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Five Loire Super-Stars

Last week I returned from the Loire Valley (actually it was nearly two weeks ago now – no wonder I’m feeling withdrawal symptoms) after five very intense days of tasting. I have a lot of reports to write, domaine profiles to update, notes to publish and new names to feature. I kicked off yesterday, however, with my Loire 2012 report, the most detailed vintage review for the Loire I have ever published, and I believe the most detailed source of Loire 2012 information online anywhere. I hope it’s useful!

In the past I have highlighted ten “top wines” from the Salon; I’m not about to do that here, nevertheless I did find a handful of tastings so joyous that it is only right I think to throw the spotlight on them here. Largely it’s the quality of the wines that impressed, because that’s what really matters when you or I pull the cork, but in some cases these people are doing great things beyond the bottle as well, be it rigorous adherence to organics, or significant work invigorating their ‘base’ appellation.

Some are already well known – I make no apology for that – some less so. In no particular order then:

François Chidaine: Chidaine is, I think, to Montlouis and to some extent Vouvray what Didier Dagueneau was to Pouilly-Fumé. When will he hit critical mass and gain wider appreciation beyond Loire-geek wine circles I wonder? His wines have long been super (the 2008 Clos Habert is, I think, the best Montlouis I have ever tasted) but on this tasting it seemed like his wines were head-and-shoulders above every one else’s, with such intense, mineral purity and definition. And this included wines from 2011, not exactly the greatest of vintages.

Pierre Martin

Pierre Martin (Sancerre): Pierre (pictured above) is unheard of, I imagine, but I will be adding a profile to Winedoctor this year, which might help. Having taken over the family domaine in the last few years, Pierre is making his mark, helped by ownership of vines in some prestigious sites, including Les Monts Damnés. The singing purity of his entry-level Sancerre was just divine, and it only got better from there, with superb translation of the terroir, which I adore in Sancerre; flint cuvées should taste like they come from flint, limestone from limestone, and so on. Pierre’s wines do this. Hopefully, soon to be listed in the UK.

Thierry Germain: OK, put Clos Rougeard to one side for a moment. Whose Saumur-Champigny are you going to drink, now that the Foucault wines are so hard to track down and – in the case of Le Bourg in particular – so expensive? I have tasted Thierry’s portfolio three times over the last 12 months (report coming soon, honest) and this last tasting of the 2012 vintage was truly impressive. The wines showed that haunting floral purity that Cabernet Franc does best, the sort of definition you get in Ausone or Cheval Blanc. Note, please, I’m note trying to draw comparisons or create hyperbole, just that there is a particular feature Cabernet Franc brings to some of the best Bordeaux that can also be found in these wines. Having said that, a few years ago these wines were also made like Bordeaux, with heavy oak influence, but that has been wound back these days, the wines showing more purity as a result. And the estate is biodynamic too, if that matters to you.

Vincent Carême: I have long been an advocate of Vincent and his wines. Well, for a couple of years I have anyway. In 2012, a very difficult vintage, he has managed through grit and determination to pull something really appealing out of the bag. This is not a vintage for truly great wines, but one instead that shows the measure of the man or woman who makes them. Vincent is surprised at the quality he has managed to extract from the vintage, (“I never thought I could manage it in this vintage” he said when we agreed the wine was good) but it is down to his determination, and that of his wife Tania and their team. More importantly, Vincent is fostering new talent within the appellation. Up-and-coming vigneronsPeter Hahn, Sebastien Brunet, Mathieu Cosme, Michel Autran – look to Vincent for guidance. No wonder, as I think he may well have produced the best 2012 in the appellation (OK, I haven’t tasted everything, including Champalou and Foreau, but I will place a small bet all the same). If there is a Vouvray resurgence coming, Carême will be at its heart.

Yves Guégniard: Not familiar with Yves’ wines? He is not the most famous of Loire vignerons, less well known that his Anjou peers such as Nicolas Joly, Claude Papin or Richard Leroy, but that is not his fault, because some of his wines are stunning. Sometimes its the Anjou-Villages Evanescence that blows me away, sometimes it is one of his Savennières cuvées, but on this occasion it was three vintages of Quarts de Chaumes – 2007, 2010 and 2011 – that were the real stars of the show. Three breath-taking, low-yield, botrytised, handpicked wines to challenge even the greatest Sauternes. These are wines which, I can assure you, I will be tracking down for my own cellar…..along with those of Chidaine, Carême, Germain and Martin.

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