For the first time since the Vignobles et Signatures group of French producers were founded in 1984, representatives from 15 members of their 17 members came to London to show off their wines. In the case of Roger Groult it was their cider and Calvados and for Famille Lesgourgues an Armagnac.
I don't know whether V&S decided that October 2018 was their last easy chance to display their wares before the utter lunacy of Brexit kicks in at the end of March 2019 leading to who knows what sorts of complications – visas, travel delays etc. – to make the short journey across the Channel/La Manche. Two of the club's members were absent – Domaine Rolet (Jura) and Vignobles Joseph Janoueix (Saint-Emilion, Pomerol). I can only assume that they decided that it made no sense to visit a small island off the coast of mainland Europe in the middle of a full blown nervous breakdown and wilfully committing economic and political suicide. Who, furthermore, from 29th March 2019 will not be able to afford to buy their wines. All in all a rather understandable and hard-headed decision.
Whatever it was a very good tasting with the 15 who ventured into the lunatic asylum as each producer was sensibly limited to showing four wines/cider or spirit.. This meant I was able to taste the majority of the wines although I didn't have time to taste everyone.
All the wines shown were of a high standard – I didn't taste one poor wine.
Vignobles & Signatures have three Loire domaines – Château de Tracy (Pouilly-Fumé), Guilbaud Frères (Muscadet-Sèvre-et-Maine) and Couly-Dutheil (Chinon).
Château de Tracy
I started with Château de Tracy (Pouilly-Fumé). It was good to meet Juliette d'Estutt d'Assay, who took over a couple of years ago from her brother Comte Henry d'Assay, who ran the estate for many years but in 2016 founded his own négociant business – Comte Henry d'Assay – which concentrates on Sauvignon Blancs from the Loire and the Côtes de Gascogne.
Juliette showed three wines – the 2017 domaine, 2015 Haute Densité (a small plot planted with 17,000 vines per hectare) and 101 Rangs also a 2015 from a plot on flint near the château. Of the three I found Haute Densité, which is matured in a 30 hl foudre, the most impressive with its concentration, length and clear potential to age.
I first met Pascal Guilbaud (Guilbaud Frères) in February 1989 during my first professional visit to the Pays Nantais and my first trip for a Decanter article. Those were the days when the sales of Muscadet in the UK were buoyant and there was an annual article in Decanter. Pascal wasn't in London instead it was good to meet his daughter Romane and her partner Maxime Fernandez. Romane started working at the family firm in October 2017.
From their four wines I picked out the characterful 2017 Soleil Nantais and the complex 2009 Clos du Pont, which is made in a long ageing (more than two years) Muscadet Cru Communal style. Guilbaud Frères first made this cuvée in 1983. Romane told me that although they are in the commune of Gorges, Pascal isn't part of the Gorges Cru Communal as it was they who started off the movement with this cuvée. As an outsider staying outside the Crus Communaux movement, which is raising Muscadet's profile seems a pity, especially if you were a precursor.
in the centre of Chinon
Due to finishing the fine 2018 harvest Arnaud Couly stayed behind in Chinon. They showed two whites from 2017 – Blanc de Franc (Vin de France) from 100% Cabernet Franc and Les Chanteaux (Chinon Blanc) from 100% Chenin Blanc. It is rare for Cabernet Franc to be vinified as a still white, although this is a frequent practice for Loire sparkling wines. It works well with the 2017 Blanc de Franc having good concentration and attractive texture. Of the two reds the Clos de l'Echo naturally stood out with its ripe concentration of black fruits. Although it can be drunk now this really needs more time in bottle to reveal its full potential.
My post next week will cover the producers from outside the Loire.