Sunday 22nd April
During the tasting there are trays of canapés served with no sit down meal at the end of tasting. A number of the leading producers marking Loire Chenin were present at the tasting. These included Claude Papin, Olivier Lecomte, Patrick Baudouin, Philippe Porché, Joël et Ludovic Gigou, Vincent Lebreton, Tessa Laroche and Alexandre Monmousseau.
There were many high quality Chenins to taste. It was also a useful reminder of the high average quality of wines from Jasnières and Coteux du Loir. Good to taste a couple of 2017s from Domaine Lelais, which with 14 hectares in Jasnières makes them the largest producer in this small appellation. Unfortunately Lelais lost 50% of their 2016 crop to frost.
Unfortunately I find grazing on canapés and trying to taste these excellent Loire Chenin Blancs doesn't really work. I would rather taste without the distraction of food and then eat after the end of the tasting. Given the timing of this evening tasting, leaving eating until the finish of the tasting wasn't possible unless one was prepared to go hungry as local restaurants would be closing by the end of the event.
Monday 23rd, Tuesday 24th and Wednesday 25th April
As it had been in the previous edition the centrepiece of the 2018 Loire Millésime was the possibility to taste some 700 wines from the 2017, 2016 and 2015 vintages that had been entered into the Le Concours des Vins du Val de Loire. Of these 700 wines – 287 had received medals.
For the whole of Monday (9am-6.30pm) there was the opportunity to taste the 2017 vintage, then Tuesday and Wednesday morning for the 2016 and 2015 wines.
Doubtless it is admirably democratic that those who enter their wines into the Concours get them to be tasted by a global group of journalists as well as providing an incentive to enter. Unfortunately it is the nature of wine competitions, especially regional ones, that for a variety of reasons the best producers do not enter their wines. Most top producers already have established reputations and may well be a position to sell more wine than they can make. Furthermore with the 2016 and 2017 frosts in the Loire there is a shortage of stock.
The result? From the 700 wines there were too few that were good and memorable. The overall quality was significantly below that of the Chenin Blanc tasting on Sunday night. The 2018 Loire Millésime is reported to have cost 140,000€ to stage. It does seem quixotic to fly in journalists from around the world and not show them the wines that you believe are the best the region has to offer. Furthermore it is very likely that it is the region's best producers who are present on export markets rather than producers who fail to get medals in their regional competition.
To be fair the Tuesday afternoon trip to Vouvray, which I was not on, did include a visit with Vincent Carême to his vineyard and to the cellars of Domaine Huet, so two leading Vouvray producers.
Next year's edition of Loire Millésime will be in the Pays Nantais, I trust that the organisers will have sorted out this problem and will show their guests the very best that the Loire has to offer. One solution would be to show only those wines from the Concours that are awarded medals and to show at the same time a selection from the Loire's best producers.
Two spectacular soirées
On Monday and Tuesday we enjoyed to two spectacular soirées: Monday evening at Château de Chambord and Tuesday at Château de Moncontour in Vouvray. On both occasions the weather was perfect. Monday featured wines from the straight Touraine and Touraine Villages appellations, while Tuesday was devoted to négociant and cave co-operative wines.
Visits to Touraines Oisly, Mesland and Amboise
On Tuesday afternoon I opted to go on the trip to Touraine Oisly. Here the focus was on two types of soil. The first, in the east of the Oisly appellation, had clay and limestone that had degraded to flint. The second was more sandy and had heavier clay making it a colder soil with the possibility of poor drainage during a wet winter. The visit included a tasting of Sauvignon Blancs from both Touraine Chenonceaux and Touraine Oisly.
The tasting confirmed my overall impression from tasting 2016s from the two appellations on Tuesday morning that the whites from Chenonceaux are more interesting, complex and varied than those from Oisly, which although in the wines we tasted have rich fruit, they have a tendency to blandness due to their soft finish that lacks vibrancy and punch.
Wednesday afternoon was taken up with a drive in an iconic Citroen 2CV through the vineyards of Touraine Mesland and Touraine Amboise. The highlights were a tasting of five 100% Côt in a vineyard in the commune of Limeray. If the proposed Cru Amboise goes through the whites will be made only from Chenin Blanc and the reds solely from Côt (Malbec). Of the five the 2015 Prestige de Bessous, 2015 La Griffe d'Isa (Xavier Frissant) and the 2016 Domaine de Grande Foucardière stood out. At the end of our excursion a 1997 late harvest botrytised Touraine Amboise from Domaine de la Gabillière (the Lycée Viticole at Amboise) was a fine treat.
Unfortunately the visits highlighted the high proportion of vineyards in Touraine that blasted with weedkiller. In some vineyards the destruction is almost total with a trace of biodiversity remaining. It is, however, encouraging that the proposal for the putative cru Amboise includes restrictions on the use of weedkillers.