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

A Mythical Sweet Wine from the Loire
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HAPPY NEW YEAR EVERYONE!

Happy 2015 from us all in the Loire Valley.

Happy 2015 from us all in the Loire Valley.

Bonjour Everyone,

People around the world have been busy celebrating Christmas and at Clos des Guyons it has been go go go too, but one that we have thoroughly enjoyed with guests and friends, which included not only the usual Christmas festivities but birthday celebrations along the way too!

As we are step into a fresh New Year, Brian and I wish our clients, family and friends a marvellous New Year filled with joy and treasured moments ahead.

Its the start of the slow season for us now for a while and so we are looking forward to peace and tranquility to recharge our batteries!

But we would like to say a big thankyou for all the wonderful support, friendship and encouragement given by our Clos des Guyons guests old and new, it is so appreciated. This year we have clocked TEN years running our gites in Le Puy Notre Dame and many happy memories have been made during this time.

May the year 2015 be a beautiful, blessed and magical New Year for you all.

We hope a visit to the Loire Valley may be one of your holiday destinations to enjoy in 2015.

With Much Love and of course ‘Bon Santé’

Sheila

A 2010 Coteaux de Saumur from the Domaine de Paliene here in Le Puy Notre Dame

Coteaux de Saumur – A Mythical Sweet Wine from the Loire

I recently read a very interesting post about sweet wines from France on Jill Barth’s excellent blog. So I thought I’d do something on the superb but little known wine fom the Saumur vineyard – le Coteaux de Saumur. The reason that this superb wine is so little known is that it is incredibly rare with an appellation of only 12 hectares, (less than 30 acres). The total yield is around 40000 litres but, in reality, it never reaches this quantity and in many years none is made at all and in others just one or two winemakers may decide to do it. This is why I always refer to it as a “mythical” wine when we are tasting it on wine tours.

The cépage is 100% Chenin and the vines have to grown on “islands” within the greater Saumur appellation where the chalky limestone comes to the surface. It is no coincidence that most of the production is centred around Champigny and Le Puy Notre Dame both “lieu-dit”, (named places – sort of Grand Crus) of Saumur.

I would describe the wine as aristocratic, with the limestone giving it an elegance which is sometimes missing in the more alcoholic stickies of the Coteaux du Layon. In the glass you will find a rich golden colour, fine fruit with hints of waxy honey and a cornucopia of exotic fruit flavours particularly lychées. The one I know best and a serial award winner is from just round the corner here in Le Puy Notre Dame from the renowned Domaine de la Paleine. The 2006 developed a distinct nose of mandarins whilst the 2010 had it from the start. There is always a vibrant acidity which balances the luscious sweetness. Made by a selective “tri” with anything between three and five passes through the vineyard it is then normally put in oak barrels for at least a year. The intense sweetness and acidy mean that the wine is almost eternal, (I have actually drunk a wine from 1856 which was still perfect although of course the actual appellation name didn’t exist at that time, it wasn’t granted until 1966).
Here in the Loire, it has several uses; as an aperitif, as the classic accompaniment to foie-gras and, my particular favourite, alongside the soft, salty French blue cheeses like Roquefort and St. Agur etc, a taste made in heaven. Of course it is also used as a dessert wine but perhaps not as often as you would think.
Price wise it is very competitive when compared to a similar quality Sauternes primarily because our region still makes wine to drink and, as yet, wine isn’t really bought for the prestige of its label although I have detected a slow but pronounced upward movement as the quality of the wine attracts more and more aficionados. A half bottle would cost around €17 whilst a comparable Sauternes would cost immensely more.

So, if you can find a bottle grab it with both hands. If you can’t you’ll just have to visit the Royal Valley of France, le Val de Loire

Brian

http://www.closdesguyons.com

Le Puy Notre Dame, France.

How much does a French Vineyard Cost?

vineyard-Montoreau

A vineyard in the Loire side village of Montsoreau. How would you like to own something like this?

Imagine a beautiful warm evening, you are sitting on your terrace, sipping a glass of your own luscious wine as the sun sets behind your rolling vineyards.  This scenario has long been a dream for many lovers of French wine and culture but how much will it cost?  Let’s have a look.

We’ll leave aside the cost of tools and equipment which can vary enormously depending on a number of factors but is always a huge expenditure but we’ll concentrate here on what is clearly the biggest expense of all which is of course, the vineyard itself and the valuation of that depends on a multitude of factors including the appellation, the region and the position and orientation of the vineyards.

So, to give you an idea, here are the current average prices throughout France.  Cheapest appellation vineyards are probably priced at around €10 000 per hectare, (an hectare is 2.47 acres), in regions like Gaillac in the south west or Valençay in the Loire, whilst a hectare of vineyard in the Nantais, (Muscadet) would come even cheaper at €8 000.  At the other end of the scale are vineyards in Margaux which would come in at €1m per hectare and just next door in Paulliac you could expect to pay up to double that for the privilege of owning an hectare of vines, but then again the appellation is the home of three of the most expensive wines in the world:- the Chateaux Latour; Mouton Rothschild and Lafite Rothschild.

If you’re into Champagne be prepared to fork out €1m.  In the middle range are Châteauneuf de Pape at €350 000 with €140 000 required to make a glass of grassy, fruity Sancerre and €95 000 for a sturdy Crozes-Hermitage from the Northern Rhone.

Here in the Western Loire it’s quite complicated not least because of the multitude and complexity of appellations.  A hectare of Anjou or Anjou Village would probably set you back some €13 000 with another €3 000 required for vines in the Coteaux du Layon.  The “lieu-dit” of Quarts du Chaume would cost €18 000 as would Savenierre near Angers.  A Saumur hectare would be around €17 000 and here in the new appellation of Saumur Puy Notre Dame you would have to pay up to €36 000.  In the better known and longer established appellation of Saumur-Champigny you would be looking at €56 000 on average.

So there you go, have a look down the back of the sofa and see what you can afford!

à bientôt
Brian

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Cremant de Loire


Must apologise for the shake on the video. I couldn’t get rid of it no matter what software I used!

Crémant de Loire is a sparkling wine from the Loire as the names suggests.  Normally appellations this size can produce wine of some questionable quality but what makes Crémant so special is the individual rules within the appellation.  For example everything has to be cut by hand and then put in the containers which you can see on the video.  Because it is a Loire appellation it allows grapes which are grown throughout the Saumurois, Anjou and the Touraine including Burgundy like cépages of the Eastern Loire, (Pinot Noir and Chardonnay over to the melon of the Nantais (Muscadet). Here, on the limestone soils of Saumur the pre-dominant white grape is Chenin (Blanc) although most Crémants are a blend.  This particular one from La Domaine de la Paleine is normally 80% Chenin and 20% Charrdonnay.  The Saumurois is France’s second largest producer of sparkling wine after Champagne and a combination of soil types, know-how, (or savoir faire, I suppose I should say) plus the severity of the appellation rules can make a wine full of flavour with fine, elegant bubbles and up there with the best.  There is also a Rosé version normally made with Cabernet Franc or Pineau d’Aunis but La Paleine does a very interesting one using Pinot Noir with a distinct taste of the fruit and “compost” that we traditionally associate with Pinot.  

Bon dégustation

Brian

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