Monday, 13 January 2014

The Loire - Day 3

Tuesday 10th

An early start. And after sampling a quite exceptional array of Madame Diderot’s jams and preserves it was only a short, icy walk to the cellars of Couly-Dutheil.  

Not a long history here, but since being established 80 years ago, the domaine has risen to become the flagship of Chinon wines. The impressive, medal-winning consistency was sparked off by founder Baptiste Dutheil’s first Gold medal back in 1927! 

We were met by current owner Monsieur Jacques Couly who gave us the run down on the 2013 vintage. It was an average year in volume terms, but a late harvest meant achieving ripeness and phenolic maturity was challenging. However, the Couly-Dutheil team are convinced that the meticulous vineyard work and speed of harvest has made a good wine this year. 

The domaine is a Cabernet Franc specialist, their wines really are quite special and I feel they do have to be drunk at the perfect moment with the perfect accompaniment.  They have pulled back on the use of oak in recent years and the wines need bottle age. However once these wines do have the necessary bottle age they are sublime, with a marvellous finesse of blackberry fruit … not heavy wines but great with hearty dishes! We tasted the whole range with La Closerie and Clos l’Echo cuvees standing out for me.

M. Jacques Couly
Everything was still frosted over when we emerged from the cellars of Couly-Dutheil so it was hasty defrosting mission on the car before setting off for Vouvray to meet the wonderful Champalou family.  We made good time and an hour later we were east of the town of Tours amongst the famous chalk soils of the Vouvray plateau and the unique climate created by the Loire tributaries the Cisse and the Brenne.  Less influence from the Atlantic creates a more continental climate with warm summers and freezing winters (witnessed first hand!) allowing dry, off-dry, noble rot and sparkling wines to be made from the dominant Chenin Blanc grape.  

The remarkable Champalou family started from scratch with a tiny 1.5 hectares and is purely a family affair. Smiling Didier works the vines, his adorable wife Catherine runs the business and their talented daughter Celine is now in charge of the winemaking.  Unlike most Vouvray domaines that are 60% sparkling production, the Champalou’s 21 hectares of Chenin Blanc are geared to make the original, off-dry-style Vouvray where the limy acidity and classic quince and citrus fruit are rounded beautifully with a splash of sweetness! So if you want the real Vouvray then this is the wine to drink!

The Champalou Family
Time to thaw out and after a minor puncture set-back, the heating was on full blast as we motored to the little village of Montrichard in the Cher Valley to meet Pierre Chainier of Maisons Channier and Paul Buisse.  Pierre welcomed us and ushered us into a little bistro where a warming bavette frites was again a welcomed respite from the still-sub-zero outside temperature! 

Pierre is a tall man with a sense of purpose and determination. Tony knew his father well, was the first to buy wine from him and instantly remembered the same characteristics. With his uncanny likeness to Richard O’Brien I was expecting him to either give me a crystal or burst into a rendition of ‘Time Warp’ at any moment during the tasting! With modern cellars and a now-large production, Pierre and his two brothers run a tight ship. They now specialise in Sauvignon from the Touraine region but also make a very good Vouvray.

Pierre Channier & Tony
Next stop and close by in the village of Noyers-sur-Cher is Domaine Bellevue. Here owner-winemaker Patrick Vauvy, a friendly giant, is busy making no fuss, formidable, natural-style wines.  His giant smile is warm but his cellar today was freezing! We braved again the sub zero temperatures that were naturally settling the young 2013’s and tasted through every vat, each sample taken by his shovel-like hands! These wines have a unique, individual winemaker stamp and the purity of the 2013s are very impressive.

Patrick Vauvy
A short drive only for our last meeting in the village of Pouille with the Bougrier family who make our stunning Sauvignon Blanc, the hero bestseller Abbesse.  The fifth-generation winemaker and grower Noël Bougrier was on hand with his trusty side kick Olivier for the extensive tasting of the 2013s. This is our 20th year working with the Bougrier family and a great relationship has been built. And with this stunning quality of wine will certainly continue.

Glad once more to be inside out of the cold and after a quick cup of tea we launched into the mammoth tasting in the well-lit tasting room. We finally decided blends after two hours of solid tasting and the 2013 Abbesse is clearly a triumph: explosive Sauvignon aromas matched with fruit salad and wonderful acidity on the palate. It will be released in March so get your orders in quickly or risk the inevitable sell out!

Back out into the extremely cold and dark night for a short drive to our hotel and dinner hosted by the Bougriers at the magnificent Château La Voute. 

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