Tuesday, 7 January 2014

The Loire - Days 1 & 2

A pleasant Sunday train that stopped at every quaint station from Bordeaux finally got me to the town of Roche Sur Yon. Along the way, I noticed the layers of clothing of the passengers waiting on the platform were slowly increasing every 10km northwards. So it shouldn't have been a shock as I stepped from the train … but it was. Absolutely freezing! Bienvenu dans La Vallée de la Loire

To greet me was 'monsieur Loire', Charles Sydney. Charles once worked for Mr Laithwaite but over the last 25 years he has made the Loire his territory.

We were soon on the road and into the Fiefs Vendeens appellation, a 60-minute drive south of Muscadet.  The first visit was Domaine Mourat and a tasting with young winemaker/owner Jeremie Mourat.  The village of Mareuil may be dominated by an ancient 12th Century castle but there is nothing ancient about the modern underground winemaking facilities and cellars at Mourat. The Mourat family have installed the latest vinification technology and created a super cool-fermentation and aging cellar using various sized cement egg vats!

Egg-shaped fermenters
The wines are as smart as the cellar; sublime Chenin and explosive Sauvignon Blanc, a must-try from this hidden gem

Darkness had already descended on this northerly wine region and we headed to Nantes the capital of the Loire for the night. 

If you are in Nantes and manage to navigate the mayhem of the road, tram, pedestrian and cycle system, check out the awesome, elaborately decorated La Cigale restaurant. Great seafood and plenty of top Muscadet to choose from.
La Cigale restaurant

A bitterly cold start to the week with the temperature at -4°C (which was to be the theme throughout) but the sun was shining in beautiful Muscadet wine country.
Frosty vines

First visit was Vignerons de Pallet in the Muscadet Cru ‘Le Pallet’ located on the right bank of the river Sèvre. With its warmer weather and shallow, stony gneiss and gabbro soils, this unique terroir is the earliest of all the Crus to harvest each year. 

Ten dynamic growers have come together to make a blend of their very best vineyards called ‘Les Dix du Pallet’; a vibrant, citrusy Muscadet Sur Lie cuvee.  Laurent Bouchaud showed me the impressive, but young, 2013 wines; a relatively good year for Muscadet but still a lower than average yield due to some rain-initiated botrytis. Stocks are still low from the disastrous 2011 and 2012 hail-riddled vintages so my tip is to snap up these wines when released in March after the Sur Lie ageing process will have rounded out the palate. 
Three of Les Dix du Pallet

Next stop was to meet young Bordeaux-trained winemaker Pierre Sauvion at Chateau Cleray-Sauvion.  Pierre has recently returned from Australia where he has been working at Mad Fish Estate in Margret River.  As the domaine specialises in whites, Pierre presented a lovely selection of 2013s from the Muscadet Crus, Touraine, Anjou, Saumur and Bonnezeaux. The Vin de France Folie de Pierre Chardonnay tastes terrific, watch this space
Pierre Sauvion

Another fine Muscadet in Domaine Gadais came next. We passed the famous byzantine church in St. Fiacre-Sur-Maine (easily recognisable on the domaine’s Vieux Clocher label) where we were met by Christophe Gadais and his young, up-and-coming winemaker son Pierre-Henri.  Pierre-Henri is being groomed to take the reins and has just returned from the southern hemisphere, working with Tony’s close friend Jane Hunter of Hunter’s Wines in Marlborough. Domaine Gadais has some fine vineyards that sit in the confluence of the Sèvre and the Maine rivers with predominantly slate soils giving a racy Muscadet with great finesse. The 2013 is looking very good indeed with nice weight and flavoursome acidity.
Pierre-Henri & Christophe Gadais

A light lunch at the little family bistro Auberge La Gaillotiere was a welcome retreat from the freezing cold and reminded me of our own long-lost Voyageurs restaurant back in Castillon.

And I cannot keep the wonderful and quite random UFO roundabout at La Haye-Fouassiere to myself!
UFO roundabout

After the limbs had thawed we were back on the road in the direction of Côtes de Grandlieu; a Muscadet Cru just south of Nantes. It’s another exceptional micro-climate influenced by the warmth of the huge Lac de Grandlieu. Here is where winemaker Jérôme Choblet makes stylish wines at his Domaine des Herbauges. Jérôme is a bit of a pioneer in the region and has also planted Chardonnay in China. He’s quite a busy man and unfortunately couldn’t meet us in person this time round.  

The diverse slopes and valleys of this domaine is dominated by a huge ‘parasol pine’ tree, one of the last standing this far north.  We were greeted at the domaine by the bubbly and knowledgeable Severine Larcher who showed us the range of wines.
Severine Larcher

Jérôme has converted the domaine to 100% organic and his careful grass cover management results in lower yields and in turn a more concentrated style of Muscadet.  His obvious passion for Chardonnay is evident too and he has set a new trend planting this varietal on prime Muscadet terroir.  This is certainly one to watch!

Tony Laithwaite and our head of buying Abi Hirshfeld were soon to be arriving at the tiny Nantes airport where I would be picking them up and then making our way to the historic Loire town of Chinon for tonight’s dinner and stop over. We arrived at around 9pm in the quaint ‘preserved in time’ Hotel Diderot!

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