Vintage 2013 looks much better than expected. Warm welcomes from old friends. Bloody freezing.
Buyers all agree; it's one of the coldest trips we do. Don't know why, but a valley most associated with balmy summers is perishing cold in winter, which is when we go. Last week was about as early as it was practical to go buy wine because it was a late harvest. But 90% of ferments were done and we cope with just the odd unfinished wine. Actually, a bit of residual sweetness can come as a relief.
Very long, the Loire, as No That was the 'bagging' phase of my life. Today we are rather more selective. l Coward might have said. In my youth I went from the wines of Retz - virtually on the beaches - right up to the Gamays of Forez and Urfé which are south of Lyon. Bought a pallet load in every AOC, VDQS and VDP.
Very cold; the Loire. Icy. Went down to minus-seven centigrade one morning. No gritting.
|Mark being impressed by A Mellot|
Abi and I, landing at Nantes went straight into the Muscadets with new Loire buyer, Mark Chai Winemaker Hoddy, and man-on-the-spot Charles Sydney. Charles is ex-Laithwaite's, who, after leaving our employ, went off with Philippa to live their dream in Chinon and become the world' finest agency for Loire wines. I was a bit narked at the time as Phillippa had been running our shops and was also events secretary for The Sunday Times Wine Club. But a guy who always wore a beret, smoked Gauloises and talked only of France … it was bound to happen. Twenty-something years later he has put together a wonderful collection of fine estates. And Phillippa now runs him.
|Phillippa restrains Charles|
Muscadets, Chinons and Vouvray
A few visits; especially loved the Gadais family Muscadets. I always do. Drive on to Chinon to meet up with Phillippa, her nice lamb tagine and a few more wines from their cellar. They live in a 'Demi-chateau', half destroyed by fire, half built into the rock. Crazy, but suits Charles.
The family Hotel Diderot in Chinon is just a delight. Especially in winter. To come down at seven in the morning to a roaring log fire in a shining wood and brass room full of pots of homemade jams, with Monsieur Diderot explaining how you must crack walnuts to sprinkle on the warm, fresh goats cheese then ladle on some honey … starts the day well.
The Couly Dutheil cellars are a hundred yards down the road. Their caves at 8am on a frosty morning seem positively warm. We taste a lot of Chinons. Loire reds are hard to sell in Britain. They are dry and leaner than we like. Drink them lunchtime in a Parisian Brasserie and they seem perfect. Maybe they are wines you have to learn how to drink. Like...never drink them on their own, always with food ...but nothing too heavy.
Vouvray, just beyond Tours, on the other hand has always gone down well in the UK. But again you have to learn how to drink it because it comes dry, medium or sweet. We buy dry. From the lovely Champalou family.....always very popular exhibitors at our shows, now that little Celine has grown up to become their winemaker, I suspect they could be me even more popular. I had a relative got shot down over Vouvray, rescued sheltered and smuggled home. I especially love these people.
Touraine, Menetou-Salon, Sancerre, Pouilly Fumé, Quincy, Reuilly and the Giennois
Touraine is a wine region I've seen grow big in size and reputation. In the seventies I had to hunt for good Sauvignon here in places like Oisley (pron. Wally) now, it's everywhere. We visited many producers. Pierre Chainier worked out of a few rooms and a cave under Amboise castle when I first knew him. Now he's about the biggest name in Touraine. Has the Chateau next to Mick Jagger's which we used to buy and may again, now it's replanted with Sauvignon. More visits. Last tasting ended after 8pm. Mouths worn out after 12 solid hours of explosive young Sauvignons. Restorative, candle-lit dinner at Chateau de la Voute, in Pouillé with the owners. Rather special Table d' Hôte. Recommend. A good possible new Menetou-Salon producer then into Sancerre. Many more visits.
We need a lot of Sancerre and Pouilly Fumé. Their popularity just grows. The Cirotte family, the Dagueneaus, both sides of the divided Mellot family, young Cyrille Reverdy who now runs his father's Daniel Reverdy domaine, the Prieurs.
Charming Michel Thomas and his family and even the Riffualts; Pierre and Denise, long retired but still happy to reminisce about the 'LeVintage Festival' where they so loved to exhibit their wine and their goats cheese. Places don't come much quieter than Les Egrots, hence driving to London every March was just so exciting for them.
That's the Loire; small farmers still, even if some have grown big. So very friendly still.
|With The Riffaults (left) and Michel Thomases|