RSS Feed

Tag Archives: river Cher

The Sauvignon Blanc trip

This week we enjoyed two days of visits with an American couple wanting to explore the Sauvignon Blanc wines of the Loire Valley. We were delighted to put together this custom tour featuring one of our favourite grape varieties, in the region where it originated and has its finest expression.

Sauvignon grapes awaiting picking

In France, Sauvignon Blanc is grown in the maritime climate of Bordeaux as well as the continental climate of the Loire Valley. The climates of these areas are particularly favourable in slowing the ripening on the vine, allowing the grape more time to develop a balance between its acidity and sugar levels. This balance is important in the development of the intensity of the wine’s aromas. Winemakers in France pay careful attention to the terroir characteristics of the soil and the different elements that it can impart to the wine. The chalk and Kimmeridgean marl of Reuilly, Sancerre and Pouilly produces wines of richness and complexity, while areas with more compact chalk soils produces wines with more finesse and perfume. The gravel soil found near the Loire River and its tributaries impart spicy, floral and mineral flavours while in Bordeaux, the wines have a fruitier personality. Vines planted in flint along the Cher tend to produce the most vigorous and longest lasting wines.

Our clients selected a fine hotel in Amboise as their base and we collected them each day to begin our discovery of the region. First stop was Francueil, where we were able to witness the grape harvest arriving and tour the wine-making facilities of the growers co-operative. As we were to hear throughout our trip, quantities are cruelly low, while quality is above average this year. The combination of frost, hail and mildew during this growing season has not been seen since 1991, and crops are down to 20-30% of normal.

This co-op has been in operation since 1926 and is now the largest in the Loire. We were introduced to the recently retired winemaker who still comes in to help out for the pleasure of it, after working at the cellar for 42 years.

The labeling machine at La Gourmandiere, Francuei

We were able to taste a range of interesting wines at Francueil, several with awards to their names. One of our favourites was their “Tete de Cuvee” AOP Touraine Sauvignon which has a silver medal in the World Sauvignon Wine Competition this year. We were also interested to taste the brand new appellation Touraine Chenonceaux and enjoyed this very much. Although 27 villages either side of the river Cher are allowed to produce wine under this name, there is currently only a tiny area in production and the growers are determined to produce wines of the highest quality here.

After a lunch at a restaurant in Montrichard we moved on to the famous  Monmousseau wine cellars outside the town where more Sauvignon was tasted, both local and Sancerre from the eastern edge of the region on the river Loire. Their Cheverny contains 70% Sauvignon & 30% Chardonnay and made an interesting comparison. We were allowed to go off on our own and explore the tunnels where they store their sparkling wines but with around 15km of passages we were lucky to find our way back in one piece!

From here we went on to the co-op at St Romain sur Cher where their three Sauvignons cannot help but please and have won a clutch of awards. Our journey back to Amboise was through delightful countryside and ancient stone villages.

The next day we drove an hour and a half up the Cher, passed Vierzon to Quincy, an appellation of 240 Ha growing only Sauvignon and a hidden gem producing high quality wines. We spent the morning tasting many of them, both traditional still wines and those produced from vines 40 years old or more. The growers have invested in windmill-like fans which start up automatically and, in theory at least, protect the vines from frost. This year was extreme and much damage was done, but perhaps they were protected in part by this system.

Visting the Touraine cellars

Lunch was taken in Valençay, where we also took a look at the stunning chateau and its walled, soth facing vineyard. Tastings of Valençay wines were made at the co-op and at Chateau de Quincay, who produce both Valençay and Touraine wines, making an interesting direct comparison.

Our final breathless visit was across the river at a favourite vineyard where we saw the grapes coming in and were invited to help with the hand picking. My clients had a train to catch however, but we were able here to add the last piece to the Sauvignon puzzle, tasting late picked, sweet wine from last year’s crop.

Sweet, dry, still, sparkling; Sauvignon Blanc has it all and in a range of styles dictated by the nature of the soil and climate, in addition to the desires of the winemaker. This was a fascinating trip and a deep insight into the heart of a single grape variety.

Advertisements

Chinon, Bourgueil and Saint Nicolas de Bourgueil

The ancient streets of Chinon

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.

The vineyards of Saint Nicholas de Bourgueil showing vines on the plains and the hills and Cabernet Franc two weeks from picking

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.