Friday, 6 July 2012

Loire 2011 - So much quality, so much value...

Posted by Julian Campbell, Buyer
Chez...guess who?
Sunday June 24th 2012. 11.30pm. Giles’ flight is delayed so I'm alone in slightly dog eared French 'Pub' watching England predictably lose to Italy on penalties. And I don't even particularly enjoy football. This is not, it would seem, the most auspicious start to a buying trip to the Loire. But fortunately, for me and our Loire offer, my lot improved straight off the bat at our very first tasting the next morning.

The mighty Loire, France's longest river, rises in the Cévennes and travels over 1000km heading first north and then west before reaching the Bay of Biscay and the Atlantic at St Nazaire. It would make a very fine bike ride. As it turns north-west and then west it plays host to one of the most diverse and perhaps underappreciated of France's great "wine regions". From the Marl and Kimmeridgean clay soils of Sancerre and the flinty, Silex strewn slopes of Pouilly Fumé via the Cabernet Franc friendly regions of Chinon, Bourgeuil and Saumur Champigny through dry, sweet and sparkling Chenin Blanc in Vouvray, Montlouis Anjou and Savennieres, right the way back to Sauvignon in Touraine and finally the Oyster partnering Muscadet towards its mouth. There is much to get excited about and many stellar domaines making world class wines at eminently affordable prices.

The 2011 vintage was, across the Loire, a vintage where careful vineyard management was vital. Growers up and down the region reported early flowering, prodigious fruit set and the danger of allowing yields to creep up to levels that would have prevented ripening. As elsewhere in France, the growing season was back to front; Summer came in Spring and Spring in Summer, with rainy spells through July and August and plenty of warmth. Perfect conditions for vigorous vegetal growth and the danger of potential rot. As a result, crop thinning, leaf plucking, yield management and patience at harvest were all vital to ensure healthy and most importantly ripe grapes were picked. It really is testament to the quality and commitment of our growers that the wines they have produced are of such high quality.

In Sancerre and Pouilly the 2011 Sauvignons may not be as racy as those in 2010, but they are no less intense and just as concentrated. And they have tremendous textural elegance. Giles Crochet and Serge Dagueneau provide the benchmarks in Sancerre and Pouilly respectively with beautifully balanced and rewarding wines of great purity and finesse. Also in Sancerre, Clement and Florent Pinard continue to push the envelope at their father's domaine producing a range of red and white Sancerre that surely must be some of the regions very best. The intensity and laser like precision of their 2011s is just staggering. As we left we found ourselves comparing their top cuvees to those of Domaine Didier Dagueneau. Say. no. more....

Further west more hard work was evident with a superb range of Cabernet Franc at Jacky Blot's tirelessly run Domaine de la Butte. Amongst other things, Jacky uses a primary up lit sorting table in the actual vineyard (and a second in the winery) to help sift out any less than perfect grapes at source. Given the prices these wines command this a serious demonstration of commitment to quality. And it shows. The wines at Charles Joguet, with a new winemaker as of 2010, have become a more supple, approachable and engaging. They are silkier now, more gourmande, and in my eyes at least, all the better for it. Over in Saumur Champigny, Phillipe Vatan at Ch. de Hureau, whose 11th Century caves are cut deep into the limestone "Tuffe", has once again produced a set of eminently pure and honest wines that keep you coming back for more.

Jacky Blot's world class Chenin's from Montlouis and Vouvray have once again produced the goods in 2011, though Jacky himself was the first to admit it was a “complicated” vintage. No fewer than 100 pickers were employed to allow precise and timely picking. The resulting wines are ripe, succulent and concentrated with crystal clear flavours. I am still drinking Remus Plus 2007 at home and it is absolutely breathtaking. These really are stand out value and deserve to be shouted about.

Last and by no means least, as of this year we have a new Chenin Blanc producer to rave about alongside Jacky Blot. Young up and coming star Thibaud Boudignon seems to be friends with all the right people. With just a few hectares in Anjou and Savennieres and a zealous belief in the importance of vine health, Thibaud is producing powerful yet silky wines that we are hugely excited to be adding to our list. His philosophy is hands on in the extreme and his attention to detail extends to ordering a particular barrel from Ramonet in Chassagne year on year. The only downside; he makes such tiny quantities. We’ll be offering the 2010’s shortly so watch this space. Word will be out soon...