A 170 Year Old Champagne

An 170 year old nectar.

An 170 year old nectar.

Those of you who know me or who have done one of our Loire Wine Tours will be aware that I am unashamedly biased in favour of our two local sparklers “Saumur Brut” and “Crémant de Loire”.  I am not a fan of the upstart “Champagne”.  And I am in good company with many wine writers both here in France and abroad considering that the average standard of our sparkling wine is superior to the average standard of the sparkling wine made in Champagne.  Therefore I very rarely write about the latter. However, I make an exception in this case because it is a truly unique story.  170 years ago a ship sunk in the Baltic.  On board were

168 bottles of Champagne from the houses of Veuve Clicquot, Ponsardin, Heidsieck and Juglar.  In 2010 the bottles were discovered, still intact, lying at a depth of 50 metres. They were salvaged, chemically analysed and tasted.  The results of this research has given an intriguing idea of the tastes of wine lovers in the middle of the XIXth. century. Philip Jeandet, professor of Food Chemistry at the University of Reims, (in Champagne of course) said that it was still an impressive wine, with a long length and notes of tobacco and leather.  Professional wine tasters said that, despite it’s age, the wine still seemed young with floral notes and lots of fruit.  Which is some achievement.

So what have we learned:  Firstly that the wine must have been very well made indeed and secondly that, if you wish to keep your wine for as long as possible, put it under 50 metres of sea water.

So I’m going to raise a glass of Crémant de Loire to those anonymous winemakers of 170 years ago – and hope like hell I don’t find any taste of leather in the wine!

Bon Dégustation
Brian
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VISIT TO CHATEAU DE FESLES DEEP IN THE HEART OF BONNEZEAUX

Chateaux de Fesles, Grand Vin de Loire winemakers known to be the Yquem of the Loire Valley,  fronted by its Italianate rose gardens. This wine appellation has the benefit of a temperate but dry oceanic climate known as the "Angevin sweetness". The winemaker is Jean Pierre SAUVION.

Chateaux de Fesles, Grand Vin de Loire winemakers known as the Yquem of the Loire Valley, fronted by its Italianate rose gardens. This wine appellation has the benefit of a temperate but dry oceanic climate known as the douceur angevine  “Angevin sweetness”. The winemaker is Jean Pierre SAUVION.

One of the advantages of ‘Living in the Loire’ is that it enables us to indulge in our pleasure of visiting lovely chateaux and discovering new wines of the region whenever we get chance and yesterday was one of those days when we were invited to visit the renowned Chateaux de Fesles, (pronounced “Felle”) situated in the district of Thouarcé in the Anjou region very close to the village of Bonnezeaux itself, lying about twenty kilometres south of Angers and about thirty minutes from our gites at Le Clos des Guyons. So, off we went through the delightful countryside around Thouarcé, driving past the sloping vineyards and herds of white, Charolais cattle lying in the sunshine.  That is the cattle were lying in the sunshine not the vines!.

A presentation bottle of the 2010 Chateau Fesles Bonnezeaux

A presentation bottle of the 2010 Chateau de Fesles Bonnezeaux

Chateau de Fesles is a magnificent estate dating back to 1070, however, records of producing superb wine are really found in the 1870’s when purchased by the Boivin family. It has one of the greatest reputations in Angers and is certainly the grandest. Several owners later it still has an enormous reputation.  The estate covers 33 hectares of which only 14 are classified as AC Bonnezeaux. These 14 hectares lie on the slope of the hill immediately around the chateau and are planted with Chenin Blanc.  These vineyards slope down to the river Layon and it is the humidity and the rising Autumn mist which encourages the “Noble Rot” which gives their impeccable Bonnezeaux its unique taste.The soil here is stony, Silurian soil covered by a mixture of decomposed shale as well as blue and red clay.  As well as Chenin Blanc on the slopes on the plateau both Cabernet Franc and Cabernet Sauvignon are planted for an Anjou Rouge and some Grolleau and Gamay for the Anjou Rosé. On entering their reception/tasting room we had a friendly welcome before being guided through various tastings including their Chenin Sec Blanc “La Chapelle” Vieilles Vignes, Anjou Rouge, Cabernet d’Anjou, Rosé d’Anjou and lastly different vintages of their prestigious and delicious Bonnezeaux sweet wine which was mind blowing making you appreciate the subtle differences between each vintage; How these wines age so gracefully over the years!

Wine slumbering in oak at Fesles

Wine slumbering in Oak and Arcaia barrels at Chateau det Fesles

We were not disappointed with any of the wines we tasted and were tempted to buy a few bottles including their 2014 ‘La Chapelle’ Vieilles Vignes Anjou Blanc (limited edition No 18088) a dry white wine made with 100% Chenin grapes and matured in oak casks for 12 months. It has a lovely straw colour and a nose of, lime and elderberry and the typical Chenin white fruits and citron. Very well balanced and a lingering finish – we loved it. Also we chose their 2014 Rose d’Anjou, a beautiful salmon pink colour, delicately perfumed with strawberries, well balanced and we thought an exceptional aperitif wine!  The local grolleau, when used judiciously gives an almost pinot noir feel to a Rosé.  Finally, a visit to Chateau de Fesles wouldn’t have been complete without purchasing some of their exquisite Bonnezeaux. This is a hand crafted production  and like all great sweet wines takes patience and courage with harvesting taking place ‘berry by berry’ by ‘multiple passes’ through the vineyard, a process known as “tri”.  Its work which is intensive, time consuming needs a lot of belief. We selected their 2010 Vin Rare – an excellent year – the wine was bursting with luscious honey, lychees and melon with that typical lemon on the finish.  As Sheila pointed out this would be perfect to share with our guests for her special birthday celebration looming in a few months time and so now it’s slumbering in our wine chais at Le Clos des Guyons waiting for the occasion. However it is important to realise that Sheila is a bit like the Queen in that her birthday celebration can take well over a month so when it will get opened I’m not quite sure!. Before leaving we had a quick tour of the operation including their cave fitted with rows of Oak and Arcaia barrels full of Bonnezeaux and Chenin just resting in air conditioned tranquility! What a grand and noble sight! After we had filled our car boot we decided to enjoy the hot sunshine and took a walk around outside and admired their beautiful rolling vineyards next to the Layon river. All in all a memorable visit with helpful and friendly staff !  Indeed we have always found that the Loire wine region welcomes its visitors with warmth and friendliness and the only problem is that tastings can last much longer than anticipated!  Well, when I say problem…………..?!

Bon dégustation Brian Loire Valley Wine Tours Gites in the Loire Valley

A Rare Rosé from the Loire – AOC Touraine – Noble Joué

Touraine-Noble_Joué

Touraine-Noble-Joué

“Le Salon des Vins de Loire” in Angers is the largest professional wine event in the region, however this year I am not going to write about all the new wines as I do every year but instead I’m posting about a particular wine that I have long known about for many years but never got round to tasting until this year when I found it on the stand of Jean-Jaques Sard. The wine is Touraine – Noble Joué, a relatively unknown wine appellation. However, it’s more than merely a wine because it has an incredible history of which could be titled, “the fall and rise of a wine”.

It’s a very good Rosé or more correctly a “Vin Gris” ie., a white wine made from red grapes. In this case a subtle blend of the three “P’s”:- Pinot Noir, Pint Gris and Pinot Meunier, which are not exactly common grapes in this part of the Loire.

Some weeks after tasting the wine at the “Le Salon des Vins de Loire”,  I decided to take a trip over to the vineyard together with my friend Robert, to meet Jérémie Pierru who has taken over the management of the vineyard from Jean-Jaques Sard. After a pleasant lunch on route in the medieval fortress town of Chinon, we continued our journey onwards to the vineyard at the hamlet of Le Pavillion just outside the village of Esvres to the East of Joué le Tour.  We had an uneventful journey apart from the GPS bizarrely saying that we had reached our destination whilst we were in fact in the middle of a three-lane motorway!  There you go!  When we finally arrived we were met by Jérémie who gave us a superb welcome and guided tour, clearly very proud of both the wine and what he had achieved as slowly but surely he develops the vineyard and the commercial presence of what is a unique wine.

It was fascinating to discover it was a favourite of the Valois King Louis XI who reigned from 1461 to 1483 thus the wine has an ancient and honourable history!  However the wine then became lost as the vineyards were swallowed up by the encroaching city of Tours, although it was still winning several awards at the Exposition Universelle of 1900 in Paris.  In fact its “home”, Joué le Tours is now an urbanised suburb of the city full of petrol stations and DIY stores so,  on first appearance, it’s difficult to see where the vineyards are.

The wine was resurrected in 1975 using the original cépages, by a group of winemakers including Jean-Jaques Pierru together with the help of the IANO, the French appellation control body.  Thus we can really say that this wine has been brought back from extinction. Like the sweet Coteaux de Saumur which I spoke about on my last wine blog, the wine is incredibly rare, the whole appellation being no more that 30 hectares, tiny for a Rosé.

We tasted the 2014. In the glass, Noblé – Joué has a very attractive pale pink aspect which reflects the red grapes used.  On the nose, what hit me first of all was an almost Chenin like note of pears and beneath that red fruits and a very aromatic floral overlay.  Really refreshing and with an excellent length for a Rosé. This wine would be excellent nicely chilled on a warm summers evening, accompanied with charcuterie and the famous ‘Rilletes’ of Touraine, fresh pasta, meat or fish grills.  Esentially dry the wine has a tiny hint of sugar which pleasantly rounds it of.

Winery at La Perrieres

Winery at Le Pavillion

I don’t suppose that it will be easy to get hold of this rare wine outside the Loire, but certainly those staying at our gites at Le Clos des Guyons or doing one of our Wine Tours here will be able to taste it and we can only hope that as the wine becomes more established so will its availability and success.  I loved it!

Bon dégustation!

Brian

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