Awards and citations:

1997: Le Prix du Champagne Lanson Noble Cuvée Award for investigations into Champagne for the Millennium investment scams

2001: Le Prix Champagne Lanson Ivory Award for

2011: Vindic d'Or MMXI – 'Meilleur blog anti-1855'

2011: Robert M. Parker, Jnr: ‘This blogger...’:

2012: Born Digital Wine Awards: No Pay No Jay – best investigative wine story

2012: International Wine Challenge – Personality of the Year Award

Saturday, 31 January 2009

The Ogereaus – musical family

Vincent Ogereau

Not only do Vincent and Catherine Ogereau (Domaine Ogereau in Saint-Lambert-du-Lattay) make an impeccable range of wines, they are also along with their children – Emmanuel and Cécile – a musical family. I will be reporting on our visit today to Domaine Ogereau soon but in the meantime here are too slightly soft focused photos of Vincent and Emmanuel, who hopes to soon do a stage (work experience) at a winery in Oregon.

Emmanuel Ogereau

Anjou: four excellent visits

Name plate outside Château Pierre-Bise

Just got back to the Hotel du Mail after a busy day – four excellent visits starting with Claude Papin, then Vincent Ogereau, followed by Domaine des Rochelles – Jean-Yves, Jean-Hubert and Anita Lebreton – and Christophe Daviau to finish. Now off to Le Relais for dinner with Sarah Ahmed (the wine detective), Chris Kissack (the wine doctor), Neil Irvine (HG Wines) and Tom King (RSJ Restaurant).

The four visits provided not only the opportunity to see how the 2008s and some of the 2007s are developing but also raised anumber of very interesting issues including a detailed explanation from Claude Papin about the harmful effects of working the soil, several mentions of the use of osmosis machines in Anjou during the 2008 harvest to convert grapes picked at around 14˚ natural into sweet wines, and the possibility of the Coteaux de l'Aubance banning chaptalisation. Clearly all themes to return to in more detail but if the Coteaux de l'Aubance do have the courage to ban the chaptalisation in the making of sweet wine – then bravo you will have put a stop to an aberration! Hopefully the Coteaux du Layon would rapidly follow your example.

Claude Papin: "Le travail du sol is an aberration"

Similarly the use of osmosis machines, if indeed they have been used and Jim's Loire would be delighted to hear from any Anjou producer who has used them, surely undermines the hard work that a good number of Anjou producers have put into the remarkable renaissance of quality sweet wine in Anjou since 1985.

Back in the Loire

Hotel du Mail, Angers

Very good to be back in the Loire – seems a while since I was last here. We had an excellent drive down from Calais in very good conditions to our first visit with Thierry Germain@Domaine des Roches Neuves in Varrains, close to Saumur. Our appointment was for 4pm and we arrived at 4.01! If it hadn't been for a broken down car in the Eurotunnel shuttle that held us up briefly we would have been early. Plenty of activity going on at Thierry's getting ready to faire à fête over the weekend plus a meeting with Antoine Gerbelle, La Revue du Vin de France, on Saturday morning for a tasting including a vertical of Marginale.

Theirry's German importer was there plus Thomas, producer from Calce in the Roussillon, who also supplies barrels to Thierry.

Following Thierry we moved onto Jean-Pierre Chevallier and then to Angers where we ate with Christophe and Claire Daviau (Domaine de Bablut) at Une Ile, after having checked into the Hotel du Mail where I have stayed for more years than I can remember. Certainly recommended as it is a friendly hotel, right in the centre but quiet.

This post has been written in haste as we are now off for a full day of visits in Anjou starting with Claude Papin (Château Pierre-Bise). Post will be revised and expanded – hopefully later today.

Friday, 30 January 2009

Off to the Salon des Vins de Loire

Setting off to the 23rd edition of the Salon des Vins de Loire (my 20th) later today with late afternoon visits scheduled in Saumur with Thierry Germain (Domaine des Roches Neuves) and Jean-Pierre Chevallier (Château de Villeneuve) then onto the Hotel du Mail in Angers.

Hope to post regularly assuming good internet access.

Thursday, 29 January 2009

The transformation of Sancerre from red to white

Sancerre: autumnal view across the vineyards to the town

I was emailed yesterday by Julia Harding MW, who works on fellow MW Jancis Robinson’s site. With Jancis currently wintering in New Zealand, Julia is probably particularly busy.

Anyway the following message had been posted on their forum page (subscription access only) and Julia wanted a little background on Sancerre change red to white after the scourge of phylloxera hit the region at the end of the 19th century.

‘I have just read Christy Campbell's book on Phylloxera and learnt much that I did not know. Little practical value, of course but interesting. I discovered, for instance, that among the many chemical and other attempts to control the bug, in Beaujolais schoolboys were brought out twice a day to urinate on the vines. It did not help.

There is one thing that I am still confused about. In Chapter 3, there is mention of the fact that when grafting onto American rootstock became accepted not all varieties of European grape vines took. "The once Pinot-dominated vineyards of Sancerre were remade on grafts of Sauvignon..." OCW says that until the mid 20th century, Sancerre produced red wines and while wines from the Chasselas grape.

Can someone explain the apparent contradiction?’

Bustling centre of Sancerre

Following a quick phone call Julia posted a response:

'Ken, there are a couple of different points here. One critical thing you omit from the quotation from the Sancerre entry in the Oxford Companion is a comma! I appreciate it may be too subtle to be clear at a glance but the sentence runs as follows:

‘Until the mid 20th century, however, Sancerre produced red wines, and white wines from the Chasselas table grape. The comma after red wines is intended to make it clear that Sancerre made red wines [variety not specified] and it also made white wines from Chasselas.’

The second point, implied by your reference to the comments in Christy Cambell's book, is that Pinot Noir did not graft well onto American rootstocks and therefore Sauvignon Blanc became more dominant post-phylloxera. I spoke to Jim Budd about this. Jim is a Loire expert though he may be better known to some for his dedication to pointing out 'dodgy deals' in wine investment (see his website). [+ link]

He said that he had often wondered about this but believes the grafting problem may have been one of several factors. Growers in the area have given him differing explanations (some more commercial than viticultural) though it seems quite possible that grafting was an issue. But it may have been that they were using rootstocks that were not best suited to the chalky soil or to the scion variety.

Chasselas was certainly very important in the Loire for table grapes in the period between the arrival of the railway in the mid 19th century and the (late) arrival of phylloxera. Jim also reminded me that the Pouilly-sur-Loire appellation still exists for Chasselas, as a vestige of its earlier significance.’

I am indeed fascinated by the transformation at the beginning of the 20th century of Sancerre from a predominantly red vineyard to a predominantly white one. I suspect that the early grafts of Pinot Noir were problematic, while the Sauvignon worked well. There may have been a commercial impetus also – wanting to be able to offer white as well as red. It is, however, important to remember that Sancerre was then economically poor with polyculture as the norm – largely subsistence farming. Typically farmers would have had a few hectares of vines, some sheep, goats, vegetables etc.

Whatever, the impetus behind the change, there is no doubt that turning to Sauvignon Blanc in time made Sancerre’s fortune that wouldn’t have happened had Pinot Noir remained the majority variety.

Pinot Noir: Sancerre

I’m intrigued that Jancis says that Chasselas was the majority white grape in Sancerre pre-phylloxera. As far as I can remember no-one has mentioned Chasselas being planted in Sancerre. Before phylloxera there would have been a number of grape varieties planted, although Pinot Noir probably with Gamay were the predominant varieties. So Chasselas may well have been planted in Sancerre but I doubt if it was a major variety.

On the other hand Chasselas as a table grape played a very important role in Pouilly during the 19th century, in particular the 50 years leading up to the arrival of phylloxera around 1890. During the harvest large quantities of Chasselas grapes were daily sent by train from the station at Pouilly to Paris. But even in Chasselas’ pomp there were other varieties planted in Pouilly, including Sauvignon and even some red wine made.

PS: Christy Campbell's book on Phylloxera is extremely good – well worth reading.

Vincent Ricard (Touraine) and Jonathan Pabiot (Pouilly-Fumé)

28 January 2009

Last evening I had a couple of Sauvignon Blancs to try: the 2008 Le Petiot, AC Touraine Sauvignon from Domaine Ricard and the 2007 Pouilly-Fumé from Jonathan Pabiot.

I have been tasting Vincent’s wines for five or six years, I guess, and rate him as one of the best producers of Sauvignon Blanc in the Cher Valley. Of Vincent’s 17 hectares of vines, 12.5 ha are Sauvignon Blanc. Le Petiot is the ‘entry level’ SB and makes up the bulk of his production. Vincent makes several other Sauvignons of increasing richness up to late harvest when the conditions permit.

On the other hand Jonathan Pabiot is a new name to me. Jonathan, that is, not Pabiot, which is a popular surname in Pouilly – there are 12 Pabiots listed in Les Pages Blanches (French telephone directory). At least six of these are vignerons. Jonathan appears to be the son of Denis Pabiot in Les Loges, wine hamlet just to the north of Pouilly-sur-Loire, with just two hectares of vines.

As they are different vintages I guess it is slightly unfair to compare the two wines but I going to anyway. I assume that the 2008 Le Petiot has only recently been bottled but isn’t suffering from the shock of bottling as it has really vibrant gooseberry aromas with a hint of grapefruit too. It’s nicely balanced with some weight and an attractive delicacy in the finish. I suspect with more time in bottle it will take on additional weight.

Jonathan’s Pouilly-Fumé is fractionally deeper in colour than the light lemony hue of the Touraine and the aromas more restrained – more mellow. It has a flinty, mineral character but without the length of Vincent’s Touraine and rather more marked acidity.

Leaving price aside I prefer Vincent’s Touraine. Once, however, you factor in the price there is no competition – £7.95 for the Ricard and £11.50 for the Pabiot. Both are available from Smart Wines of Ascot (01344-621437). Domaine Ricard is also available through HG Wines Ltd.

Both wines have good labels – Vincent's more fun, while Jonathan's is more classic with a modern touch.

Wednesday, 28 January 2009

Future TGV lines in the Loire + Fête de la Saint-Vincent

The Nouvelle Republique carries a couple of studies on two future high speed rail projects: the extension towards Bordeaux of the existing high speed line from Paris to Tours and a TGV Centre from Paris to Nevers and onto Clémont-Ferrand and Lyon.

The new line TGV Sud Europe Atlantique (LGV) is definitely due to go ahead with the section from Tours to Angoulême expected to open in 2016. The TGV Centre is considerably less certain – it might be in service around 2020, although apparently it hasn’t been identified as one of the rail projects that will add a further 2000 km of high speed lines to the French network by 2020. It would, however, have the advantage of reducing the pressure on the existing very busy Paris-Lyon line, the first TGV that was built.

There are three different routes through the region that the proposed TGV Centre might take. Both the direct and the one through Cosnes look as though they could threaten to go through the vineyards of Sancerre and Pouilly respectively.

The annual Fête de la Saint-Vincent (the wine saint) is celebrated in many of France's wine regions. Saint-Vincent's day falls on 22nd January but the celebrations are normally held on the weekend following as a long lunch is a customary centre-piece of the celebrations.

Epeigné-les-Bois: Mairie

Today’s edition of the NR carries a report on the Sunday's Fête du Saint-Vincent in Epeigné-les-Bois.

Alain Tranchard: Le Saint-Vincent 2009
(photo: Mark Robertson –
Epeigné garagiste
and a previous Saint-Vincent)

Epeigné-les-Bois: church dating from 11th century

The folk group La Gidelle provide entertainment before an extended lunch
(photo: Mark Robertson – Epeigné garagiste and previous Saint-Vincent)

Epeigné-les-Bois: church in the snow in early January

Tuesday, 27 January 2009

'Fraudulent' and excessive added sugar in the headlines

October 2008: Cabernet Franc in Saumur-Champigny being left on the vine to ripen naturally without the need to add sugar to make the wine drinkable (similarly below)

Hervé Lalau had an excellent post yesterday on his fine Chroniques Vineuses site previewing the trial of 50 Beaujolais producers, four supermarkets and four intermediaries allegedly involved in the illegal purchase of 600 tons of sugar. The case is being held in Villefranche-sur-Saone apparently before the same tribunal that found against LyonMag in the ‘vin de merde’ (shit wine). A decision that was subsequently overturned on appeal.

Apparently the majority of the accused producers have pleaded guilty to excessive chaptalisation in the difficult 2004 vintage hoping that the authorities would allow the musts to be enriched by 2.5%. The normal limit is 2%. This means that the grapes would have been picked at around 9.5%-10% potential alcohol – perhaps even less. A Beaujolais version of red Vinho Verde!

Although the case has nothing to do with the Loire, apart from parts of the Loire growing Gamay, it does raise the whole question of enrichment or chaptalisation. As Hervé points out in his analysis it is the use of chaptalisation that permits overcropping. An increasing number of Loire producers are proud that they do not or very rarely add sugar to the must. Global warming will have played a part but also better viticultural practices have made a big difference.

Back in the wonderful vintage of 1989, Loire producers amazingly used the same amount of sugar as in a normal year. They were seemingly wedded to the practice. Indeed a leading Saumur-Champigny producer told me in December 1989 that he had chaptalised his must by 0.5% to give ‘roundness’. My guess is that this producer wouldn’t do this today.

If this does indeed turn out to be fraudulent, it will be all too easy to point fingers at the producers for being lazy and greedy. But look at the bigger picture. Cheap wine selling in supermarkets in France and elsewhere comes with an inevitable price tag if producers receive either only enough to cover the cost of production or, quite possibly, not enough to cover the costs unless yields are pushed up. In these circumstances you can’t take the risk to wait until your grapes are ripe and, furthermore, there may be less juice in your grapes if you do wait.

Equally it would be remarkable if the Beaujolais is the only wine region where sugar is bought and used illegally to boost the lack of natural grape sugar. Indeed there are often rumours of sugar disappearing off supermarket shelves during the vendange. Presumably this is due to having to drink many more cups of strong black coffee during the harvest than usual, the annual jam-making season and most laudably to support the bettravistes – the sugar beet producers of northern France.

See also: La Confédération Paysanne taking a stand against fraudulent practices.

Report from AFP

28.1.2008: See also Hervé's update

Monday, 26 January 2009

Salon blogs competition: professional category

The 10 blogs shortlisted in this category:

Emilie – sommelière

Laurent Baraou – caviste

Emmanuel Delmas – sommelier conseil

Jean Baptiste Duquesne – sommelier 75 Cl

Julien Reversat – importer Mercuris Fine Wine (China)

Kathryne Martinet – incentives et séminaire thèmes vin

Luc Chatain – sommelier conseil

Jean Baptiste Dechelette – agent commercial

Julien Pichoff & Damien Bonnabel – Œnologues

Damien Authier – sommelier

Salon blogs competition: shortlist of vignerons' blogs

10 blogs have been shortlisted in this category:

Valérie Mordelet & Jean-Daniel Kloeckle
Domaine Les Loges de la Folie, Montlouis-sur-Loire
Stand at the Salon: L296

Sophie Saurigny
Domaine Saurigny, Anjou
Stand at the Salon: F64

Alexandre Bain
Domaine Alexandre Bain, Pouilly Fumé
Stand at the Salon: G105

Jean-Marc Renaud
Château La Franchaie
Savennières, Anjou
Stand at the Salon: G86

Michel Delanoue
Domaine de la Noiraie
Bourgueil, St Nicolas de Bourgueil
Stand at the Salon: L293

Cyril Geffard et Vincent Guilbaud
Domaine des Pierrettes, Touraine
Stand at the Salon: G114

Laure Dozon
Domaine Dozon, Chinon
Stand at the Salon B-C20

Annie Sauvat-Blot
Domaine Sauvat, Côtes d'Auvergne
2007 winner of the best blog by a vigneron(ne)

Mr Boucard
Lame-Deslile-Boucard, Dom. des Chesnaies, Bourgueil
Stand at the Salon: I209

Maison Ackerman/X Noir, Anjou, Muscadet, Sancerre
Stand at the Salon: K-L280

Upward price pressure on Loire wines

2008 harvest in the Loire: good quality but small quantity

Interesting article by Michel Embareck (see extracts below) in today’s Nouvelle Republique on the upward price pressures on Touraine wines. Interloire predicts that the cost of production will rise by 25% between 2005 and 2011 with labour up by 12% and the cost of bottles and capsules up by 22%. However, the small price rises in the French supermarkets have not fully reflected these increased costs. After the short 2007 and 2008 vintages the same price pressures apply throughout the Loire, especially in Muscadet.

The problem is that retailers – certainly the UK supermarkets in these tough economic times – are desperate to keep prices as they are, even with some companies trying to get their suppliers to absorb rises in UK duty. I can imagine that there will be some interesting discussions between producers and their customers at next week’s Salon des Vins de Loire. Something will have to give – but who will blink first?

Providing the rises are reasonable and not excessive, then I hope it will be the UK retailers. It is long time that the UK wine drinker understood that it is more expensive to produce good wine than mediocre. Reducing yields and looking after vineyards properly is expensive – someone has to be paid to debud, deleaf, cut off the rotten grapes prior to harvest if necessary etc. Equally picking by hand or buying the latest machine harvester and equipment to handle the fruit as gently as possible is expensive. Producers have to make a living and have enough to continue to invest in their businesses. Screwing producers into the ground may give retailers a short-term gain but is a medium and long-term disaster and a potential recipe for fraud.

‘La hausse logique des vins de Touraine
Viticultrice à la Chapinière dans le Loir-et-Cher où elle produit un AOC Touraine, Florence Veilex explique: “qu'en 2008, le verre a augmenté de 17 %, les produits phytosanitaires de 10 % et que depuis environ 4 ans, les prix de vente des vins de Loire en général avaient stagné ou baissé. Il s'agit donc d'un rééquilibrage.”

‘A Interloire, Anne-Sophie Lerouge et Fanny Gilet fournissent des explications plus détaillées. “Selon nos observations et projections, l'augmentation des coûts de production sera de + 25 % entre 2005 et 2011. Le coût moyen d'une bouteille produite par un domaine vinicole local est de 3,41 €, mais il peut aller du simple au triple selon les méthodes de vinification et la taille de l'exploitation.”

‘Toujours selon les mêmes données, la main-d'œuvre prendra + 12 % entre 2005 et 2011, les bouteilles, capsules et bouchons + 22 % alors que les faibles rendements de 2007 et 2008 ont entraîné une perte de production de – 20 % en Indre-et-Loire.

D'après les relevés effectués par Interloire. “La hausse en hypermarché demeure assez faible. Entre 2007 et 2008, le bourgueil a augmenté de + 2,5 %, le saint-nicolas de + 4,8 %, le chinon de + 3 %, le vouvray bulles de + 2 % et le montlouis de + 3 %. Et encore, les coûts de production et de main-d'œuvre n'ont pas été intégralement répercutés sur les prix de vente.”

Sunday, 25 January 2009

Forthcoming events involving Loire producers

Angers: by the Greniers Saint Jean

26th-28th January Millésime Bio 2009, Montpellier
Unfortunately I can’t find a list of exhibitors but when I went to the 2006 edition held in Narbonne there were a number of Loire producers there including the indefatigable traveller Thierry Michon, René Mosse and others. Millésimime Bio is a good wine fair and I would have liked to have gone this year but at the time the dates just didn’t appear to work out.

1st February Renaissance des Appellations@Greniers Saint Jean, Angers
Loire producers listed on the invitation:
Matthieu Bouchet (Saumur)
François Plouzeau (Touraine)
Michel Augé (Touraine)
Thierry Michon (Fiefs Vendéens)
Pierre Breton (Bourgueil and Chinon)
Joël Menard (Anjou)
René Mosse (Anjou)
Philippe Gourdon (Saumur)
Guy Bossard (Muscadet)
Viriginie Joly (Saviennières)
Olivier Cousin (Anjou)
Mark Angeli (Anjou)
Marta Irico (Anjou)
Charlotte Battais *
Gaëlle Berriau (Anjou)
Sylvain Martinez *
Richard Leroy (Anjou)
Xavier Caillard (Saumur)
Benoit Courault (Anjou)
Luc Jean Sylvos (Touraine)
Christophe Daviau (Anjou)
Joseph Landron (Muscadet)
Didier Chaffardon (Anjou)
Laurent Herbel (Anjou)
Michel Gendrier (Cheverny and Cour- Cheverny)
Jean-Christophe Garnier (Anjou)
Philippe Delesvaux (Anjou)
Thierry Puzelat (Cheverny and Touraine)
Jean-François Chéné (Anjou)
Eric Nicolas (Jasnières and Coteaux du Loir)
Guillaume Reynouard (Saumur)
Pascal Lambert (Chinon)
Stéphane Cossais (Montlouis)
Frantz Saumon (Montlouis)
François Chidaine (Montlouis)
Christian Chaussard (Jasnières and Coteaux du Loir)
Catherine Roussel (Touraine)
Hervé Villemade (Cheverny)
Valery Mordelet (Montlouis)
Laurent Chatenay (Montlouis)
Eddy Oosterlinck-Bracke (Anjou)

* I’m unable to find where Charlotte Battais and Sylvain Martinez have their vineyards. Would be very grateful for any details.

More info on

Salon des Vins de Loire 2008

2nd-4th Salon des Vins de Loire, Parc des Expositions, Angers
France’s only annual regional wine fair. Highly recommended way of meeting producers from all over the Loire without traveling long distances.

Opening hours:
Lundi 2 Février : 9h00 – 19h00
Mardi 3 Février : 9h00 – 19h00
Mercredi 4 Février : 9h00 – 18h00
Full details here.

Salon des Vins de Loire 2008

23rd-24th February: La Dive Bouteille@Deauville
Opportunity to taste the wines of number of interesting and individual producers from all over France, with a strong showing from the Loire, up on the Normandy coast at Deauville. Part of the Omnivore Food Festival at:
Centre International de Deauville - Les Planches,
1, Avenue Lucien Barrière
14800 Deauville
Renseignements : 02 31 14 14 14
Entry fee: 10€ includes a glass.

(Cette année, la Dive Bouteille revient à Deauville pour sa dixième édition.
La Dive in Omnivore, c'est dans le cadre de l'Omnivore Food Festival, les 23 et 24 février prochains.
Centre International de Deauville - Les Planches
1, avenue Lucien Barrière
14800 Deauville
Renseignements : 02 31 14 14 14
Accès avec un verre : 10 €)

Loire producers present
Jocelyne et Joseph Landron (Muscadet)
Marc Pesnot, la Sénéchalière (Muscadet)
Jérôme Bretaudeau, Bellevue (Muscadet)
Thierry Michon, Saint-Nicolas (Fiefs Vendéens)
Richard Leroy (Anjou)
Christine et Joël Ménard, les Sablonnettes (Anjou)
Loïc Mahé, Gué d’Orger (Savennières - Anjou)
Bruno Rochard (Anjou)
Sophie et Jérôme Saurigny (Anjou)
Benoît Courault (Anjou)
Olivier Cousin (Anjou)
Mileine et Eddy Osterlinck,Juchepie (Anjou)
Eric Dubois, Clos Cristal (Saumur-Champigny)
Sébastien Bobinet (Saumur-Champigny)
Antoine Foucault, le Collier (Saumur)
Romain Guiberteau (Saumur)
Nicolas Reau (Anjou-Chinon)
Patrick Corbineau (Touraine-Chinon)
Gérard Marula (Touraine-Chinon)
Catherine et Pierre Breton (Bourgueil-Chinon)
Lise et Bertrand Jousset (Montlouis)
François Chidaine (Montlouis-Vouvray)
Sébastien Brunet (Vouvray)
C. et Damien Delecheneau, La Grange Tiphaine (Touraine-Montlouis)
Grégory Leclerc, Chahut et Prodiges (Touraine)
Thierry et Jean-Marie Puzelat, Tue Bœuf (Cheveny-Touraine)
Noella Morantin (Touraine)
Pascal Simonutti, le Pré Noir (Touraine)
Pascal Potaire, les Capriades (Touraine)
Isabelle et Hervé Villemade, le Moulin (Cheverny)
Christian Venier (Touraine)
Olivier Lemasson, les Vins comtés (Touraine)
Emile Hérédia, Montrieux (Côteaux du Vendômois)
Eric et Christine Nicolas, Bellivière (Jasnière-Ctx du Loir)
Nathalie et Christian Chaussard (Jasnière-Ctx du Loir)
Noella et Jean-Pierre Robinot, l’Ange vin (Jasnière -Ctx du Loir)
Renaud Guettier, La Grapperie (Côteaux du Loir)
Sébastien Riffault (Sancerre)
Alexandre Bain (Pouilly-Fumé)
Pierre Beauger (Côtes d’Auvergne)
Patrick Bouju, La Bohème (Côtes d’Auvergne)
Jean Maupertuis (Côtes d’Auvergne)

More information@:

Only Le Dive Bouteille is open to the general public.

Saturday, 24 January 2009

Jim's Loire shortlisted for Concours Wine Blog Trophy

CRM and Jim were really delighted to learn early this evening that Jim's Loire has been shortlisted for the 3rd edition of the Concours Wine Blog Trophy, which is run by the Salon des Vins de Loire (the 23rd edition runs from 2nd-4th February). The winner will be announced on Monday 2nd February at the Salon at 4.30pm.

It was a big surprise as Jim's Loire was only launched on 28th August 2008, so has been going for less than five months.

Time to enjoy a glass of Triple Zero while getting ready to post the full shortlist and the panel of judges.

Shortlisted journalist blogs:

Wine Atlas: Atlas du Vin (
Guillaume Lapaque: Vins de Loire (
Egmont Labadie: Le blog des zinzins du zinc (
Mathieu Turbide: Méchant Raisin (
Sylvie Augereau: Glouguele (
Laurent Bazin: Le Vin des Mes Amis (
Jim Budd: Jim's Loire (
Véronique Raisin: Le Blog by Picrocol (
Hervé Lalau: Chroniques Vineuses (
Jacqueline Friedrich: Jacqueline Friedrich: The Wine Humanist (

The competition covers three categories of blog:

Best journalist’s blog
Best wine professional blog
Best blog by a Loire producer

(Le concours visera à récompenser les blogs dédiés à l’univers du vin dans 3 catégories :

- Prix du meilleur blog journaliste
- Prix du meilleur blog professionnel vin
- Prix du meilleur blog vigneron du Val de Loire)

Dates for the 2009 concours
Shortlist drawn up: 19th-24th January
Judges vote: 27th-29th January
Judges send in their votes: 29th January

(Phase de présélection : du 19 janvier 2009 au 24 janvier 2009
Phase de vote du jury : du 27 janvier 2009 au 29 janvier 2009
Remise du classement par le jury : le 29 janvier 2009
Remise des récompenses : le 2 février 2009)

Clair de Lune, the PR company that looks after the Salon des Vins de Loire, is responsible fort putting the shortlist together. Any blog without a post since November 2008 was excluded.

(Clair de Lune établit une présélection de textes portant sur l’univers du vins et notamment les Vins de Loire et/ou Vignoble du Val de Loire publiés sur des blogs dédiés au vin.

Ne figureront dans cette présélection que les textes des blogs de passionnés du vin traitant de :

- Dégustation
- Contexte / marché du vin
- Expériences œnologiques

En seront exclus les blogs :
- N’ayant pas édité un billet depuis Novembre 2008)

Panel of Judges
Chair: Marc Vanhellemont: In Vino Veritas
Journaliste Belge - Magazine vin "In Vino Veritas"
Philippe Rapiteau:
Gagnant du prix du jury 2008. Philippe Rapiteau est passionné des vins et les dégustations depuis 20 ans. Il partage son histoire, ses ballades sur les terres des vignerons à travers son blog.
Fabrice Le Glatin:
Fabrice le Glatin, professeur d’anglais à Suresnes, a gagné le prix des Internautes 2008. Son blog a su séduire le jury pour son originalité.
Antoine Gerbelle: La Revue du Vin de France
Journaliste et membre du comité de dégustations pour la Revue du Vin de France, il est l’auteur du guide des meilleurs vins à petits prix.
Jean Christiansen: L’Atelier Berger
D’origine norvégienne, Jean Christiansen est le chef des cuisines et sommelier de l’Atelier Berger à Paris.
49 Rue Berger, 75001 Paris Tel: 0
Julien Chazot: L’Harmonie des Vins
Sommelier passionné, Julien Chazot est gérant d’un Bar à vin et restaurant située à Lyon.
L'Harmonie des Vins, 9, Rue Neuve, 69001 Lyon Tel :
Anne-Sophie Lerouge: Interloire
Responsable communication et oenotourisme, Interloire.

Two brilliant Saumur whites from Château de Villeneuve

Straight ahead the church of Souzay-Champigny and to the right Château de Villeneuve

1999 Les Cormiers, Saumur Blanc
1998 Saumur Blanc

It is easy to forget how well top quality Saumur Blanc will age and two lovely whites from Jean-Pierre Chevallier act as a reminder. Both were served as aperitifs but on separate occasions. Firstly the 1999 Les Cormiers, JP’s top white cuvée fermented and aged in 500 litre barrels – one half new and one half one wine. This has always been one of JP’s great vintages of Les Cormiers. It has lovely rich honeyed fruit, minerality and freshness in the finish – wonderfully complex. The 1999 shows no sign of tiring and served blind it would be difficult to say that it is nearly 10 years old and it is a fraction of the cost of top Burgundy, though comparable in quality.

The 1998 domaine is more mineral and austere but still wonderfully fresh. Fine but without the complexity of the 1999 Les Cormiers it remains an impressive effort from the least good vintage of the second half of the 1990s. I think the 1998 would have been entirely fermented and matured in stainless steel. From the early part of this decade Jean-Pierre has fermented and aged an increasing proportion of this cuvée firstly in 500-litre and now in 400-litre barrels. Like the 1999, the 1998 shows no sign of tiring, although I did wonder how this would have held up when I pulled it out of the rack.

"What about screwcaps?" Jean-Pierre Chevallier pulling the cork on his 2004 Saumur Blanc – August 2005

Bearing in mind the quality of Jean-Pierre’s wines – both white and red – along with a number of other producers in the area, it was sad to read a comment by Keith Prothero about Saumur on Jamie Goode’s Wine Anorak blog:

‘Must go back sometime. Went 4 years ago and stayed in a posh hotel near Saumur overlooking the Loire. All very nice except for the fact that it pissed down the three days we were there,and hence decided to abandon ship and drive to Brittany!! Not a big fan of the wine apart from mature Huet Vouvray.’

August 2005: Jean-Pierre with his 2004 Saumur Blanc

I imagine Keith must have been staying at Le Prieure Chenehutte-Les-Tuffeaux hotel to the west of Saumur. Heartbreaking to be so near to discovering wonderful wines and yet so far………..

Ampelidae on Wine Anorak + Mikaël Bouges

Jamie Goode's Wine Anorak site has a recently posted profile of Frédéric Brochet and his Ampelidae project in Haut-Poitou.

I have finally got my report on my visit to Mikaël Bouges finished and am now working Pascal Potaire.

Friday, 23 January 2009

2nd year of VDP du Val de Loire

It is now two years since Vins de Pays Jardin de la France was renamed VDP du Val de Loire. Apparently few knew where or what Le Jardin de la France is. 300,000 litres (4 million bottles) of VDP du Val de Loire were produced in 2008. This represents 14% of all Loire wines but just 3% of French vins de pays. The Midi continues to dominate production of these wines. Exports represents 15% of sales

Over the past six years the number of Loire vdp producers has dropped from 2644 to 1594 and the area in production from 8820 in 2001/2 to 6961 in 2007/8, while the average holding per producer has risen over the same period from 3.05 ha to 4.20 ha.

In August 2009 VDP du Val de Loire will move to the European classification of Indication Géographique Protégée (IGP). Apart from plenty of long and tedious meetings and probably more paperwork, I’m not sure what this will actually mean in practical terms.

Thursday, 22 January 2009

Richards Walford portfolio tasting@The Baltic

Noël Pinguet, Domaine Huet

Today there was one of those must attend tastings – Richards Walford at the Baltic Restaurant, London SE1. Although the Baltic is a good venue with excellent food, Richards W has to an extent become a victim of their success as the tasting area soon became quite cramped.

I concentrated on the smallish selection of Loires on show dominated by recent and some older vintages from Domaine Huet. Noël Pinguet was there as well as Anthony and Evelyn Hwang, who were also presenting wines from their Kiráyudvar estate in Tarcal, Tokaji.

First four other Loires with the crisp, lemony and quite austere 2007 Touraine Sauvignon from Jean-Christophe Manard of Mareuil–sur-Cher. Next another Sauvignon this time the 2007 Reuilly from Denis Jamain, this was again crisp and lemony but with more weight than the Mandard. Unfortunately Jamain's delicious 2007 Pinot Noir wasn't in the tasting. Then changing to Chenin Blanc with the 2007 Saumur Blanc from Frédéric Mabileau. Although this has some weight, it is considerably leaner and less expressive than it was before bottling. There is certainly potential there but it either needs time or out into a carafe for an hour or two before serving. Also on show was Frédéric’s vibrant 2007 Les Rouillères, Saint-Nicolas-de-Bourgueil.

Then nine wines from Domaine that included several that I had tasted on 12th January. Confirmation that though the 2007 Le Mont sec is lovely, the powerful 2007 Clos de Bourg sec is even better with great mineral purity. The 2007 Le Mont demi-sec again showed well and was partnered with the golden hued 2000 Le Mont demi-sec showing greater complexity from its time in bottle gaining a long lasting, dry honey flavour that carries on into the quite austere finish.

Following Noël’s instruction I tasted the 1986 Le Clos du Bourg moelleux before the richer 2005. The 1986 has 32 gms of residual sugar – “a moelleux before global warming,” commented Noël. The 1986 has a typically pure and austere Huet finish preceded by a honeyed nose and a beeswax and mineral palate. Then the still very youthful, rich and honeyed 2005 Le Mont moelleux – only hinting at the complexity to come with age.

The 2002 Le Clos du Bourg moelleux 1er tri (58 gms rs) with its sweet honeyed fruit with hints of lychee, wonderful balance and length shows again what a marvelous vintage 2002 is. The hope, of course, is that 2008 will turn out equally well as September and October resembled 2002. The 1993 Le Haut Lieu moelleux 1er tri completed the line up. It was just as fascinating as it was when I tasted it with Jean-Bernard.“

Antony and Evelyn Hwang: Kiráyudvar estate and Domaine Huet

While Noël poured Vouvray, Anthony and Evelyn Hwang poured their Tokaji starting with the widely contrasting secs from 2005 and 2006. The 2005 slightly oxidative in style giving additional complexity, some beeswax and minerality, while the 2006 was more opulent, richer and less mineral. From the five other Tokajis on taste – a demi-sec and four sweet – the last two (2002 Aszù 6 Puttonyos and 2002 Aszù Lapis) really stood out. Here the richness in sugar (197 gms rs and 235 gms rs) is balanced by high acidity (9.5 and 9.2) giving the wines a thrilling tension. Perhaps inevitably this quality comes at a price – £56.49 and £84.49 a bottle respectively.

Richard Kelley MW

Also had time to catch up with Richard Kelley MW, who has nearly finished writing up his recent researches in Jasnières and the Coteaux du Vendômois. They should appear on his site soon. Richard has just become one of the world’s leading authorities on Châteaumeillant as well as exploring the Côte Roannaise.

Guy Bossard's Domaine de l'Ecu up for sale

Confirmation this morning that Guy Bossard, one of Muscadet's top quality producers, has put his Domaine de l'Ecu up for sale. Guy is now in his late 50s and with no one from his family to take over has decided that it is time to sell. Two disastrously small harvests in 2007 and 2008 may have contributed to his decision. In 2007 Guy made 9 hl/ha due to mildew, while in 2008 frost reduced his crop to 17 hl/ha.

Domaine de l'Ecu has around 17 ha of vines and Guy was one of the first in the Loire to embrace biodynamics – converting in 1986.

I hope that whoever takes over will work to maintain the high quality of Guy's wine and not trade on his reputation with inferior wine.

Wednesday, 21 January 2009

Angers' newest island: une île opens tonight

Tonight Une Ile, Angers’ newest restaurant and the urban version of the famous Les Tonnelles on the island of Behuard opens. Les Tonnelles closed in late December 2009. The new restaurant is just 200 or 300 yards from the railway station.

There is a new website address and the old one still works, although neither as yet appear to be fully functioning.

Une Ile, 9 Rue Max Richard 49000 Angers - tél. : 02 41 19 14 48
Web or

7th Professional French wine tasting

I dropped in yesterday to Vinopolis for this annual event featuring some 75 independent wine producers from around France. Although the event was advertised to finish at 5.30 even at 4.30 when I arrived a number of the producers had already left. I was later arriving than I had intended, so it was a bit of a rush and naturally concentrated on Loire producers. Although I did manage to taste wines from a good number of them I didn’t manage to get to all of them.

Sadly there was little here to get excited about – certainly nothing sensational.

Probably the best wine was a 2007 Coteaux du Giennois (Sauvignon Blanc) from Domaine Langlois Père et Fils, run since 1996 by Catherine and Michel Langlois, which had attractive grapefruit character, some weight and good length. Their 2008 version – gooseberry and grapefruit – looks promising and will be bottled in February. The Langlois white’s showed better than their reds, which helps to confirm the disappointment I felt at the poor showing of Coteaux du Giennois reds at the tasting of Central Vineyard reds I did in Sancerre on 19th December 2008. Putting the light bodied 2007 Le Champ Galant (90% PN, 10% Gamay) in barrique for a year doesn’t strike me as a good idea and has imparted some harsh wood flavours to the finish. However, their 2005 was certainly the best of the Giennois I tasted in Sancerre.

A couple of other wines to mention – a 2008 Touraine Sauvignon and a 2007 Pinot Gris from Reuilly.

The 2008 Touraine Sauvignon from Domaine Le Haut Chesneau of Thesée in the Cher Valley is from old vines and a yield of 45 hl/ha per hectare looks promising with good concentration. Currently on its lees it will be bottled in May. Owners Jean-Marc and Béatrice Villemaine have 23 ha of vines with 10 planted with Sauvignon Blanc. Jean-Marc told me that they had been lucky in 2008 harvesting with their normal yields of around 60 hl/ha. Apparently the frost that hit Muscadet on 7th April also affected parts of the Cher Valley even though the young buds were still in their cotton bud stage then. Initially it had been assumed that they had escaped with damage only becoming apparent later.

Unfortunately the Villemaines’ other wines are less impressive, especially the reds. The difference being, I suspect a question of higher yields. Take the 2007 Gamay, which is dilute. This is hardly surprising given yields of 60-62 hl/ha. This Gamay’s limitations were all too clearly revealed by the 2006 Gamay from the Clos Roche Blanche, just across the Cher Valley from Thesée, that we drank over dinner last night. Admittedly 2006 is a different vintage but this has fruit, texture and concentration. Why? Because of significantly lower yields.

2006 Gamay Clos Roche Blanche: Touraine Gamay
doesn't have to be dilute

This is a pity as these wines are well made and a reduction in yields, would soon reap rewards qualitatively. I suspect that bringing the Gamay down to around 50 hl/ha would make a significant difference. However unfortunately the increase in quality might well not allow the Villemaine’s to charge a little more for their wines. This is one of the problems of the Cher Valley and, indeed, many other parts of the Loire – it is often possible to make a better living from making dilute wines from high yields than making high quality wines from low yields. Although in Sancerre and Pouilly people are prepared to pay a decent premium for high quality, the same is not true in a number of other Loire appellations, so quality is not rewarded and the quest for quality brings the penalty of a lower income. Of course, there may come a time when the market no longer wants dilute wines. Indeed it is difficult to see that dilute Touraine Gamays can have much appeal in the UK

The 2007 Reuilly Rosé, made from Pinot Gris, came from Domaine Jacques Vincent. Of their nine hectares, 4.5 are planted with Reuilly’s traditional variety – Pinot Gris. The naturally pale coloured 2007 is lightly spicy with good mouth filling ripe fruit and good length – a delicious and charming rosé. Unfortunately Pinot Gris here is in decline in favour of Sauvignon Blanc and Pinot Noir – just 34 hectares now in Reuilly out of a total of 192 ha in production. The Pinot Gris rosé is Reully’s most individual wine – I hope it continues to be made.

There were a few 2008s on show and these confirmed that high levels of acidity could well be a problem for those who picked too early. A few shares in Rennies might be a wise investment.

Tuesday, 20 January 2009

SA's Chenin Blanc Challenge

Golden Chenin in the Layon Valley (Loire) 2005

Talking to the Chenin Kings inside the Chenin zone

Tuesday, January 20, 2009 by Graham Howe
"It was Chenin Blanc's bad luck to have long been treated as the vinous equivalent of Muzak: mindless, off-dry white stuff for so-called 'easy-drinking'. It has been planted at all points of the compass. Yet until recently, exciting dry Chenin Blanc was a rarity anywhere." Stuart Pigott, Planet Wine (Mitchell Beazley Publications, 2004)

Mooiplaas Bush Vine Chenin Blanc 2008 is the second unwooded wine in the history of Wine's oldest competition to win the Chenin Blanc Challenge. Chenin kings Francois Naudé, Ken Forrester and Teddy Hall talk to Graham Howe about South Africa's great white hope.

Wooded white wine has dominated Wine's Chenin Blanc Challenge ever since the inauguration of the competition in 1996. In search of a benchmark style for Chenin Blanc - a variety which often suffers from too much diversity - the judges have favoured wooded, bottled-aged vintages. The shift to three categories of Chenin Blanc - best wooded, best unwooded and best value - may have opened up the competition to more producers. Five unwooded wines made the four-star finalist list (15) in 2009.

"Most Chenin Blanc is unwooded" declares Francois Naude, who won the Chenin Blanc Challenge in 1998 with his unwooded L'Avenir Chenin Blanc 1997. A lonely voice in the wilderness over the intervening decade, he has cried out for recognition of a broader spectrum of Chenin. "To improve the quality and status of Chenin Blanc, we have to motivate the producers - the vast majority make unwooded Chenin."

"Why make Chenin taste like wooded Chardonnay? Chenin Blanc ages better than Chardonnay, needs less attention on the vine than Sauvignon Blanc, is more versatile with food and delivers better value." When producers are paid only R3,500 per ton of Chenin versus R6,500 per ton of Sauvignon, he complains there is not much incentive for Chenin growers to spend time improving the variety through canopy management. The only way out of this catch-22 trap is a make-over of Chenin's workhorse image.

Part of an article published on click here for the full text.

Two reports

Report here on a tasting of wines from Saumur – the first tasting event of 2009 at the RSJ Restaurant, Waterloo, London.

Report here on my recent visit to Couly-Dutheil.

Cabernet Franc: wot a lusty grape!

Cabernet Franc@Château de Villeneuve October 2005

New research shows that Cabernet Franc is not only one of the parents of Cabernet Sauvignon, it is also a parent of both Merlot and Carmenère. A group of French scientists working on grape DNA, in collaboration with Professor Carole Meredith, who was at UC Davis until she retired, have revealed that Merlot is a natural off-spring of Cabernet Franc and a previously unknown red grape named Magdeleine Noire des Charentes. Cabernet Franc teamed up with Sauvignon Blanc to produce Cabernet Sauvignon.

Further research by the group shows that Carmenère was parented by Cabernet Franc and a variety called Gros Cabernet, while the parents of the Loire’s Côt (known elsewhere as Malbec or Auxerrois, especially in Cahors) are Magdeleine Noire des Charentes again and Prunelard. The Black Magdeline was also a parent of the unknown grape Mourtès this time pairing up with another forgotten variety called Penouille.

Côt@Domaine Joël Delaunay September 2008

The research was published in the Australian Journal of Grape and Wine Research on 22nd December 2008. The parental link between Carmenère and Merlot suggests a logic to the Chileans confusing Carmenère with Merlot.

Clearly fidelity and monogamy are not the norm in the grape world.

Here is the abstract for the article:

J.-M. Boursiquot , T. Lacombe, V. Laucou, S. Julliard, F-X. Perrin, N. Lanier, D. Legrand , C. Meredith and P. This

Background and aims: Based on parentage analysis of a large nuclear simple sequence repeat (SSR) marker database of grapevine genotypes, we propose the pedigree of several cultivars from southwestern France including Merlot, one of the world's major black winegrapes.

Methods and results: The putative mother of Merlot, deduced from inheritance at 55 nuclear and three chloroplast microsatellite loci, is a non-referenced and previously unknown cultivar, first sampled some years ago in northern Brittany where vines were cultivated at the end of the Middle Ages, and then identified in four places in Charentes. Considering both the name used by the growers of this grape and the literature, we have named it Magdeleine Noire des Charentes. The putative father of Merlot is Cabernet Franc, already involved in the parentage of Cabernet-Sauvignon. Further analysis of genetic relationships leads us to propose the kinship group of Merlot composed, among others, of Carmenère (Gros Cabernet × Cabernet Franc), Merlot Blanc (Merlot × Folle Blanche), Cot (Magdeleine Noire des Charentes × Prunelard) and Mourtès (Magdeleine Noire des Charentes × Penouille).

Conclusions: These results shed new light on the origin of Merlot and on the relationships among several cultivars from south western France.

Significance of the study: Our discovery of the key genetic role of a previously unknown cultivar in the origins of some significant cultivars reinforces the importance of deep exploration, before it is too late, to discover original genotypes which have not yet been collected or referenced.

Monday, 19 January 2009

Wine journalists are clearly not vegetarian

Château de Brissac venue for the dinner

Sarah Ahmed, the ‘Wine Detective’, is one of the very few UK wine journalists who is a regular at the annual Salon des Vins de Loire in Angers. On Friday she accepted an invitation to the Anjou Villages Brissac and Coteeaux de l’Aubance dinner on the eve of the Salon and asked for a vegetarian option.

Sarah was very considerably taken aback and offended by the following blunt email she received today from the PR agency looking after journalists attending the Salon.

Dear Sarah,

Unfortunately the menu for the Brissac evening was already planned and starter and main meal are not vegetarian.

- entrée : terrine de foie gras accompagné d'une gelée à l'Aubance, de toasts aux figues et d'une salade légère
- plat principal : civet de canard, sauce griotte avec une touche de cacao accompagné de petits legumes
- dessert : poire pochée à l'Aubance et feuillantine au thé et raisins

I will understand if you decide not to come. Please let me know.
Best regards,

Agence Clair de Lune

As she finds the Brissac event a useful opportunity to get an overview of Anjou Villages and Coteaux de l’Aubance, Sarah is now hoping to find a way of getting out to Brissac to taste the wines and then get back to Angers to have dinner.

Staggering that in 2009 no arrangements are made for people who do not eat meat and what a good way to win friends!

Lighter Menetou-Salon red caps more ambitious Reuilly

2007 Domaine Leblanc, Menetou-Salon

Over the weekend I had two Central Vineyard 2007 reds – La Commanderie , Reuilly from Jean-Michel Sorbe of Brinay and Domaine Leblanc from Jacques Leblanc of Aubinges, a hamlet a little to the south of Morogues.

The 2007 La Commanderie (9.9€) was picked by hand with a yield of 35 hl/ha. It is Jean-Michel Sorbe’s top red cuvée, the straight domaine (6.90€) is machine picked. It showed well at the tasting (19th December), although I thought the tannins were a little harsh. With this second bottle this was confirmed and have the wine a rather rustic feel. – too ambitious for its own good in this difficult vintage.

2007 La Commanderie Reuilly, Jean-Michel Sorbe

In contrast the lighter and less ambitious 2007 Domaine Lebanc Menetou-Salon – machine picked, 52 hl/ha – had attractive red fruits, easy and refreshing to drink although surprisingly higher in alcohol (13.4%) than the Reuilly (13%) and was a good match with skate and garlic chips.

Sunday, 18 January 2009

Tasting@RSJ Restaurant, Waterloo, London 19th January

Four places left for the Saumur tasting and dinner on Monday (19th January) starting at 7.30, £45 per person.

Further details here.

Saturday, 17 January 2009

Couly-Dutheil: the battle for ripeness

Visit to Couly-Dutheil, Chinon: 6th January 2009
When the snow set in during the afternoon of Monday 5th January, I feared I might have to cancel the appointment at Couly-Dutheil’s offices in Chinon made. Fortunately, once we were off the minor roads, the 75-kilometre drive across from eastern Touraine was fine and the meeting with Jacques and Arnaud Couly and Christophe Surget, their export director, went ahead as planned. I was glad as Christophe had expressed some concerns about the report I wrote about my visit to Pierre and Bertrand Couly in August 2008, so it was good to discuss these.

Baptiste Dutheil founded Couly-Dutheil in 1921. Like a number successful business people in the French wine industry he originally came from the Corrèze as did Jean-Pierre Moueix, the founder of the famous merchant’s business in Libourne and the owner of Château Pétrus. The Coulys are cousins of the Moueix family. Settling in Chinon, Baptiste married his cousin, Marie Couly. In 1925 Baptiste bought part of the Clos de l’Echo, one of the Loire’s most famous vineyards, which was apparently once owned by the Rabelais family. The Clos de l'Echo, now 22 hectares and a Couly-Dutheil monopole, lies on top of the coteau just to the west of the Château de Chinon. Couly-Dutheil was developed and expanded by René Couly, who married Madeleine Dutheil.

Later René’s sons, Pierre and Jacques, took over the running of the business, where in time they were joined by the 4th generation: first Bertrand, Pierre’s son, and then Arnaud, son of Jacques. Having completed his wine studies at Montpellier, Bertrand gained experience in Pomerol, Châteauneuf-du-Pape and Oregon before returning to Chinon taking charge of viticulture and winemaking at Couly-Dutheil. In 1997 Arnaud, Jacques’ son, joined. He has a commercial diploma and, prior to his return, he visited a number of wine regions around the world including California and Long Island.

Couly-Dutheil now has 96 hectares of vines in Chinon. With their growers under contract they vinify from 120ha of Chinon. They also have 8ha in Turquant – 6ha of Cabernet Franc for Saumur-Champigny and two hectares of white.

Jacques and Arnaud Couly

From Jacques and Arnaud's perspective it was soon clear that all was not well with their wines and sales were beginning to fall. The 2000 vintage brought matters to a head and brought a change of approach.

Jacques: “2000 was a good vintage but our wines were too acid, not ripe enough and not saleable.”

Following his experiences in the US Arnaud pushed for picking later, so as to have ripe fruit and avoid the green pepper and vegetal character of unripe Cabernet Franc. Apparently Pierre Couly favoured picking early.

Jacques: “We sought advice from some of the leading producers, like Philippe Alliet and Bernard and they confirmed the need for riper fruit. We hired Anne Blain, as a consultant, and set up a tasting panel consisting of Pierre, Jacques, Bertrand, Arnaud, Anne and our maitre de chai. In 2003 we stopped using wood and got rid of the 400 barriques. We had never probably integrated the barriques with our style of wine. We wanted to express the quality of our terroir, lessen the wood and be more in the esprit de Loire.”

They started to pick later and to reduce yields with 45 hl/ha as the maximum. There were 80,000 bottles of the 2000 Clos de l’Echo, Couly’s most famous vineyard, while in 2007 there were 27,000 produced. Although, of course, 2007 was a difficult vintage.

Jacques: “The time then came to prepare for the succession – who was to take over from me as PDG (managing director). I’m now 67. As Bertrand is the oldest of the two cousins, he was the natural successor. However, Bertrand said “No” – he did not want to take over as PDG. To have a joint PDG is difficult, so there needed to be a role for Bertrand.”

The breaking point for Jacques and Arnaud in relations with Pierre and Bertrand came in the autumn of 2006 with the publication of the 2007 Guide Hachette des Vins, the long established and prestigious annual French wine guide. They discovered that as well as the three Couly-Dutheil wines they had submitted – Clos de l’Echo, René Couly and the Chinon Blanc – the Clos de l’Olive, which at the moment is still part of Couly-Dutheil, had been entered by Pierre and Bertrand in their names. Apparently the Hachette rules only allow a producer to submit a maximum of three wines. As all four wines submitted and selected came from Couly-Dutheil, Jacques and Arnaud believe that Pierre and Bertrand broke the rules and should not have submitted the Clos de l’Olive. The wines for the 2007 Hachette would have been sent in early 2006 after Bertrand says that he was barred from the family winery from 2005.

Whatever the rights and wrongs of this family dispute there is clearly considerable bitterness of both sides with Pierre and Bertrand believing that they have been excluded from the family company, while Jacques and Arnaud believe that Pierre and Bertrand are now trying to destroy Couly-Dutheil.

Regrettably the conflict remains unresolved. The two parties have yet to agree a price for the shares held by Pierre and Bertrand nor has the division of the vineyards been completed. My guess is that Couly-Dutheil’s crown jewels – the Clos de l’Echo and the Clos de l’Olive – will be divided between the two parties with Jacques and Arnaud holding L’Echo, while L’Olive will move from Couly-Dutheil to Pierre and Bertrand. It would be good to see this sad family dispute settled this year – a reconciliation is presumably not on, so both sides need to agree the divorce terms. Otherwise there is a danger that this will become a long running saga like Jarndyce & Jarndyce in Charles Dickens’ Bleak House.

Leading to the cellars of Couly-Dutheil in the centre of Chinon

We moved on to the tasting, starting with the 2007 Blanc de Franc Sec – Cabernet Blanc vinified as white. It is attractively floral, soft ripe fruit with a touch of lemon and is sold as a vin de table. Although only a small amount is made, this gives CD another white to boost the limited amount of Chinon Blanc they have available. Next was the 2007 Chinon Blanc Les Chanteaux – richer and riper in style than in the past with some tropical fruit. The grapes are harvested by selected picking. In 2007 they went through the vines three times. CD has 4.5 ha of Chenin Blanc for this cuvée, which stays on its lees until bottling in late March/early April.

In the past Couly’s rosés used to be made by the saigné method, Now half the grapes are pressed immediately and the other half has a 24-48 hour maceration and 15% undergoes malolactic. The clean and crisp 2008 has grenadine and strawberry fruit. The fruit comes from vines planted on the plain of Cravant-les-Coteaux with a yield of around 50 hl/ha. The Coulys have planted cereals in the vineyards in Cravant providing both competition for the vines and a source of humus for the soil.

Cravant-les-Coteaux: looking down the coteaux
onto the gravel vineyards of the plain

Then the reds starting with the easy drinking 2007 Les Graviers with hints of green pepper and coal tar from vines yielding 40 hl/ha planted on sand and gravel on the plain of Cravant. The 2007 René Couly from clay and flinty soils on the plateau to the west of Chinon around Saint Louard, which is just to the west of Chinon. Spicy fruit with a hint again of green pepper. We concluded with the 2007 Clos de l’Echo, where the yield was 32 hl/ha. Soft fruit with an attractive texture and good for the difficult year of 2007, quite closed and needing time. L’Echo was a marked step up from the other 2007 reds. There will be no Crescendo from the Clos de l’Echo in 2007.

The famous 22-ha Clos de l’Echo has been reassessed. Parts of the Clos face north and parts southwards and it had been assumed that this was the major factor in differences in grape flavour and ripeness. It now appears to be more complicated than that and grapes are now picked parcel by parcel depending on the soil and the age of the vines.

We moved onto a couple 2006s. First 2006 Domaine René Couly that comes from 18 hectares on the plateau at Saint Louans to the west of Chinon. Although the 2006 has quite attractive texture, I didn’t find it convincing – slightly confected, a hint green and quite tannic. In contrast the 2006 Clos de l’Echo was much more impressive with attractively soft texture, rich fruit as well as coffee tones and structure to allow this to age.

Then it was onto the last flight of reds – four from 2005. First Baronnie Madeleine made only in good years. Deep coloured and densely hued, quite rich and full bodied but decidedly tannic, this needs a good couple or more years in bottle. I have some worries that it may be too tannic for its own good but we will have to see.

The Clos de l’Olive is a five-hectare south-facing vineyard on the clay-limestone coteaux to the east side of Chinon. Half the vineyard is enclosed by a wall. Production in 2005 was 13,000 bottles (30 hl/ha). Apparently yields used here used to be around 55 hl/ha. The wine has 14.7/14.8% alcohol. Although 2005 was a very good Loire vintage, the grapes were slow to reach physiological ripeness, while the sugars shot up giving high levels of alcohol. The powerful 2005 Clos de l’Olive has attractive red fruits, although it is currently quite closed up.

Chinon: on the Vienne with the old town and newly restored château

The 2005 Clos de l’Echo was the best red of the tasting with rich black fruits, velvety texture and well-worked tannins. Although 15% alcohol, the wine is well balanced. This powerful wine is still very youthful, although it can be enjoyed now it is likely to improve over the next five years or so.

Finally onto 2005 Crescendo. I have long criticised the decision to make Crescendo – a selection of the best from the Clos de l’Echo. Given the fame of the vineyard, Le Clos de l’Echo ought to be the grand vin with whatever doesn’t make the grade going into a second wine – Petit Echo or similar. I was pleased to discover that Jacques and Arnaud’s view may not be all that different from mine and that Crescendo may be phased out in the not too distant future, although commercially that may be awkward in the short term as Crescendo has established a name and a following. Anyway the 2005 is all big fruit, torrefaction and wood and is currently a lot less interesting than the straight l’Echo.

We finished with two agreeable sparkling wines (Brut de Blanc and Brut de Franc) made from Cabernet Franc, which are recent additions to the range, although Arnaud’s grandfather René made sparkling wine some 40 years ago. Both are vin mousseux de qualité and spend 12 months sur latte, although the Coulys would prefer them to spend 24 months on latte. The Brut de Blanc has notes of fraises des bois, while the rosé is more floral and strawberry flavoured.

The last time I did an extensive tasting of Couly-Dutheil’s reds was a good five or six years ago for an article in Decanter. Then I was disappointed with the wines, in particular their dry, green tannins. Couly-Dutheil’s reds have improved since then, especially at the top end but I think there remains work to be done on the entry-level reds.

Postscript: 15th April 2009
At the tasting in Paris (7th-8th April) to choose the 2009 Ambassadors I was impressed by the 2008 Domaine René Couly. This confirmed the good impression I had of the wine when tasted at the Salon des Vins de Loire at the beginning of February. The tannin management was much improved compared to the 2007 Domaine René Couly.