Loire adventure: Vincent Carême, Vouvray

Vincent Carême

Vincent Carême

The drive from Montlouis to Vouvray took us past the famous troglodyte residences built into the tufa (soft limestone) cliffs that follow the Cher and Loire rivers. Here, homes and wine cellars have been built into caves that were created when limestone for building was extracted. They are quirky and wonderful.

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For winegrowers who own one of these caves, they make ideal cellars. They are naturally cool, which means nice slow fermentations, reduced risk of brett (for reds), and good storage conditions. They are also quite damp, which results in mould growth but also very little evaporation, and much reduced need for topping up of barrels.

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Our visit in Vouvray was with Vincent and Tania Carême. Vincent is local, but not from a wine-growing family, while Tania is from South Africa. Vincent’s first vintage was 1999, but in 2004 he bought the property that currently doubles as family home and winery, with nice underground caves as barrel cellars. At the same time, he also bought a superb vineyard that he’s partially replanted: Le Clos de La Roche Vouvray. They farm 17 hectares of vines, and also buy in some grapes for the ‘Spring’ cuvée. Farming is organic.

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We took a walk around the vineyards, and then went back to the cellar for some tasting. Afterwards, Vincent and Tania prepared some rillettes and terrine for us, and we sat, drank and chatted, while their two energetic boys and wire-hired daschund ran around us.

Limestone soils

Limestone soils

Vincent and Tania also make wine in South Africa, and it’s pretty good. Apart from his South African red, this is a 100% Chenin Blanc domain.

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Vincent Carême Brut NV Vouvray, Loire, France
2014 and some 2013 too. A vineyard with heavier clay soils. Fermentation in tank, stop the fermentation with 18 g rs, filter and then add yeast. It’s somewhere between a methode ancestral and traditional method. 24-36 months on the lees and 5 g/l dosage. Very fruity and rounded with apples and pears, and a hint of sweetness. This is a generous fruity style with real appeal. 89/100

Vincent Carême L’Ancestrale 2014 Vouvray, Loire, France
Use only old vineyards, start fermentation in tank with natural yeast. Long, slow fermentation with one racking to get rid of the heavy sediments. After we bottle with 18-20 g sugar, but we don’t add any yeast. Store bottles at 14 C to make sure the fermentation carries on. Keep the wine in bottle for 24 months and disgorge with no dosage. This is bright and lemony with lovely fresh, pure fruit. Nicely intense with good acidity. Very stylish and linear. 91/100 

Vincent Carême Spring Vouvray 2015 Loire, France
Negociant wine with grapes bought from friends, not all organic. Vinified here. Made 80% in tank, 20% in barrel. Lovely mellow, fruity wine with pretty lemon, pear and apple fruit. Pure and juicy with good acidity. Stony and juicy with nice precision. 90/100

Vincent Carême Vouvray Sec 2016 Loire, France
Dry with a hint of fruit sweetness. Lively tangerine and lemon fruit, and a delicate spiciness. Fruity and delicious with a hint of marmalade and tingling acidity, as well as a bit of apricot. Such purity and detail. Stony and fine. 93/100

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Vincent Carême Vouvray Sec 2015 Loire, France
Lovely stuff. Stony and spicy with tingling, mineral acid, and lemons, pears and nectarines. Great balance here: I love the tension between the freshness and richness, with appealing fruit and a spicy depth. 93/100

Vincent Carême Le Peu Morier Vouvray 2015 Loire, France
Single vineyard on the top of a small valley, with flinty topsoils over limestone. So vital and stony with real finesse to the citrus, pear and apple fruit. Tangy and detailed with a hint of sweetness, toying with the high acidity. Made in 400 litre barrels, 5-10% new oak. Such amazing acid structure. 94/100 

Vincent Carême Vouvray Le Clos 2015 Loire, France
Part of this was fermented in an amphora made of ceramic material, fired at a higher temperature, while the rest was fermented in 400 litre barrels. Detailed with explosive mineral character: great acidity, some spiciness, a lemony core and some grapefruit and nectarine exotic notes. Lovely freshness and purity. Such a lovely lemony core to this wine with well integrated acidity, as well as a hint of sweetness. 94/100

Vincent Carême Vouvray Tendre 2015 Loire, France
20 g/litre sugar. From old vines, looking for surmaturite such as noble rot. Very rich, appley and stony with some sweetness balanced by high acidity. Nicely dense with a juicy, fruity personality. Pure and delicious. Mouthwatering acidity here. 92/100

Vincent Carême Vouvray Moelleux 2015 Loire, France
45 g/l residual sugar. Off dry with some nice savoury notes as well as sweet yellow plum, pear and nectarine fruit notes. So balanced with the sweetness and acidity meshing well. Pure. Has a lovely spicy edge and hints of straw and rocks. Will age beautifully. 93/100

Vincent Carême Vouvray Première Trie 2015 Loire, France
100 g/l residual sugar. Powerful and intense with lemons, apricot, spice and minerals. There’s some marmalade and melon richness, with sweetness and acidity. Lovely spicy acidity. Rich but balanced with thrilling complexity. 94/100

Vincent Carême Terre Brûlé Le Blanc 2016 Swartland, South Africa
Chenin Blanc. There’s some freshness here with nice pear and citrus fruit with some tangerine detail. Fresh with nice acidity and lovely fruit. Fine and expressive with some baked apple on the finish. Considering the drought vintage, this is really fresh and balanced. 92/100 

Vincent Carême Terre Brûlé Le Rouge 2016 Swartland, South Africa
Syrah and Cinsault. Juicy and lively with bright, slightly meaty berry fruits. Cherries and plums with some nice acidity. Spicy and a bit rustic, this is robust and delicious. 90/100

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Loire adventure: the film

This is a film of our Loire Valley wine adventure. We started with a day in Paris, then we head to Sancerre, before working our way up the Loire to Muscadet. It’s such an interesting wine region, and we met some great people, and tasted and drank many memorable wines.

In this film we meet the following domains (with time on the film indicated):

  • Joseph Mellot, Sancerre 02:25
  • Clos de Tue Boeuf, Puzelat brothers, Cheverny 05:46
  • Taille Aux Loups, Jacky Blot, Montlouis 07:24
  • Vincent Carême, Vouvray 10:53
  • Clau De Nell, Saumur 15:21
  • Bernard Baudry, Chinon 21:13
  • Mélaric, Saumur 22:47
  • François Saint-Lô, Saumur 24:48
  • Coulée de Serrant, Nicolas and Virginie Joly, Savennières 27:48
  • Vincent Caillé, Muscadet 27:48

 

Loire adventure: Taille aux Loups, Montois, with Jacky Blot

Amboise

Amboise

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The view from my bedroom window!

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We finished our appointment at Puzelat and headed to Amboise. It was a beautiful sunny evening, and we were quite excited, because we were staying in a castle right in the middle of town. Nicole, who booked accommodation for the trip, is officially the queen of Airbnb, and we had plenty of room for the four of us plus kidnapped Mees. We dumped our stuff and headed off to get some provisions: cheeses, meats, salads, crisps, fruit and several baguettes. On the way back, we found a bar and had a round of beers. Because it was so nice sitting outside in the evening sun we followed this with a bottle of Vouvray Pet Nat. It was blissful. We then drank all the Puzelat wines we had bought that day from the domaine, while sitting in the garden eating and chatting.

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Jacky Blot, star of Montlouis

Jacky Blot, star of Montlouis

The next morning, our first visit was with Jacky Blot at Domeina de la Taille Aux Loups in Montlouis. Bordered by two rivers, the Lot and Cher, and the forest of Amboise, this is a compact appellation of 350 hectares. Its neighbour, Vouvray, is bigger at 2000 hectares, but both specialise in a single variety, the fabulous Chenin Blanc.

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Blot was previously a wine broker, and began his own domaine when he acquired 8 hectares of old vines in 1989. He’s since added to these holdings, and now has 25 hectares in Montlouis and 5 in Vouvray. (He also has 14 hectares in Bourgueil: in 2002 he purchased Domaine de la Butte.)

Chenin Blanc

Chenin Blanc

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Viticulture is organic in all his parcels. In 2010 he bought the Clos du Mosny, which is the Loire Valley’s largest clos. With 12.5 hectares of well situated wines, this impressive property is where we had a look at the vineyards. It has a chalk subsoil with a clay topsoil, and quite a bit of silex in the upper layers.

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All the wines here are dry, and fermented in oak, and Blot has 1000 barrels. He buys around 100 new barrels each year, so there’s a 10 year cycle. For Blot it is very important to him to get the wines properly dry, and fermentations are sometimes very long in the cold cellars: he says he is looking for sucrosity without sucre. He avoids malolactic fermentation. Three coopers are used, all Burgundian: Cadus, Demy and Chassin. The wines are bottled with low levels of sulphites.

We ended up staying for lunch, and had to cancel a planned trip to see the Château of Chenonceux, but for wines like these it was worth it.

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La Taille aux Loups Triple Zero NV Touraine, France
Base 2014. No dosage or liquer de tirage or chaptalization. Tight and complex with a savoury quality to the pear and citrus fruit. There’s some straw-like quality here as well as nice compact, focused fruit. Lovely balance and lots of interest to this wine. It tastes like Chenin. 91/100

La Taille Aux Loups Brut Tradition NV
Complex and savoury with some toastiness as well as straw and spice, alongside bold pear and white peach fruit. Nice depth and complexity here: a rich, focused sparkling wine. Nice density with some savoury notes. 90/100

Taille Aux Loups Remus 2015 Montlouis, Loire, France
This is so tight and savoury with linear citrus fruits, some fine herbs, and a hint of nice cheesiness. So fresh and direct with good concentration and focus. Has nice complexity and a delicious acid core. 92/100

Taille Aux Loups Clos Michet 2015 Montlouis, Loire, France
Incredible nose of tangerines and herbs. Floral and enticing. Dry palate with textured yet taut citrus fruit, and lovely acidity. There’s an energy to this wine, and it’s balanced, with the fruit adding some depth to counter the keen acidity. 93/100

Taille Aux Loups Clos de Mosny Monopole 2015 Montlouis, Loire, France
Very fine expressive citrus nose with a hint of straw. There’s keen acidity here with some appealing, concentrated sweet fruit – lemons and pears. Great acidity here. So fine and detailed. 93/100

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Taille Aux Loups Les Hauts de Husseau 2015 Montlouis, Loire, France
Old vines from a specific plot: grown directly on the calcaire in this plot. This is tight, linear and quite waxy with precise citrus fruit. There’s a pithy grapefruit character here, and the acidity is fabulous. Very compact and tightwound, and clean citrus notes to the fore. 94/100

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Taille Aux Loups Clos de la Brettonière 2015 Vin de France
This is in Vouvray but to have the appellation it would need to have been made in Vouvray, hence it is Vin de France. It’s from a southwest-facing monopole on the Première Côte. Highly aromatic with sweet apples, pears and lemons. The palate is fresh and lemony with keen acidity and lovely purity. Lovely acidity on the finish. 93/100

Taille Aux Loups Clos de Venise 2015 Vin de France
This is a single hectare south-facing vineyard on the Première Côte in Vouvray. Limestone with a bit of clay and flint on the top. Lovely freshness and texture here with fine citrus fruit and a bit of generosity to the apple and lemon core. Lovely acidity. So fine and expressive. 94/100

Taille Aux Loups Rémus 2013 Montlouis, Loire, France
Not much sun and lots of rain in this difficult vintage. Most of the clos wines were declassified into this. Very tight and a bit austere with high acidity, but lovely nuttiness and a strong waxy edge that’s very Chenin. Lemony and detailed. Despite the high acid, there’s lovely complexity here. 92/100

Taille Aux Loups Rémus 2014 Montlouis, Loire, France
This is generous and slightly honeyed, with ripe apple and nuts as well as a hint of cream, over a pear and citrus base. Lovely weight here. Nicely complex with a friendly side, even though it is dry. 91/100

Taille Aux Loups Les Hauts de Husseau 2013 Montlouis, Loire, France
Lovely complexity on the nose. Such lively acidity with a lemony core and delicious waxy, nutty undertones. It’s bone dry but really complex. Such an interesting wine. 93/100

Taille Aux Loups Clos de Venise 2013 Vouvray, Loire, France
Beautiful detail here with lemons, grapefruits, a bit of green apple and lovely acidity. Dry and intense with hints of wax and straw. Acidic, but the acidity has a nice quality to it and integrates well. 92/100

Taille Aux Loups Clos de Mosny 2012 Montlouis, Loire, France
This is beautiful: textured and broad with very fine citrus and white peach fruit. It’s almost a bit Burgundian in texture and weight with a refined citrus core and well integrated acidity. Developing beautifully with lively mandarin notes on the finish. 94/100

Taille Aux Loups Rémus 2005
A warm vintage. Complex and intense with some sweet pear and melon notes. Honeyed. Ripe apple and a fine, dense, rounded spicy personality. Lots of weight here with a sweetness to the fruit. So generous but not over the top. 92/100

Taille Aux Loups Rémus 2004
A terrible vintage, that was very cold. But this wine has developed beautifully, with a stony edge and delicious lemon and tangerine fruit. This has real detail and complexity with nice intensity and notes of wax and herbs. Everything has integrated nicely. 93/100

Bourgeuil

All the vines areplanted on slopes, with no vines on the sand or gravel terroirs. 14 hectares of vines. Bought this domaine in 2002.

Domaine de la Butte Pied de la Butte 2015
This has a lovely freshness to the smooth, linear black cherry and raspberry fruit. It’s floral and quite elegant with nice acidity and some refined, integrated chalky, gravelly tannins. Very appealing. 92/100

Domaine de la Butte Le Haut de la Butte 2015
6 hectare plot with Complex black fruits nose with some gravel and tar hints. Very perfumed. There’s lovely integrated acidity on the palate with very fine black cherries and blackberries, with nice spiciness. It’s chalky and fine-grained with lots of freshness but no rough edges. 94/100

Domaine de la Butte Perrières 2015
A one hectare vineyard, facing south, with yellow limestone covered with heavy clay. Juicy, bright and lively with keen acidity and vibrant red berry fruit. Compact and bright with lots of acid. This is fresh and intense. 92/100

Mi Pente 2015
Virtually no topsoil in this 6 hectare plot, with limestone and broken bits of other sedimentary rocks. Complex, dense, structured and gravelly, with some tar and spice, as well as a core of blackcurrant and black cherry fruit. Brooding and dense with nice weight. Potential for development. 93/100

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Loire adventure: Clos du Tue Boeuf with Jean-Marie Puzelat

Jean-Marie Puzelat

Jean-Marie Puzelat

This was quite a visit at Clos du Tue Boeuf. I’ve met Thierry Puzelat before, and I’ve tasted these wines a bit. They are brought into the UK by Les Caves de Pyrene, and I’ve always loved them. Here was a chance to visit. Thierry was travelling, so we met with Jean-Marie, older brother of Thierry, who initially took over the domaine in 1990, before being joined by Thierry in 1994.

They farm 13 hectares of vines. Normally, they do 13 cuvées in any particular vintage, but in 2017 they will sadly be making only two. Frost has so decimated the vines that they will consolidate production into a red and a white wine. This is quite tragic for a small family domain. Despite their fame, these wines are still pretty affordable.

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The estate is fairly isolated from other vineyards, which means there’s plenty of biodiversity. Most of it counts as AOP Cheverny, but some is AOP Touraine. Soils are clay, flint and Blois chalk. In addition to their own vineyard holdings, they also buy grapes from the Cher valley, which they use for their P’tit Blanc du Tue-Boeuf, Vin Rouge and Vin Rosé.

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We turned up a bit late from our visit in Sancerre – the Loire is quite spread out. Jean-Marie initially didn’t seem very impressed. Running a family business like this is hard work if you do it the right way, and receiving people when you can easily sell all your wine is a hassle. He didn’t know us. But as we began tasting and talking, stretching our French a little, he warmed up, and kept pulling bottles.

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These wines are amazing. They have a vitality to them, freshness, and a mineral dimension.

Clos de Tue Boeuf P’tit Blanc 2016 Vin de France
This is a Sauvignon Blanc. Expressive and fresh with nice weight, with hints of apple and citrus. Textured with lovely weight in the mouth, and a mineral edge. 91/100

Clos de Tue Boeuf Le Petit Buisson 2016 Touraine, Loire, France
Sauvignon. Complex and lively with pretty mineral-tinged citrus fruit. Lovely ripe apple notes and fine herbs, with good acidity. 92/100

Clos de Tue Boeuf Cheverny ‘Frileuse’ 2016 Loire, France
Very fine and expressive with lovely stony mineral notes, and appealing pear and citrus fruit. This has depth and complexity with amazing mineral precision. It’s a blend of Chardonnay and Sauvignon, which is normal for this appellation. 93/100

Clos de Tue Boeuf Romarantin ‘Frileuse’ 2016 Vin de France
Complex, mineral and fine with great acidity. Spicy with astonishing detail to the citrus and pear fruit. Powerful, savoury and saline with high acidity. 95/100

Clos de Tue Boeuf Le Buisson Pouilleux 2015 Touraine, Loire, France
Apple, pears and spice. Rounded and a bit nutty with nice texture. Good acidity. So fine on the finish, and just keeps giving, with a stony, mineral edge. 94/100

Clos de Tue Boeuf Brin de Chèvre 2015 Touraine, Loire, France
Menu Pineau is the variety here. Very mineral indeed, with keen acidity and apple and citrus fruit. So linear with good acid structure. Fine and expressive, this is an amazing linear wine with great acidity. 95/100

Clos de Tue Boeuf Vin Rouge 2016 Vin de France
This is Gamay. Made from bought-in grapes, this is fresh and vital with sweet cherries and plums. Nice grip and a floral cherry fruit edge, as well as a hint of meatiness. Pretty and drinkable with lovely purity. Smashable but also has a hint of seriousness. 90/100

Clos de Tue Boeuf Cheverny Rouge 2016 Loire, France
This is Gamay and Pinot Noir. Very fresh, direct style with red cherries, spit and raspberry grip. Has a stony directness. 92/100

Clos de Tue Boeuf Pineau d’Aunis 2016 Vin de France
So fresh and peppery on the nose with lifted bright raspberries. Very distinctive. Peppery, light, juicy and vivid on the palate. Delicious and drinkable. 93/100

Clos de Tue Boeuf La Guerrerie 2015 Touraine, Loire, France
Cot and Gamay. Supple and quite full with sweet raspberry and cherry fruit. There’s red apple, and a bit of lift. Good structure. 92/100

Clos de Tue Boeuf Cheverny La Callière 2015 Loire, France
Slightly cloudy. Spicy and peppery with bright acidity. Nice weight, with red cherries and raspberries, and some grip. Spicy and peppery with a juicy finish. 92/100

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Loire adventure: in Sancerre with Joseph Mellot

sancerre

Sancerre

We drove from Paris for just over two hours to the beautiful town of Sancerre, looking gorgeous in the May sunshine. Our visit here was with Joseph Mellot, a relatively large producer making wine in each of the Central Loire appellations. Mellot has over 100 hectares of vines, with significant holdings in Sancerre (57 hectares) and Pouilly-Fumé, quite a bit in Quincy and Reuilly, and then little bits in the Coteaux du Giennois, Menetou-Salon and Châteaumeillant. They also buy in some grapes.

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Why Mellot? Nicole’s company, Lifford, imports them into Canada. In the UK, they are represented by Hatch Mansfield.

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Silex (flint)

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Caillottes (pebbles of hard Portlandian limestone)

We met with winemaker Norbert Buchonnet, who’s been here for just over a year, after moving from the south of France. He took us on a tour of some of the Sancerre vineyard holdings. This is a region where soils are taken seriously, and they have some very impressive-looking vineyards.

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This family-run estate dates back more than 500 years, but the current company’s structure is based on the work of Alexandre Mellot, who took over in 1984. A firm believer in the potential of the Centre Loire vineyards, he purchased new holdings across all the appellations, built a new winery, and got serious about exporting. Since his death in 2005, his wife, Catherine Corbeau-Mellot, has been in charge.

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These are solid wines that are true to their terroirs.

Joseph Mellot Reuilly Rosé Les Milets 2016 Loire, France
More clay in Reuilly and this is Pinot Gris. Bright, fresh and a bit grippy, with lovely cherry hints. Fresh and expressive with a spicy, peppery twist. V pale colour from direct pressing and no skin contact. Nice dry finish. 89/100

Joseph Mellot Reuilly Blanc Les Milets 2016 Loire, France
Very fresh with a subtle vegetative green twist as well as nicely textured fruit. Some stoniness and minerality. Quite compact with good concentration and nice density of fruit. A pretty wine. 88/100

Joseph Mellot Quincy Le Rimonet 2016 Loire, France
Very sandy soils over clay. Bright, fruity and quite delicate with some tangerine and a hint of apricot. Fruity and pretty. Finishes with some grapefruit. Lovely expressive wine. 90/100

Joseph Mellot Coteaux du Giennois La Gaupière 2015 Loire, France
Heavier soils. Nice and dense with some weight to the pear and citrus fruit. Nice weight to the fruit with textured fruit and some generosity. Lovely fruit expression. 89/100

Joseph Mellot Menetou-Salon Le Clos du Pressoir 2015 Loire, France
Distinctive herb-tinged, reductive nose with lovely spicy, mineral complexity. Grapefruit and apple notes with a tingling acidity. Such a lively, edgy wine. Some cherry notes. 90/100

Joseph Mellot Sancerre Blanc La Chatelleine 2016 Loire, France
First block we saw with silex. Very linear with lovely bright acidity. Tight, mineral and precise with pure citrus fruit. Delicate and chiselled. 91/100

Joseph Mellot Sancerre Blanc L’Original 2015 Loire, France
100% flint. Complex and intense with lovely fig and pear notes, and a saline, mineral core. Some cabbage hints and nice richness. Complex and broad but with a lively edge. 92/100

Joseph Mellot Sancerre Blanc La Grande Chatelaine 2013 Loire, France
Caillotes soil. All barrel fermented in small oak, one third new. Really seductive and broad with nuts, honey and toaste as well as lovely textured pear and citrus fruit. Some orange peel and good acidity. Very complex. 92/100

Joseph Mellot Pouilly-Fume La Grande Cuvée des Edvins 2014 Loire, France
Barrel fermented. Fresh and lively with lovely acidity to the pure citrus fruit. Has a lively spiciness and some mid-palate richness. Nice balance and intensity here with precision and purity. 93/100

Joseph Mellot Menetou Salon Rouge Le Clos du Pressoir 2015 Loire, France
Fresh and clean with a slight spicy cedary edge to the fresh red cherry fruit. Linear and delicious. Harmonious with good balance and freshness in a lighter style. 90/100

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Loire adventure: preparing in Paris

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Day two of the Loire adventure saw us get ready to head to the Loire by spending a day in Paris. Nicole, Lexi, Krysta and I caught the Eurostar and two hours and some sparkling wine later, we were in Paris. We then took the metro to our Airbnb in the 11th. It was an amazing space, with an indoor garden and lots of space, including several bedrooms.

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We dumped our stuff and headed over to La Buvette, a lovely caviste and wine bar with a great selection of bottles, largely of the natural persuasion. After quite a bit of browsing, we bought four wines, picked up some cheeses and snacks, and then headed to the Canal St Martin, where we joined the crowds on a sunny Sunday afternoon, sitting on its banks, drinking wine and talking.

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Krysta

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Lexi and Nicole

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This place is a real gem, and it was a beautiful afternoon: one I will cherish for a long time. The wines, even out of plastic glasses, tasted fantastic.

Milliard d'Etoiles, a delicious Pet Nat

Milliard d’Etoiles, a delicious Pet Nat

Interestingly, the canal’s construction was begun in 1802, and it was funded by a tax on wine. The canal was designed as a way to bring fresh water to the growing city, and also as a way of supplying various goods on canal boats. In the 1960s it was almost paved over, but luckily survived, for days like these.

Lovely fruit driven Gamay from the Loire

Lovely fruit driven Gamay from the Loire

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Then, after drinking wine, we went back to the apartment to be joined Theran, a friend of Krysta’s, and we drank more wine.

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This is an Alsace Pinot Gris with some skin contact, from Domaine Reitsch, with no added sulphites. It was delicious.

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This is a biodynamic Gamay from Touraine, and it’s also delicious. As evening approached we headed out to the Clown Bar. This is an amazing place. A restaurant/wine bar with an epic list. As walk-ins we were lucky to be seated by Mees, who was running things. She managed to squeeze us in, and we had a brilliant evening with a succession of delicious small plates and lovely wines, most of which were selected and served blind to us by Mees.

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These were some really interesting wines. The funniest thing was that Mees and our group hit it off – and when we told her what we were doing the following day – heading to the Loire and staying in a castle, visiting great producers, and suggesting that she should join us, she agreed. We thought nothing much of it until the following morning, true to her word, Mees showed up at our door by 8 am, ready to join us on the next stage of our adventure.

Mees, our new travelling companion, who we kidnapped from one of Paris' top natural wine haunts for 36 hours

Mees, our new travelling companion, who we kidnapped from one of Paris’ top natural wine haunts for 36 hours

 

The Loire tour begins, in London: Sager & Wilde, Noble Rot, Le Gavroche

Sager + Wilde

Sager + Wilde

I’m on a tour of the Loire with three Canadian friends. Wine agent Nicole Campbell, and Toronto sommeliers Krysta Oben and Lexi Wolkowski. We began in London, with a day of eating and drinking.

noblerotsagerwilde

We began at Sager + Wilde on Hackney Road. Two wines, both of which hit the mark. The first was the remarkable La Reine Chardonnay from Domaine Labet in the Jura. This is a truly beautiful wine. Then we had the Beaujolais 2015 from Julie Balagny, which was really bright and juicy with some meatiness and a bit of feral character that fits right in. Very drinkable. We also had some nice food, including a full set of the Sager + Wilde toasted sandwiches, which are pretty epic.

Noble Rot

Noble Rot

Next stop was Noble Rot. So exciting to be back, and two lovely wines. The Vino di Sasso is brilliant: a Robolo from Cephalonia in Greece. So beautiful, from limestone soils. And the Trigone from Le Soula was fabulous: all bright and juicy with a dancing mass of red fruits.

Le Gavroche

Le Gavroche

Then out to dinner at Le Gavroche, hosted by Mark Walford of Le Soula. I didn’t know in advance that we were going to Le Gavroche, so I had to pop in to Uniqlo to buy a jacket and smart shirt, to meet the dress code. This is such an important restaurant for London: it opened in 1967, then became the first London restaurant to receive one, then two and then three Michelin stars (it lost the third in 1993).

Le Gavroche is old school, with lots of soft furnishings and a serene, stately feel. The food was excellent. We were given a quick kitchen tour with Michel Roux, who is charming and gracious (Mark is a regular here). The cooking was spot on, including an incredible cheese souffle (top right) that was perfectly executed. Gulls eggs on artichoke heart (top right) was a very interesting dish: it’s hard to get gulls eggs.

We drank well. Larmandier Bernier Champagne to start with, then Le Soula Blanc 2008 and Le Soula Rouge 2006, finishing off with Ghislaine Barthod’s Chambolle 2004, which was delicious and in a good place. I like the Le Soula wines a great deal. This was a perfect start to the trip.

More thoughts on flying, and laptop bans

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Just back from California, my first trip in a few weeks. Back into the swing of long haul flying.

I enjoy being on a plane, most of the time. It’s a nice space to think, to do some writing, and also to watch bad movies. Now that there’s entertainment on a plane, people have stopped trying to talk to their seat companions. This is a good thing. It’s ages since I had a conversation on a plane. I will be unfailingly polite and perhaps exchange a few comments, but I’m really careful that I don’t give the impression that I’m looking to make new friends. I’m very sociable, but a plane is not a good place to make new friends. You are stuck there for 11 hours or so, and there’s no escaping, so best not to start chatting or you could regret it.

This trip I flew BA from Heathrow to San Francisco on an A380, lower deck economy. The upper deck is quieter and you have nice window seats with stowage at the side, with only one seat next to you, so that’s usually the best place to fly in economy. But the lower deck has more overhead stowage, and you get off quicker, and if you are flying to a country where there’s the potential for a large queue at the border point, then getting off quick helps. The A380 is nice because it’s quiet and new, and new planes are usually much nicer to fly in whatever the airline. They also have seat power and large entertainment screens.

On the way back, I flew with American Airlines via Chicago. The first leg was OK: the usual issue on full US domestic flights popped up again: if you don’t have status and board late, you have to check your bags. There are just too many people taking large hand luggage on board. The second leg was on a new 787, and it was one of the best economy class flying experiences I’ve had. The seat configuration of 3-3-3 means you really want an inside aisle. And for the first several rows AA have what is called main cabin extra, which gives you 6 inches extra leg room. This is complimentary for anyone with One World Emerald (BA Silver), and it’s as good as premium economy. I’d fly American any time if I could be on one of these planes.

I’m a bit concerned about proposed new laptop cabin bans on flights to the USA. This would affect me: I don’t know what I’d do if I had no laptop on a flight. Also I rarely check a bag, and it would be annoying to have to do this on every trip. I’d be cautious about putting cameras and laptops in the hold. What about lenses? Do these count as electronics?

Now there’s talk of worry about placing lots of devices with lithium batteries in the hold. It’s not too much of a stretch to see the banning of taking laptop computers on planes at all. This would hammer business users, some of whom are already being told by their companies to clear their computers of any data before travelling, and then reload the data once they are past homeland security.

Are there any solutions? This could create some business opportunities. If I were one of the airlines already affected by the ban, I’d consider offering customers loaned tablets or netbooks for the flight, with access to a decent internet connection so they could work off the cloud. And then at arrivals, there might be an opportunity for laptop hire companies. This might be an interesting opportunity for laptop manufacturers to expose customers to their products, too. If you have spent several days working on a hired laptop, you might fall in love with it.

 

 

Exploring Sauvignon Blanc

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As part of a session at the Jackson Family Wines internal conference that I’ve been attending this week, we had a big discussion about Sauvignon Blanc. This included a tasting of an array of different Sauvignons, exploring a range of styles. Sauvignon is a really interesting grape variety but it has a bit of an image problem: many wine commentators see it as a second rate cultivar. There seems to be a price ceiling for Sauvignon, too. It’s capable of making great wines, but its reputation has been built on distinctive, flavoursome unoaked styles that offer fun but uncomplicated drinking. This makes high-end Sauvignon a bit of a hard sell. There were some interesting wines in this line-up, including the excellent Dog Point Section 94, a couple of great Pouilly-Fumés, and an Italian rarity.

Kim Crawford Sauvignon Blanc 2016 Marlborough, New Zealand
No surprises here: a fairly solid commercial Marlborough Sauvignon. Very expressive and bright with pretty grassy notes and attractive rounded fruit. Typically Marlborough with keen acidity and a vibrant fruitiness. 88/100

Francois Crochet Les Amoureuses 2014 Sancerre, Loire, France
This is a good example of Sancerre, although it lacks real excitement. Linear with nice precision to the citrus fruit flavours. Quite textural and a bit stony. 88/100

Robert Mondavi To Kalon Reserve Fume Blanc 2013 Napa Valley, California
This is a lovely wine, made from a really good terroir that, if it were planted to Cabernet, produce some very expensive grapes. Instead, these old Sauvignon vines have been allowed to remain, and they make a compelling example of this variety. Barrel fermented for 9 months with 37% new oak. Really interesting with some oak impact. Lovely smoky edge to the grapefruit fruit with a touch of creaminess and some nutty notes. Fresh with nice intensity and potential for development. 92/100

Château Smith-Haut-Lafitte Blanc 2014 Pessac-Leognan, Bordeaux, France
A great example of good white Bordeaux. Beautifully expressive with lively lemon and grapefruit characters meshing well with some waxy, taut nutty oak notes. Nice density here with some structure, good acidity and lively aromatics. So expressive with good ageing potential. 93/100 

Didier Dageneau Silex 2009 Pouilly-Fume, Loire, France
This has lovely texture here. From a ripe vintage. There’s a nice creaminess under the broad, textural fruit. There’s pear and white peach here, and some subtle melon and tangerine exotic character. There’s a fine toastiness which integrates really well with the fruit. A striking wine with some weight but also some delicacy. 94/100

Cape Point Sauvignon Blanc 2016 Cape Point, South Africa
This is fresh, delicate and lively with lovely grapefruit and pear fruit. Delicate with nice weight, this has precision and purity. 89/100

Miani 2015 Friuli Venezia Giulia, Italy
Complex and dense with lovely weight. Some grapefruit freshness and some melony richness. This is really stylish, with some well integrated oak (40% new) and lovely fruit intensity. 93/100

Dog Point Section 94 Sauvignon Blanc 2013 Marlborough, New Zealand
Lively with some reductive notes nicely integrated into a core of lemon and tangerine fruit. There’s density here and a pronounced mineral component. Really harmonious, this is lovely. 94/100 

Michel Redde Les Champs des Billons Pouilly-Fumé 2012 Loire, France
Lovely crystalline character to the citrus fruit core. There’s nice acidity here with some fine herby notes. Linear with really fine acidity. Mineral and pure. 94/100

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A couple of organic Rhône wines

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Nice to try a couple of interesting organic wines from the Rhône. It’s one of France’s leading regions for organics, with over 3000 certified organic vineyards. Remarkably, in the Côtes du Rhône and Côtes du Rhône Villages appellations over 60% of the vineyard surface is organically farmed.

Domaine Alain Voge Harmonie Saint-Péray 2015 Northern Rhône, France
13.5% alcohol. Organically grown Marsanne from 30 year old vines. Lovely textured pear and peach fruit with some fine citrus notes and a bit of warm spiciness on the finish. This is a rich wine, with a smooth mouthfeel, but it also has a nice fine graininess that keeps things fresh. It finishes with green tea and lemon notes. Lovely harmony here. 92/100

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Domaine Roche Audran (Vincent Rochette) Cuvée Nature Syrah 2015 Côtes du Rhône, France
14% alcohol. This is biodynamic (Demeter certified) Syrah with no added sulfites, and in 2015 it’s a varietal Syrah (the varietal mix changes each year). It’s ripe and sleek with liqueur-like black cherry and blackberry fruit, together with some pepper notes. There’s some lushness, but also freshness and brightness. It has a brisk, savoury twist here that is very attractive, and some dry, grippy notes on the finish. Nicely balancedand thoroughly drinkable. 92/100 (£13.50 L’Art du Vin)

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