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Noel Pinguet departs Domaine Huet in an Acrimonious Split

The news itself was inevitable, but the timing and immediacy of the news which broke yesterday certainly came as a surprise. Noël Pinguet, who has for years been the face of Domaine Huet, and who has long stated his intention to retire in 2015, is to part company with Domaine Huet and its main backer Anthony Hwang, with immediate effect. A source in Vouvray tells me that there is certainly acrimony behind the split, and that Anthony Hwang will be installing family members to take over the management of the domaine. “Pinguet is not leaving a happy man“, my source says.

Noel Pinguet and Domaine Huet part companyThe news broke on the 24th with this article from Le Revue du Vin de France; the article suggests some differences of opinion as responsible for the unexpected split. First it is claimed that, contrary to Anthony Hwang’s wishes, Noël (pictured right) was against broadening the production of sec cuvées, presumably at the expense of reducing the amount of sweeter demi-sec and moelleux wines. I can understand this in principle; the sec cuvées are probably more of a commercial success, whereas the demi-sec and moelleux wines probably appeal to a much narrower band of consumers. Having said that, the balance of sec to demi-sec and moelleux cuvées depends very much on the vintage, and 2010 and it seems 2011 were both strong on dry rather than sweet wines. Second, there seems to be a disagreement on distribution policy, Noël’s more measured approach apparently conflicting with Anthony Hwang’s desire to fulfil the largest orders. If this is true I would not be surprised; Hwang’s stake in Huet is large and he comes in as an outside investor. Noël is the son-in-law of Gaston Huet, whose father Victor bought the domaine in 1928. I know his quality-orientated decisions have sometimes caused friction between the two; his desire to use older vintages of very precious première trie moelleux wines as dosage for his superb pétillant wines was not a popular decision with Anthony Hwang. I note the 2007 has been dosed with a less precious blend of demi-sec from two vintages; is this significant in view of Noël’s departure?

Although the split seems to be tainted with acrimony there are suggestions that it may be merely overzealous reporting by La RVF. Jim Budd reports here on news from Huet’s American importer who play down the departure, putting a positive spin on how this development will (a) not affect quality at the estate and (b) more sec wines will mean lower volumes but better quality sweeter wines. Most of these words sound like standard fair from a merchant with a vested interest in marketing and selling the wines of the domaine though, so I’m inclined to reject these points. And as I indicate above, a source in Vouvray tells me otherwise.

As I mention above, Noël has been very open about his retirement in 2015, when he will be 70 years old. With his replacement Benjamin Joliveau having three years under his belt now, and régisseur Jean-Bernard Berthomé staying on, it is understandable that some might think maybe be felt it was safe to go a little earlier than planned. But, as charming as this idea might seem, there seems no doubt that this departure represents more than mere early retirement. Noël has invested much of his life in Huet, working alongside his father-in-law Gaston, a partnership that was reputedly not always as warm as it might have been, converting the domaine to biodynamics in 1990, pushing quality higher and higher. And of course he holds a minority stake in the company. And in recent months when I have met him – in November 2011 and February 2012 – he seemed as interested and enthusiastic for his wines as ever. There was nothing of the man who longed for retirement about him. Discord and acrimony between Hwang and Pinguet have, it seems, resulted in Vouvray’s leading domaine parting company with its most talented winemaker. I wish Noël well for the future.

A New ‘Centre Culturel et Touristique du Vin’ for Bordeaux

The following press release from Domaine Clarence Dillon – in other words Prince Robert of Luxembourg, CEO of this family firm and thus the man in charge of Haut-Brion and La Mission Haut-Brion, of course – describes an ambitious new project to build a cultural centre for wine, at the entrance to the Port of Bordeaux:

The Dillon family and Domaine Clarence Dillon are pleased to join forces with the City of Bordeaux as founding members of the future Centre Culturel et Touristique du Vin

The Centre Culturel et Touristique du Vin, located at the entrance to the Port of Bordeaux, will be open to the public in 2015.

An ambitious and original project, the Centre Culturel et Touristique du Vin will be a major cultural facility of international standing that pays homage to our shared civilisation of wine. An innovative architectural project both in terms of its theme and conceptual design, the Centre will celebrate wine both in its universality and its diversity.

Bordeaux… for millennia a port town benefiting from cultural exchange, trade and the perpetual outreach towards distant civilisations and cultures. Through the Centre Culturel et Touristique du Vin project we celebrate the past while looking towards the future. The city of Bordeaux cements its place as the natural gateway to the global civilisation of wine” declares Prince Robert of Luxembourg, President and CEO of the family firm and great grandson of its founder, Mr Clarence Dillon.

The Dillon family: a long-standing tradition of patronage

For the Dillon family, associated for many years with charities of a humanitarian nature, this commitment to the Centre Culturel et Touristique du Vin project is part of a long-standing tradition of philanthropy and patronage begun over 75 years ago by Mr Clarence Dillon.

Cultural projects: The family’s activities in support of the Bordeaux region include the return to France of Michel de Montaigne’s “Livre de Raison” and the acquisition by the Town Library of a Montesquieu manuscript; Aid was given to the Bordeaux Opera in order to renovate the Théâtre’s Grand Foyer and Painters Room. The company is a proud sponsor of the Bordeaux International String Quartet Competition and the Estivales Summer Music Festival, and the friends of the Opera association, Arpeggio. In 2010, Domaine Clarence Dillon became a patron and founder member of the Bordeaux University Foundation.

Domaine Clarence Dillon and Château Haut-Brion: at the heart of the history of wine

A long while after the introduction of the vine in its fabled soils between 40 and 60 AD, in the 1660s Château Haut-Brion became the birth place of the “New French Claret”, the precursor of fine red wines as we still know them today. Château Haut-Brion can thus be considered the ancestor of the great growths of Bordeaux and its historical relevance is without rival.

Imbued with this prestigious past, it seemed only natural that Domaine Clarence Dillon should want to perpetuate and highlight the heritage of the world’s wine civilisations.

An agreement was thus signed in late December 2011 between the company and the Association for the construction of the Centre Culturel et Touristique du Vin.

Prince Robert of Luxembourg points out that “France remains the most popular tourist destination in the world, Bordeaux the most famous reference for fine wine. As more and more visitors come to discover the exceptional beauty and culture of our city ….this monument to our common civilisation of wine will become the inevitable starting point for any visitor”.

Domaine Clarence Dillon

Created in 1935, the family-owned Company, Domaine Clarence Dillon is privileged to produce four wines of first rate and equal reputation: two red wines and two white wines from Château Haut-Brion and Château La Mission Haut-Brion.

Steeped in close to 2 millenia of history, the family company strives to have its deep heritage reflected in all of the wines produced under its name.

Constantly maintaining a balance of tradition and innovation, in 2005 the company created the Bordeaux Fine Wine Merchant Clarence Dillon Wines and launched Clarendelle, Bordeaux’s first super premium luxury brand wine.

Last summer, the family-owned firm, Domaine Clarence Dillon, was pleased to announce the purchase of a beautiful estate in Saint-Emilion, baptising it Château Quintus. The 2011 vintage of this wine will be presented to trade professionals during the En Primeur tastings held from April 2nd – 6th 2012.

Excellence and elegance are the bywords which have come to define the great wines produced by Domaine Clarence Dillon.

Tasting Notes: Please Add Salt

It is nearly two weeks since I battled my way from Angers down to Le Landreau in order to visit Pierre Luneau-Papin and to taste the 2011s from cuve, plus a large selection of older vintages and cuvées, everything from very young Folle Blanche (perhaps better known as Gros Plant du Pays Nantais to some) to aging bottles of L d’Or. When I say ‘battled’ I’m not being too melodramatic; the snowfall of the night before had turned many smaller roads from convenient thoroughfares into treacherous, ice-bound skating rinks. Only the autoroute had seen any gritting or salting, and then only a single lane, making for slower progress than was ideal. Nevertheless after a couple of hours we arrived at Luneau-Papin’s residence. The sight of his vineyards, swaddled in a blanket of snow, was something quite special.

Tasting Notes: Please Add Salt

The scene reminded me of my trip to Finland a few years ago (although there were no vines there!) or indeed one or two days from recent winters in Scotland (no vines there either!), when the sky has that heavy, grey-white appearance which almost blends into the snow on the ground. It was a photographer’s paradise – it’s just a shame I’m not much of a photographer!

Anyway, the ‘salt’ referenced in the title of this post is not the salt that the French authorities were half-heartedly spreading on a small and select number of the roads, but rather than large pinch of salt required when reading tasting notes (and scores too, I suppose) and, specifically, using those tasting notes to determine whether or not the wine is to your taste, or of sufficient quality or value to merit a purchase. These thoughts came to me during an early-afternoon tasting and lunch with Pierre Luneau-Papin and his wife and son.

The wine in question was the 2003 L d’Or; for those not in the know L d’Or is his classic Sèvre et Maine sur lie cuvée, serious and bold, fine in its youth but better with a little bottle age and capable of very long aging – my favourite vintage tasted during this trip was the 1989, but I also tasted the remarkably fresh, still-going-strong 1976 from magnum, so this is certainly an ageworthy cuvée! The 2003 vintage wouldn’t be my first choice for just about any wine, from any appellation, in all honesty; the heat of the vintage comes through in a soft, baked, roasted character in many reds (recently tasted Burgundies tasted more like Châteauneuf du Pape) and the whites display low acidity and a tendency to flabbiness. There are always exceptions to the rule though and this 2003 struck me as – for the vintage – uncommonly interesting.

Sure, on the palate (so I’m talking about sensory assessment, not figures for titratable acidity) the acidity was way down, giving the wine a much softer feel than many (probably all?) other vintages of L d’Or, but there was some acidity there, so the wine didn’t fade into a soft, shapeless form in the mouth, and there were some grippy phenolic notes helping to give the wine some shape as well. And there were interesting flavours too, not archetypal for Muscadet admittedly, but rather interesting notes of fruit with a rather dried, desiccated, candied edge, atypical but enticing, and there were little notes of almond tuile coming in from behind as well. All very interesting, not really what most people want from Muscadet, but with prior knowledge of the wine’s style still a worthy wine, not one to be disregarded like so many 2003s. Then came lunch:

Tasting Notes: Please Add Salt

The langoustines came with a dip of crème fraîche seasoned with lemon, salt and pepper – together they were absolutely delicious. The scallops, meanwhile, bathed in a sauce of beurre blanc, the sauce for which was based on a Muscadet reduction – one bottle of Muscadet reduced down to a teaspoon of liquor before adding a little crème fraîche and butter. Also absolutely delicious. And a slug of the 2003 tasted with these foods would obviously do the trick, I thought.

The wine hit my palate; uh-oh – this was totally wrong!

Surprisingly, having been swayed by the character of the 2003 in a slightly more clinical ‘tasting’ setting, when putting the wine up against a little food it fell completely flat. Whereas other more classically styled vintages of Muscadet really came into their own here – the 2007 L d’Or worked particularly well, the acid really shining through – the lack of acidity from the 2003 thwarted its usefulness at table. What had been at least an interesting wine, the low level of acidity coping quite well when tasted alone, fell apart when challenged with a few langoustines and a little beurre blanc. In this situation there simply wasn’t the desired acidity.

OK, in retrospect this finding is not that surprising. But at the time I was taken with just how different the wine seemed when tasted without food, and then with food. All wines do this of course, but this seemed to be a completely different wine, chalk one minute and then cheese the next. Wines often show different sides of their characters in different situations, but this one changed its personality altogether.

All of which led me to thinking of the veracity of tasting notes, and their usefulness to consumers, when ‘tasting’ and ‘drinking’ are such different experiences. Tasting thirty-plus samples of Muscadet in the cellars on a freezing cold, snow-bound Sunday morning, or in a clinical setting at the Salon des Vins de Loire, or tasting one barrel sample after another at the Bordeaux primeurs, dashing from one appointment to the next, are all very different scenarios to how I will eventually drink the wine. I’ve always regarded wine as something to drink with a meal (and before and after it) but the principal purpose of wine is to highlight, accentuate and complement the meal (and vice versa – the food should bring out the better features of the wine). I suspect the same is true for most Winedoctor readers, who are probably just as food-interested as you are wine-interested. But I know some see wine differently – as a beverage of relaxation, with a bottle open in front of the fire or the TV, rather than something for the dining table. For me, a positive tasting note on the 2003 – from my clinical tasting – would be misleading, as it doesn’t work in the context I want it to – with food. But for the consumer sitting with an open bottle, the lower acid of the 2003 may well make it the best option.

Bearing this in mind, it seems that tasting notes from wine reviewers/critics have to be taken with a pinch of salt (or perhaps an even larger pinch of salt than the one you already use). Not only do they represent one palate’s opinion of a wine at one point in its evolution, but they may often be falsely negative/positive based on the context of the tasting and how that relates to your use of the wine. I wonder if the ideal method of wine reviewing might be a series of wine with food reviews (“Twenty Muscadets with Langoustines – Which Works Best?”) rather than reams of tasting notes and scores?

Loire Salon 2012: Visitors down 20%

Press release from InterLoire (English version below):

C’est sous la neige que le salon des Vins de Loire a ouvert ses portes lundi. Cette première journée du salon, habituellement jour clé, a été coupé d’environ 700 visiteurs. Les autres jours n’ont pas rattrapé ce retard. Le salon qui ferme ces portes, ce soir, annonce d’ores et déjà une baisse de fréquentation qui devrait être comprise entre 15 et 20% [I think we can take that as a 20% reduction in visitor numbers.....at least - Chris]. Les conditions climatiques délicates, les conditions de circulations difficiles, ont surtout affecté les acheteurs CHR (café-hôtel-restaurant) du grand-ouest ainsi qu’un petit nombre d’acheteurs étrangers de proximité (Belgique et Angleterre) qui fréquentent fidèlement le salon [sorry, not convinced by this - Chris].

Cette édition reste néanmoins marquée par la qualité des contacts et la grande fidélité des acheteurs traditionnels des vins de Loire.

Plus structurellement, pour Christian Groll, directeur du Parc des Expositions d’Angers, « le salon du haut de ces 27 ans est entré dans un régime de croisière qu’il faut bousculer. Faire peau neuve en intégrant une logique tournée autour de la valorisation et de la découverte en replaçant le vin, le millésime et la dégustation au coeur du salon ». Pierre Aguilas, Président du Salon des Vins de Loire, souhaite que « la filière viticole se donne les moyens de fédérer toutes les énergies pour que ce rendez-vous annuel reste LE rendez-vous des vins de Loire ».

Quoi qu’il en soit, la côte d’amour de ce salon est intacte [Clair de Lune PR agency and InterLoire obviously not big followers of Winedoctor - Chris]. Pour Julien Chazot, propriétaire d’un bar à vin à Lyon et visiteur inconditionnel : « j’aime venir à Angers, c’est mon rendez-vous Loire de l’année, l’occasion de rencontrer les vignerons et de suivre l’évolution qualitative des appellations. Le plus du salon : sa convivialité ! »

Le Salon des Vins de Loire ferme ses portes ce soir et vous donne rendez-vous les 4,5 et 6 février 2013 avec une édition qui promet quelques nouveautés. [Oh well, that's one thing; it looks like we have dates for 2013 in the bag. Will Clair de Lune/InterLoire get the website finished by then, I wonder? - Chris]

Version in English released later in the day:

Snow was falling when the Loire Valley Wine Trade Fair opened on Monday. The first – and
traditionally key – day of the event suffered a year-on-year shortfall of about 700 visitors,
and the other days did not offset this slow start. The fair, which ended tonight, has already
announced a drop in attendance of between 15% and 20%. The adverse weather and
tough travel conditions primarily affected Horeca-channel buyers in western France, but
also a small number of loyal foreign buyers from nearby countries (Belgium and the United
Kingdom).

However, this year’s edition will be remembered for the quality of business contacts and
the loyalty of Loire-wine buyers from the “traditional” segment (Horeca and wine stores).

From a structural perspective, Christian Groll, director of the Parc des Expositions in Angers,
commented: “The fair is now 27 years old, it has reached cruising speed – and needs
shaking up. A makeover is required, focusing on promotion and discovery, and restoring
the central role of wines, the year’s vintage and tasting.” Pierre Aguilas, president of the
Loire Valley Wine Trade Fair, wants the winemaking community “to give itself the resources
to unite all energies so that this annual gathering remains the meeting-place for Loire
wines”.

One thing is certain: the fair’s popularity is intact. Julien Chazot, a wine-bar owner in Lyon
and ever-present fair visitor, said: “I love coming to Angers, it’s my Loire-wine event of the
year, an opportunity to meet with producers and track the quality of each appellation.
And the fair’s special asset is its convivial atmosphere!”

The Loire Valley Wine Trade Fair closed its doors tonight, and invites you to mark 4-6
February 2013 in your diary, for an edition that promises a number of new features.

Loire Salon 2012: Anticlimax

The final day of the Salon is always something of an anticlimax; I usually have to leave early, often around midday, in order to make my travel connections – train then plane – on time. I begin tasting with gusto, but the few hours I have fly by, and my departure time always arrives much earlier than expected. Yesterday morning was no exception; I had hardly started tasting with the delightful Coralie Delecheneau of La Grange Tiphaine when I suddenly realised it was time to go. Happily, I managed to taste most of her whites, which include some lovely bright and breezy examples of Montlouis, and also a delicious Pét-Nat fizz, before I had to dash.

Ironically, I took the 1pm shuttle bus rather than the 2pm shuttle bus. Theoretically, the second bus would have been good for me, but the bus service has been so erratic (not running at all on Monday morning, and returning to Angers from the Salon on Tuesday evening for a dinner appointment again the bus did not turn up) that I wasn’t prepared to take a chance with the later bus. As it was I left the Salon an hour earlier than I needed to, an hour of time I could have spent interacting with exhibitors (who all pay a lot of money to set up a stand at the Salon) such as Coralie Delecheneau of La Grange Tiphaine, wasted because I don’t trust the unfortunately haphazard bus service provided by Parc Expo (amended – see Charles Sydney’s comments below).

One other feature of the 2012 Salon des Vins de Loire that is worthy of comment is visitor numbers; I’ve only been attending this annual event for a few years now, but this seems to me to have been by far the quietest Salon I have been to. Pushing it back a week has discouraged attendees, upsetting schedules, distancing it from the off events, pushing it closer to other important wine fairs, namely ViniSud (February 20th-22nd). If InterLoire thought the Salon would win out against all these competing demands that was arrogant; it’s quite clear that some see La Dive Bouteille and Nicolas Joly’s Renaissance tastings as the main events, and the Salon as the “off-event”. It’s also clear that InterLoire need to demonstrate a dynamic response to recent events; you can’t just let someone as influential and innovative as François Chidaine resign in despair then carry on as if everything was OK. And you can’t carry on putting on a half-cocked show like the Salon des Vins de Loire and expect people to keep visiting, regardless.

Salon des Vins de Loire 2012

Oh, and while I remember, as visitors numbers are sure to be down (hence deserted aisles as above, Wednesday morning), when that news is released please don’t blame it on difficulties travelling due to the cold weather; my flight from Edinburgh and train from Paris both departed on time, and arrived on time. In Angers, the buses and taxis were running as normal, even on Monday morning. The only part of the transport service that failed was the shuttle bus to the Salon itself. The reduction in visitor numbers this year is down to questionable decisions about timing of the Salon; thus the responsibility lies at the feet of InterLoire.

As for the wine, well I have already mentioned La Grange Tiphaine, and the other star of Wednesday morning was Bruno Cormerais. Bruno might well have all the gravitas of the late Sir Harry Secombe (I’m thinking of his Goon Show years rather than when he led us all in Sunday evening worship on Songs of Praise), but this man’s wines are some of the most exciting and innovative in Muscadet. I have been meaning to taste them for some time, but having encountered his 2004 Bruno 7 Ans cuvée (aged sur lie for seven years) on Tuesday evening, brought to a dinner I attended by David Cobbold of More than just Wine (and tasting blind no-one, including some experienced Loire tasters, spotted it as a Muscadet), I was spurred into action. I tasted through the range with his son, Maxime, and found some very high quality especially in the less warm years such as 2008 and 2010, although once we progressed on to the Granite de Clisson (and now just Clisson) cuvées, and the special Maxime and Bruno bottlings, they were petty good all round. I’m looking forward to writing these up.

Loire Salon 2012: Exciting Discoveries

There are always exciting discoveries to be made at the Salon. New discoveries don’t have to be new domaines, by the way; it could be a new wine from a well-known vigneron, or some other significant development, such as the completion of an innovative project or certification as bio (organic) or biodynamic perhaps. Sometimes it may be a perceived change in the style of winemaking. During yesterday’s time at the Salon, I saw examples of all these….on occasion many of them all rolled up at just one domaine, which is invigorating. It drives home what a lively and dynamic wine region the Loire really is.

Jo PithonOn top form yesterday, and clearly innovating and developing, were Pithon-Paillé, home to Jo Pithon (pictured left). I have often really liked the wines of this domaine; last year I found traces of oxidation running through the wines but happily this turned out to be nothing more than two tired samples, and subsequent tastes were better. The first thing I noticed here is that the style of winemaking has progressed away from the more wood-influenced and perhaps slightly oxidative style that typifed the Pithon wines of old and which I thought might be returning when I tasted last year; yesterday the white wines had a really fine, matchsticky, slightly reductive style, a characteristic which interestingly I have noticed in more white wines this year than ever before. It is a style that really appeals and which bodes well for the wine’s (and region’s) future I believe. When I asked what had changed in the winery, it turns out there has been a progressive move from smaller oak barrels, at 225 litres, to 350 litres and now 600 litres, along with rigorous topping up. These whites are much more serious as a result. Then came another innovation, a Pithon-Paillé Crémant de Loire, made using wine from 2009 and must from 2010, with the addition of a neutral yeast, a novel method – more on this when I write a report. And also news that, now certified as organic on the vast majority of their plots, not only those they own but also on those from where they acquire their Chinon, Bourgueil and Saumur fruit, Pithon-Paillé will be converting to biodynamics in 2012. It is a process that commences with the pruning, so by the time the 2013 Salon comes around – if InterLoire manage to organise one, that is – they should be fully certified. Regardless of your opinion of biodynamics, there is no doubt that it is associated with the production of high quality wines, so these are exciting times at this domaine!

Of course, that s just one domaine; I also discovered some really good Crémant de Loire from Château d’Aulée, nice Muscadets from Château Coing de Saint-Fiacre, and some really exciting white Anjou (good reds too, but the whites are tip-top) from a trio of young vignerons going by the name of Les Seches Roches. I also attended a private tasting of 2007 sweet wines from the Layon, some of which were superb, as well as tasting some Chinon and I even made a sighting of the rarely-seen Philippe Alliet (the man, not just the wines). And I have the photographic evidence to prove it!

I should pont out that the flow of information at the Salon is not all one-way though; I managed to confound Philippe Germain, of Château de la Roulerie, with news of several lieux-dits bottlings of Roulerie’s Coteaux du Layon from long-past vintages. Les Cerisiers and Les Aunis he knew, but he was surprised to find in my cellartracker portfolio two vintages of a cuvée called Les Coteaux, which he hadn’t heard of before. Some more research for Philippe, I think.

As it turns out, it’s not just the visitors that make exciting discoveries at the Salon, but sometimes the exhibitors too.

Loire Salon 2012: Troubled Beginnings

Yesterday morning I was up bright and early for the first day of the Salon; unfortunately Tom King of the RSJ Restaurant was up early but not so bright. At about 8:20am he lurched into the breakfast room (and I mean he lurched) looking the worse for wear. He was ill and had been up all night, and wouldn’t be coming with us to the Salon. That meant no driver, and no convenient door-to-door lift. Catching the Navette – just like catching any bus – means being somewhere at a certain time. Within microseconds of receiving this news Jim Budd appeared wearing coat, scarf and carrying bag; he was off to catch the 8:45 bus. I decided to emulate him, but in retrospect wish I hadn’t. Nevertheless, like an innocent lamb, five minutes later I was heading out for the Navette. Jim eventually caught a lift (lucky fellah!), but I waited for the bus to arrive.

And – in temperatures well below 0ºC, I waited, and waited……

Eventually an InterLoire employee appeared and after making a few telephone calls information began to trickle out. Nobody seemed to know what was happening, but the main piece of news was that the buses hadn’t turned up, and that the bus company weren’t picking up the phone. I was stranded. More importantly, so were a number of foreign buyers and importers waiting at the same bus stop, people who generate tangible business for the region, driving money into local coffers. And at the railway station (the main bus pick-up point), I later learnt, there were hoards of buyers and journalists left stranded. There was no real explanation, no back-up plan, and no co-ordinated response (although scrounging of lifts with the help of the InterLoire employee did yield results for a lucky few). There were no taxis available and it was – although someone did suggest it – too far to walk, especially along the snow and ice-encrusted pavements.

To be fair, none of this was really InterLoire’s fault, but to me it seemed to hammer another nail into the Salon’s coffin; no matter whose fault it is, first-time visitors (and maybe those more established) will see this as yet another aspect of a disorganised and poorly presented meeting. Perhaps next year they won’t return; I’m going to be watching for the reports on numbers of visitors to the Salon with interest this year, as I suspect they will already be down. But what’s the betting that is blamed on the icy weather rather than the lack of judgement shown in pushing back the Salon one week?

Rémi BrangerAnyway, enough opinion on InterLoire. What of the wine? Yesterday was a really productive day, as I revisited domaines I know well, domaines I have overlooked for a couple of years, and some new faces too. As for the former category, first tasting of the day was at Domaine de la Pépière, with Marc Ollivier’s associate Rémi Branger (pictured right). The wines here were as good as ever, and it was a fascinating experience tasting and contrasting his newer cuvées, including the 2010 Clisson (newly ratified cru communal), 2009 Trois (three years sur lie), 2009 Château Thébaud (a cru communal of the future, surely) and also some remarkably good red wines from the 2011 vintage. In the domaines too-long overlooked I tasted at François Pinon – some good wines there, in a very floral, pure, minerally style – and new names included the two Muscadet domaines, Gérard Vinet and the Choblet brothers of Domaine du Haut Bourg. The latter knock out wines which are perhaps the best from the Côtes de Grandlieu appellation I have ever tasted, particularly the lees-aged wines; it is amazing what ten years sur lie in subterranean tanks can do for a wine. These polished, floral more stony Chablis-like styles are great wines for richer dishes. I tasted the 2001 (from bottle) and the 2002 (a sample from cuve).

Later on, dinner at Favre d’Anne was pretty good; rather more upmarket than I am used to during the Salon, but the carpaccio of scallops with wild mushrooms and truffle oil was certainly an experience worth having. And please note I was on my best behaviour….especially as Jean-Martin Dutour, president of InterLoire, was on the next table. It was, I decided, perhaps not the best time for me to draw his attention to my criticisms of the workings of this year’s Salon. I hope and expect he already realises – especially following the resignation of François Chidaine from the committee – that he has a difficult situation on his hands. It might only take another appellation or two to follow Bourgueil’s lead and to remove their funding from InterLoire for the whole system to unravel.

Loire Salon 2012: A Snowy Preamble

Breakfast was at a very civil 8am on Sunday morning; even so, after a late night on Saturday, I still stumbled bleary-eyed into the dining room as if it were four hours earlier. It was only when Jim Budd directed my vision outside that I realised something very unusual had happened; a significant snowfall. The ground outside was covered with two inches of snow; nothing unusual in Scotland, but here in Angers (and for much of the rest of France) it was equivalent to the landing of a UFO and Elvis stepping out – ie. somewhat unanticipated and worthy of hours and hours of televsion news coverage. An appropriate response to this event from the French authorities seemed, I thought, rather unlikely (I’m referring to the snowfall here, not Elvis; just to be clear, there is no Elvis at the 2012 Salon). Nevertheless, once our car was cleared of ice and snow, we got underway. Within and around Angers my concerns proved well-founded; the roads were snowbound, and we progressed at about 20 mph. Fortunately the autoroute had been more thoroughly gritted and salted, and thereafter we made good progress. Naturally as we approached our destination – Domaine Luneau-Papin near Le Landreau – the conditions worsened again, but nothing that held us back.

Pierre luneau-PapinAt Luneau-Papin we eventually located Pierre in his underground garage, after about 15 minutes of knocking and doorbell-ringing. First up was a tour of the cellars, and a chance to taste through all the 2011 brut de cuve samples, along with a selection of other recent vintages, mostly 2010 but also the occasional cuvée from the 2009 vintage. The most notable feature here was the pure, rich, clean, minerally character of the wines. Perhaps the most important word here is clean; having already tasted a large number of Muscadets from this vintage it is clear that 2011 was seriously troubled by rot. Watch out if you encounter any for the tell-tale flavours; dead fruit, brown fruit, undergrowth, dead leaves, damp soil and even plain old rotten fruit, in wines that should be vibrant and fresh. If you’re unsure about this ‘rot’ flavour I find blackberries, left on the bush until the core has turned from white-green to sticky brown, often assisted by rain, to provide a very vivid flavour of rot. Somehow I don’t think this is an aroma/flavour that will be making it into those expensive nez du vin sets anytime soon though.

Then inside for more vintages, back to the 2002 Excelsior and 1999 L d’Or, as well as plenty of younger vintages, as well as a brilliant lunch of langoustines, scallops and cheese. We left fairly early, anticipating road mayhem on our return journey, but in fact the situation had improved, and we made it back in time for oysters and onglet at the Angers’ Brasserie de la Gare, with wines from Didier Richou, Jo Landron and Domaine de la Noblaie. Although the roads around our hotel remain untreated and are thus now covered in compacted ice and snow, and deadly treacherous, the rest were reasonably clear. Let’s hope they stay that way so we can make it out for the first day of the Salon tomorrow.

More on Monday’s adventures soon….

Loire Salon 2012: An Early Start

I awoke four minutes before my alarm clock sounded at 4am on Saturday morning; it’s funny how the brain’s internal clock seems to manage such precise feats of timing such as that. Thankfully the anticipated ‘big freeze’ was obviously delayed somewhere which meant my departure from Edinburgh airport wasn’t. After about two hours in the air I landed at Paris CDG Airport 15 minutes ahead of schedule, and yet I soon realised – as I stood at the back of an interminably long queue through passport control – that if I didn’t do something quick I was going to miss my train to Angers. I leap-frogged about eighty places in the line, with the assistance of airport staff it has to be said (I’m British – I’m allergic to queue-jumping unless done with official authorisation) and after a well-paced run through the airport I made it onto the 9:48am train for Angers just as the doors were closing. It was all vaguely reminiscent of my late night dashes for the last train home after the monthly meetings of Chester Claret Club, which I attended many years ago; I would often find myself leaping onto the train just as the door-closure alarm was sounding.

Aside from trying to eject a Frenchman from seat 61, only to quickly realise I was in the wrong carriage and had the wrong seat 61 (thereby affording me a valuable opportunity to practise apologising in French – my intention all along of course) my journey out was thankfully uneventful. By 1:30pm I was lunching on an entrecôte in Angers, and by 3pm I was en route with Jim Budd and Tom King of the RSJ Restaurant for Domaine de la Bergerie.

Yves and Marie-Annick Guégniard, Domaine de la BergerieThere we met Yves Guégniard and his wife Marie-Annick, and we made a tour of his estate, which is a handsome one at the best of times but with the vneyards lying under a moderate dusting of snow it was even more picturesque. We looked at some of Yves’ oldest vines, Chenin Blanc of approximately 100 years old, the original plants grafted oto American rootstock but then – remarkably considering the fact the original planted were so established – propagated by provignage. This is essentially tip-layering, bending down one of the shoots and securing it under the surface of the soil, traditionally with nothing more technical than a rock placed over it. Once it has rooted (on it’s own roots, note, not grafted) it can be separated from its parent plant, although this last step – as we saw with Yves’ vines – isn’t essential. I wonder if this maintained union between the grafted vines, and its offspring established on its own roots, is somehow important in preventing the younger vine from succumbing to phylloxera?

Later we returned to Yves’ residence for a tasting, first featuring the wines not of Yves but of friend and colleague Vincent Ogereau. I will write these up in due course but the overall impression was of a range of wines quite understated in style, with unfortunately unattractive labels but with a capacity – having tasted quite a few older examples now – for aging. Vincent doesn’t receive the press he deserves in my opinion, and the same can be said of Yves Guégniard of Domaine de la Bergerie, whose wines came next, and were also very good across the range. We finished up with Claude Papin, and some of his wines, which are still fashioned by Claude, although the hand of René Papin – one of his two sons – is increasingly present I think. Certainly I thought some of Claude’s whites displayed a tighter, more minerally and reductive style than I have experienced before.

We finished our day with dinner at La Bergerie, the restaurant run by Yves son-in-law David Guitton. This was a truly excellent dinner, accompanied by wines from Claude, Yves and Vincent, and I’ll be writing it up in due course. The most striking wine was perhaps Yves’ Crémant de Loire Rosé, perhaps one of the most elegant and yet seductive examples of the style I have encountered. Must get my hands on some of that…

More on Sunday’s adventures soon…

To the Salon!

Tomorrow (Saturday) morning I will be heading out to Angers, principally for the Salon which starts on Monday although I will be keeping myself busy over the weekend with a small programme of visits, including Domaine de la Bergerie (Anjou, Chaume, Quarts de Chaume, etc.) and Domaine Luneau-Papin (Muscadet). I’m looking forward to the first of these visits as Yves Guégniard is a very talented guy who turns out a range of really beautiful wines, his Savennières and sweet wines being the pick of the bunch I think. The trip to Luneau-Papin should also be rather special, as it is too many years since I was anywhere near Muscadet-land. I know Pierre-Marie (Pierre Luneau-Papin’s son) will be showing a range of older vintages of L d’Or at the Salon, back to the 1976 (no – not a typo!), and I doubt such wines will be open for our visit so I suspect I will have to visit him at his stand at the Salon as well, as this would beat my previous oldest Muscadet tasting experience by quite a few years (six, to be precise, having tasted the 1982 not that long ago).

Last year I spent a whole day at the Salon focused on Savennières, alongside all my other usual ‘visits’; this gave me a fine opportunity to really get to grips with this appellation, to understand the different styles of wine. I still need to embody these thoughts in a new guide to the appellation, something that I will endeavour to do this year. I also spent some time with some of the new blood in Montlouis, including Xavier Weisskopf and Lise et Bertrand Jousset. This year I’m not so sure what main focus should be, although I am leaning towards (a) Chaume/Quarts de Chaume/Bonnezeaux – which would help me update and expand my guide to Anjou along with my Savennières experiences from last year, or (b) Sancerre – to help me understand, as I did with Savennières, the different styles; although here it would reflect terroir more than winemaking, as I wrote in my The New Sancerre post from the end of last week. Maybe I’ll do both. I’m also open to suggestions – add them to the comments below.

In addition, it was my hope to try and add some new profiles to the site based on recently tasted wines I have enjoyed, such as Domaine du Mortier. Like a number of the smaller, more organic, biodynamic or ‘natural’ domaines, however, the Boisard brothers of Domaine du Mortier don’t seem to exhibit at the Salon. I could have caught them at the first ever Salon Professionnel Vignerons Bio de Loire…..but that was last week, an off-event cast adrift by the shift of the Salon back one week, about which I wrote in Hints to InterLoire on the 2012 Salon. If InterLoire see that as a victory (Mortier and the Bio Salon aren’t engaged with InterLoire, who seem to regard such domaines and off-events as competing rather than enhancing) then that is a peculiarly small, narrow-minded, insular and self-destructive approach to marketing.

And one last thing; this year the Salon’s blog trophy is limited to those who write about/for wine bars. Which, to me, seems typically narrow-minded. I’m beginning to have a lot of sympathy for the recently resigned François Chidaine.

Next week my usual updates will be replaced with blog posts as I report on my activities at the Salon (hence my homepage makeover this week, with my new links to ‘recent blog posts’). If all goes well, and none of the airports or train stations I will be passing through on my way to Angers have been closed by snow, then I’ll be able to report on my first visits maybe sometime tomorrow.