. Here in the Loire Valley, in addition to a choice of suitable white (and red) wines, we have a local liqueur maker in Distillerie GIRARDOT, located in Chissay en Touraine, on the banks of the river Cher between Montrichard and Chenonceaux. This company, dating from 1900, produces a range of fruit Crèmes  of around 20% alcohol, liqueurs (30%) and eau de vie (40%).

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Seeking out the award winning winemakers

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Loire Valley Wine Tour

Domaine de Bellevue

In last year’s World Sauvignon awards, local wines from the Touraine came away with 16 Gold Medals and a huge number of lesser titles – but I have probably already mentioned that in these pages.

This should come as no great surprise, the Loire Valley being the home of Sauvignon blanc, but we are very proud of the growers who made the effort to have their work internationally recognised.

Bellevue wines

Bellevue wines

I recently constructed a map for Google with the names and locations of all these gold medal-winners; you can find it here: https://mapsengine.google.com/map/edit?mid=zpMMM5WEoIG0.kek7djwCKIzk

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The canal close to Bellevue

Armed with this map and a list of names and addresses, the family and I went out on a beautiful sunny Saturday afternoon to find one of the growers. The one we chose – Domaine de Bellevue – is close to our home and on a beautiful slope above the Canal de Berry and the river Cher at Noyers-sur-Cher.

A fourth generation wine maker (we met the fifth generation as well, two strapping young lads pleased to be following in the father’s footsteps), Patrick Vauvy is passionate about his wines. He has vines in several plots giving him a variety of soils and growing conditions to work with. In the case of Sauvignon, he likes to pick and vinify separately and blend the resulting wines to create the balance and complexity he looks for in his product. His best soil looks down on the river, faces directly south and has a sand/flint soil.

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Frost protection fans at Bellevue

Spring frost can be a problem here and he was the first in the region to borrow an idea from the growers of Quincy, installing a huge fan in the centre of his vines in 2004. This moves the cold air and allows warmer air to drop down and protect the flowers and delicate buds. Patrick likes to pick ripe berries resulting in wines of lower acidity; when they are at the perfect stage he picks day and night for a week to get the crop in. Another particularity of this winemaker: he prefers to use no commercial yeast, relying on the wild yeasts found naturally on the fruit. Only if the wine fails to ferment completely does he add commercially produced yeasts; the result is a wine that more closely reflects his own particular vineyard.

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Recently pruned vines at Domaine de Bellevue

Domaine de Bellevue Sauvignon 2016 – the one with the gold medal – has completely sold out now but we tasted a very lovely 2017, bottled on Christmas Eve. We also sampled, and bought, a Chardonnay, labelled Vin de Pays, because this wine grape cannot be called an AOP Touraine, and a rose made from Gamay, Cabernet franc, Cot (Malbec) and  Pineau d’Aunis. They produce a sparkling Cremant de la Loire using the Chardonnay as base wine and a whole range of reds, but these we did not taste.

After this experience we will try to visit all of the growers on my Concours Mondial du Sauvignon list and report back.

Organic is good; biodynamic is better?

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Call me old-fashioned, but when given the opportunity I always like to give organic wines a try. At Maisons des Vins, those wonderful establishments in the heart of French wine districts where a huge range of local wines can be freely tasted, I will invariably sample one or two organic wines to compare with the others on offer and I am rarely disappointed.

Greniers St Jean tasting of organic wines

Greniers St Jean tasting of organic wines

I was delighted to hear therefore, that on the weekend of the huge Loire Valley wine trade fair in Angers, there were also two or three side events featuring organic and biodynamic wines.

Biodynamics has much in common with other organic approaches in that it emphasizes the use of manures and composts rather than artificial chemicals and pesticides on soil and plants. Methods unique to the biodynamic approach include an emphasis on integrating farm animals, the cultivation of crops and the care of the land. It values local production and distribution systems, the use of local breeds and varieties and the astronomical calendar to guide cultivation timings. The philosophy of biodynamics extends from the field into the wine cellar and beyond.

At the tasting in the beautiful old building called the ‘Greniers St Jean’ we were lucky to bump into Nicolas Joly early in the proceedings. Joly is a leading proponent of biodynamic viticulture and he marked up our exhibitor list with a few “must-see” suggestions from the 125 winemakers at the show. The show featured a good forty Loire producers, including Jolys’ own Coulée de Serrant, now principally run by his daughter Virginie. We tasted a number of his truly splendid white wines: the sublime Coulée de Serrant, minerally Les Vieux Clos, old vine Clos de la Bergerie; these are astonishingly good Chenin Blancs.

Colin hard at work at the Greniers St Jean tasting

Colin hard at work at the Greniers St Jean tasting

We talked at length with organic and biodynamic growers about their principals and their wines and could not fail to be impressed by their passion. Joly felt that the consumer had the right to know what was in his wines and deplored the use of flavourings and artificial yeast, all used perfectly legally by many wine producers, both large and small.

Of the dozen winemakers from Burgundy we were directed to Pierre de Benoit of Domaine de Villaine in the village of Bouzeron. Here, they uniquely grow the local variety called Aligoté d’Or, quite a treat, especially if compared to thin and acid Aligoté Gris, which is most often served with a generous dash of blackcurrant liqueur as the popular aperitif called Kir.  This was a different beast altogether. Both the terroir and the cultivation conspire to reduce yields and highlight the qualities of this grape, producing delicious wines with floral, mineral and pastry flavours.

Around 12% of wines in the Alsace are organic and we very much enjoyed a tasting of Sylvana, Riesling and especially Riesling Grand Cru Pfingstberg at the stand of Domaine Zusslin. Alsace Grand Cru wines maycome from one of over 50 villages, but represent only 4% of the total production of the region. They are well worth seeking out.

From the Minervois in the Languedoc-Roussillon we tasted white wine from another rare grape, Terret bourret, while we were delighted to see Clos du Joncuas representing the Rhone, having bought several of their wines while in Gigondas last year.

Wine humour

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A little light relief from the Humour & Vigne event this year reminds me of the joys of communication in a foreign language:

Humour & Vigne  JONZAC-Charente Maritime
Christine TRAXELER (TRAX) Prix de la Forme.

Loire shows off Sauvignon

Loire Sauvignon Blanc came under the spotlight at Vinexpo this week as Jamie Goode presented a masterclass to highlight the region’s growing expertise with this grape variety.

The event featured a 14-strong selection of wines chosen from this year’s medal winners at the Concours Mondial du Sauvignon, which saw the Loire awarded 45% of the total medals from a field of 16 Sauvignon Blanc-producing countries.

“Sauvignon Blanc is a variety that can deliver precise wines with very good concentration of flavour,” recalled Goode of the qualities that he and the rest of the international judging panel rewarded. “You’re looking for the usual things of balance and definition and also wines that are commercially relevant.”

As for the refined selection on show at this Vinexpo masterclass, Goode explained: “We put together a range of styles and wines with unique expressions that together told a story.”

These included examples from across the region, including Pouilly-Fumé, Sancerre, Quincy, Touraine and the IGP Val de Loire, all from the 2012 vintage, which Goode summed up as “a very good, precise vintage in the Loire.”

Having written his own book on the variety, The Science of Sauvignon Blanc, Goode described the grape as “fascinating”, noting: “of all the grape varieties in the world, more scientific work has been done on Sauvignon Blanc than any other.”

Among the benefits of this research has been a greater understanding of compounds including methoxypyrazines, which are responsible for the variety’s characteristic grassy aroma; monoterpenes, which contribute its floral expression; and polyfunctional thiols which create the passionfruit character that is particularly associated with Sauvignon Blanc from New Zealand.

Summing up the effect of these combined influences in Sauvignon Blanc from the Loire, Goode remarked: “What the Loire seems to be able to do is wines that have ripeness while retaining some of that greenness as well.”

Goode also highlighted the important work carried out in the Loire by consultant Sam Harrop MW as he pointed to the steady “fine-tuning” of viticulture and vinification seen across the region, which is resulting in a consistent level of high quality wines.

In short, he concluded: “The Loire can produce wines that are the best expression of Sauvignon Blanc you can get. Even at the bottom end you get really characterful wines at prices no-one else can match.”

Goode is due to host a further masterclass on Loire Sauvignon Blanc in London later this year.

How to buy Loire wine

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A selection of wine bought by a client and awaiting shipping to the USA

Many of our clients, after tasting a few wines from the growers and winemakers we visit, are keen to take some of these treasures back home.

We encourage this as you will often not be able to buy the same wines when you return, and certainly not at the same prices. One winemaker was recently telling me that his wines sell for between four and five times more in the USA, so it makes sense to buy at local prices while you are here.

It also rewards the grower for his time and kindness in allowing you to sample his wines.

There is something special about drinking a wine with friends and recalling the wonderful time you had during the trip you made to France last year. And if you can save money at the same time, so much the better!

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The temptations of the tasting room.

If you would like to buy wine during your trip, how do you go about it?

The simplest way is to purchase a case or more of six bottles, or even just a bottle or two, while you are at the vineyard. Most winemakers accept credit cards and within a few minutes the wine is being loaded into the back of the tour car. Wines can cost as little as four or five Euros ($ 5 – 6) but be prepared to pay more for special wines or vintages such as those shown in the photograph. You will find that in the Loire, even the best wines are amazingly affordable.

The next task is to get the wine back home and over the years we have discovered a number of solutions.

  1. Take it back in the suitcase. The cheapest solution involves using your baggage allowance to slip a few bottles in your suitcase. I have seen a case of six bottles go back this way and individual bottles wrapped in clothing to protect them.
  2. Bring it back in the hold of the plane. USA customs allow you to import 36 bottles without problem and may or may not charge you local taxes on entry. There will, of course, be airline fees to pay and it is worth using bubble-wrap to protect the bottles from damage during the flight.
  3. Use ShipItHome vineyards. A few vineyards in the Loire use a system whereby they have already exported their wines to a cellar in the USA. This allows you to buy your wine from the vineyard at French prices and have it delivered direct to your home from the stocks stored in the USA.  Sadly, at time of writing, only four vineyards in the Loire use this system, but clients have been delighted to take advantage of it.  And if you need further supplies later you can just get onto the ShipItHome web site and order more!
  4. Let us call in a specialist shipper. During our tours you are free to buy boxes of wine from any or each of the vineyards we visit. We will take it back home and store it in our cellar, taking care of all the paperwork before calling in a specialist shipper. Your bottles will be repacked into special polystyrene boxes to protect them from damage and from temperature and other shocks which can affect the wine. They are then flown to the States and delivered to your door.  In a recent example a client bought wine from two vineyards, 72 bottles in all, and the transport cost was just slightly more than the cost of the wine, effectively doubling the French price, but still half the US price. We make a charge for this service, in addition to the transport cost. Depending on the quantities shipped, charges vary from 15 – 30 Euros per bottle – in most cases this is  a lot cheaper than buying the same wines in the USA -if they were available.

Individual state laws. Often there will be state, county or city taxes to pay on your wine and charges range from 0% to 6.75%. In addition, a small number of American states will not allow you to import wine: Alabama, Arkansas, Mississippi and Utah. Duty is included in the case of US shipments.

With a range of transport option most visitors from the US are now able to take back some of their favourite Loire Valley wines and save money at the same time. It is a real pleasure to pass on this good news to my American clients.

Christmas gifts for the wine enthusiast

My family have been giving me a hard time recently for not giving them a wish list for Christmas 2017.

With this in mind and tongue firmly in teeth, I thought I would produce this, my first Christmas Gift List for Wine Enthusiasts.

In no particular order, here are a few ideas:$_57

Bath-time fun with the Umbra Aquala Bathtub Caddy. This bamboo bathtub caddy is the ultimate accessory for your bath (I am told) and features a book and a wine glass holder – very civilized! A snip at $46.92 plus shipping.

The Discovery WineStation is an automated, temperature controlled, four-bottle wine dispensing and preservation system for the home.  You choose the right wine and just the right amount – a taste, a half glass or a full glass – with the touch of a finger. Wine-and-Beverage_Silo_DYWS4_500x500The WineStation maintains the freshness of your wine for up to 60 days using argon gas.

I have seen these or similar devises used in Maison des Vins around the region: it really does work. The web site I saw suggests you ask for a quote – never a good sign – but I gather they cost around $5000.

The are companies around the world making furniture out of old barrels, recycled corks and of course, bottles. While some are very chunky and look like I made them, there are also some delightful pieces out there.

I rather like the Champagne cork side table and other assorted tables and stools pictured here and have even found a UK source: www.notonthehighstreet.com 211168_2_800

Barrel staves seem to be widely used in furnature making and I was able to try one of my favourites and the Chateau de Miniere in Ingrandes de Touraine recently.

Delightfully comfortable, it also featured that all-important wine glass holder.

They  had a barrel stave hammock hung between two ancient trees in the park,  which I really must have a swing on at some stage.

Wine luggage is essential for when you go on a Loire Valley Wine Tour and decide you would like to take a dozen bottles back on the plane with you. IMG_2456_mediumIn this case we can leap to the rescue with the Lazenne Wine Check, an example of which I normally keep in the back of the car in case someone needs one.

This specialized wine travel carrying case works in combination with polystyrene inserts allowing you to bring up to 15 bottles of delicious, local goodness (wine, champagne, cider, beer, whiskey, olive oil) home!

It’s reusable, easy to handle (rolling wheels, carrying straps) and airline / FAA approved; cost around €120.

MERRY CHRISTMAS!