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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.

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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.

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.