Rue Sainte, one of the many charming “rues” in Le Puy Notre Dame
The sun is shining and it’s 30°C. Medieval Le Puy Notre Dame is full of little tiny rues darting off in all directions and so to relax and discover new walks is one of life’s pleasures here.
This is a photograph of rue Sainte which is a pretty little walk downhill looking towards Cix with a fabulous vista and is one of the most charming rues in the village. I am sure many of our guests will have already discovered this on their walks. We love it! On the roadside there are lots of hollyhocks and rambling roses interspersed with wild flowers and it just gets better as you descend into the vineyards you can see the bunches of grapes are so beautiful and beginning to ripen – it won’t be long before the vendage, (grape harvest), starts. Perhaps as little as three weeks if the weather holds.
Of course this walk has advantages in that ……. it’s only minutes from the bar too for a glass or two of chilled Chenin Blanc! Hang on Brian did you say you wanted to come with me!!!!! Oh no, you’ll already be there.
Looking forward to another day and another lovely walk – perhaps another glass of wine too!
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Friends, guests and neighbours under the stars at midnight, very tired but happy, at the end of a fab weekend of festivities
This year was our ‘Twelfth’ Le Clos des Guyons 2015 Grand Prix Retro BBQ which we host for guests, friends and neighbours. As the weather was wet we decided to use our old Wine Chais – always a great venue for parties! Wines were courtesy of Robert Guyons, retired winemaker of ‘Domaine des Guyons’ now our home! – who brought his 1986 Saumur Blanc (a revelation to say the least) and there were many toasts to Robert for his generosity! Food was courtesy of Brian our hard working Chef! Oh and at the end we had a belated celebration toast to Sheila’s recent milestone birthday, with the delectable Chateau de Fesles Bonnezeaux, which we had been saving for the occasion. It was absolutely divine with our dessert of strawberry tarts!
The 19th Annual Grand Prix Retro of Le Puy Notre Dame (always the last Sunday in the month of July) started with the arrival early in the week of the pre 1935-classic car rally including sidecars and bikes. The village was buzzing with activity including the organising of the route with straw bales for barriers amongst other things. Events started on Friday evening 24th July, with the ‘Grande Regalade’ organised by the village L’Ambiance Ponote, a superb prelude to the weekend’s activities with huge long tables and chairs placed in the rue de la Collegiale for everyone to eat a fantastic meal together. This year we had spit roasted pig on the menu! Everyone had an aperitif brought around the tables by two volunteers with an old supermarket trolley full of different wines including of course Saumur Puy-Notre-Dame, it goes without saying we enjoy a few glasses of the village appellation on these occasions! We said the trolley idea reminded of the hostess trolley service on aircrafts, but of course these guys were far more entertaining with the banter as you can well imagine! This year the weather was unusually windy but nevertheless we soldiered on enjoying the music and singing whilst holding onto our wine glasses for fear of them tumbling from the tables!
The Saturday morning programme started with entrants having a day together rallying around various villages in the Loire (passing rue du Moulin on the way for our guests to enjoy)! Then a nocturnal village race starting at 9pm finishing at midnight! Sunday is the Grande Parade being a whole day of rallying and demonstrations ……… then for us at Le Clos des Guyons a continuation into the night of more food, wine and conviviality!
And so, here’s a toast to the ‘2016 Grand Prix Retro’ and, as it will be the 20th Anniversary, it’s going to be a three-day event …. full of surprises we are told! We have lots to look forward to and are awaiting the dates to be announced!
Brian and Sheila
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Not usually what you would expect to find outside a village bar in rural France.
I was in the village bar the other evening with a group of assorted locals, all busy finding the solutions to life, the universe and everything as one does when Stéphane, sitting on a bar-stool, next to me with his back to the bar and looking through the glass door, quietly said,
“There’s two lions outside”.
Immediately everyone said; “Ouaiss Stéphane”, using that long drawn out “oui” which generally translates as “yes, of course there is, keep taking the pills”- especially as Stéphane had been in the bar for a while and was, shall we say, relaxed.
“No there are”, he insisted – and there was!
Obviously they were part of the travelling circus which was setting up in nearby Saumur and leaving aside the moral question of animals in circus’ at least it was a change from seeing pink elephants.
It did get me thinking however about the difference in attitude between the UK and France over questions of health and safety. Imagine someone leaving a couple of lions in a street in England and think what the repercussions might have been. Here everyone soon returned to the conversation which, if memory serves me correctly, was about the second leg of the Monaco -Arsenal match. And that, apart from a passing glance from the odd driver or cyclist, was that. Of course we did try to persuade Stéphane to put his hand in so that we could see what happened but, although he was drunk, he clearly wasn’t that drunk.
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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
Le Puy Notre Dame, France.
This morning we have wall to wall sunshine and a beautiful blue sky. The church bells are ringing loudly to remind us that it’s a special day in the vllage of Le Puy Notre Dame (translated ‘the hill of our lady’) dominated by its massive Collegiale and imposing spires and pinnacles, built in 1163 (the choir was finished in 1182 followed by the Nave in 1208, and the towers sometime between 1225-1250). Today is the annual pilgrimage where a celebration and hommage is taking place to the Saint Centure starting with mass this morning and then glass of wine and picnic in the Salle de Fete, finishing with prayers again in the afternoon.
The history to this is that Le Puy had become known as Puy-la-Montagne by 1793 and the hill of Puy as Mary’s Mountain. William 9th, Duke of Aquitaine, is reputed to have brought back a waistband of the Virgin Mary from the Crusades and deposited it in the church. His granddaughter Eleanor of Aquitaine founded a Collegiale church to honour the relic which, according to legend, facilitated pregnancies and favoured the birth of a son. Louis XI founded a chapter about 1480 and this became a site of pilgrimage the Sunday after 8 September. The relic (Holy belt) can still be viewed here – it’s placed in a belt of fine silk and measures 1,60 m x 4 cm. On the choir stalls at the back of the photo is the carving which became the emblem of Le Puy and it’s winemakers.
Le Puy Notre Dame became a stop on the pilgrimage to Santiago de Compostelle and 17th century hostelries used by the pilgrims still exist showing clearly the scallop shell, a symbol of the route and badge of the hostelries.
And so there it is.
Why not come and pay a visit to our beautiful Collegiale and appreciate its rich history. You won’t be disappointed.
A recent photo of our guests out in the vineyard, giving their holiday an added value in terms of French Loire Valley wine culture – what a nice idea!
They went with Brian to enjoy the magnificent views around Le Puy Notre Dame and no better place for an introduction than in the local vineyards. The grapes are now well formed on the vines. It was an enlightening visit learning how the vigneron grows and manages his vines whilst looking at the stony soils that give the wines their flavours and the main grape varieties on some of the patches of vines on the slopes around Le Puy Notre Dame.
Amongst several wineries visited was our old favourite the Domaine de la Paleine, a 32 hectaire biodynamic award winning winery around the corner from our home and gites at Le Clos des Guyons After an extensive visit around their wine chais explaining the processes involved and then walking into the vast underground galleries of caves finishing in the important bottling room, Brian explained the Domaine’s many appellations and conducted a tutored wine tasting for everyone from a selection of their wines and vintages including naturally our village’s own wine appellation, Saumur Puy Notre Dame!
Our guests left with plenty of wine knowledge, wine vocabulary and a few cases for the boot of the car – a lovely talking point for the family back home and memory of a good holiday!
Santé and bon dégustation!
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Sage, variegated sage, basil, thyme, savory and lemon mint in our herb garden
When our Loire Gite and Wine Tour Guests arrive here at Le Clos des Guyons we always do extensive aperitifs in the courtyard or on the wooden decked terrace around the pool area. Always accompanied by a bottle or two of the region’s famous sparkling wine, one of the talking points is always the “Cochonaille d’Anjou”. A bit of a specialty of our region although I’m sure it exists in other French regions too. It can be either a hot pork dish or, for an aperitif, a plate of saucisson, local rillauds (an Anjou speciallity, a sort of caramellised belly pork), and any other pork related items although we often use a lamb saucisson as well. How the dish is presented is, of course, entirely at the creators discretion and here at Le Clos des Guyons it gives us an opportunity to use tomatoes and herbs straight from the garden!