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

Tuesday, 25 September 2018

2018 Loire – is this the birth of a legendary vintage?

 Pinot Noir awaiting sorting 
@Domaine Henri Bourgeois

On Friday Alphone Mellot snr was categorical: "This is a mythical vintage – 1947 but with quantity!" Alphonse Père was born in 1947 – obviously he will remember little of that year but says that he has never seen a vintage of this quality.

We will see but certainly overall the fruit from the vineyards we have so far visited –  Pays Nantais, Chinon, Montlouis, AC Touraine, Sancerre, Saint-Pourçain, Côte Roannaise and Côtes de Forez – has been very clean and healthy with almost no rot. For those producers equipped with sorting tables there has been little for the sorters to do apart from removing the odd leaf or grapes that have been shriveled by the sun. 

Gamay @Vincent Roussely

Alphonse Snr is not alone in never having seeing fruit like this. Vincent Roussely of Clos Roussely in Angé (AC Touraine): "This is my 19th vintage and I have never seen grapes like these." His Sauvignon Blanc is averaging 13.5% alcohol but still with good acidity plus a yield of 50 hl/ha when 30 hl/ha is his normal yield – Vincent farms organically.

In Bué (AC Sancerre) I tasted several juices – some that were just starting to ferment – with Florent Pinard. They were very clean, rich but with a freshness in the finish – surprising as for a number of days during the harvest temperatures were 30˚C and more. Fortunately many in Sancerre are equipped with liquid CO2 to cool down the grapes rapidly when they arrive at the winery. Also a number of producers, like François and Carine Crochet and Vincent and Adelaide Grall who pick by hand, started early in morning and finished at lunchtime. 

I also tasted a number of 2018 juices with Pascal Jolivet during a brief but very interesting visit. As at the Pinards the 2018 juices look very promising. It was good of Pascal to give up some of his valuable time, especially as his Italian winemaker had fallen that morning, hit her head and was in hospital. I wish her a swift recovery.  

After two difficult years due to frost producers in Pouilly-Fumé are happy both with the quality and quantity. "We had just 18 hl/ha in 2016," Loic Cailbourdin told me. 'The following year it was 28 hl/ha. This year we are averaging 60 hl/ha, although it is less in some parcels." 

Sauvignon Blanc@ Domaine Vacheron 
awaiting pressing        

There are as always exceptions and caveats:

Mildew has been a severe problem for certain producers, especially those practising organic viticulture and in certain appellations such as Montlouis. In Thursday post I mentioned that Jacky Blot had been very badly hit in some parcels but not in the 'grand terroirs'. When I saw Xavier Weisskopf on Wednesday he said his yield this year is 22 hl/ha. Xavier has had a real roller coaster over the last three years. Last year his yield was 55 hl/ha while in 2016 it was just 1 hl/ha due to the series of April frosts. He had to buy in grapes from Vouvray to make up the deficit. 

High degrees of alcohol may also prove to be a problem if only to make 2018 not a 'typical' Loire vintage – just as 1989 and 2003 produced wines that have characteristics of vineyards much further south in France. 14% alcohol levels are 'normal' this year, they head up into 15% and even in some rare cases 16% and above. 16.6% is the highest reported. Of course it will usually be possible to blend these powerful lots with those with lower alcohol. There is also the question whether juice at 15.5˚- 16˚+ will actually ferment dry. 

Philippe Gilbert (Menetou-Salon), who found the heat of the vintage particularly tiring, said: "My concern is that the 2018 wines will not be typical of the Loire rather they will have the characteristics of wines from much further south." I suggested to Philippe that this was also the case in 1989 and 2003, for instance. Philippe was relieved that his pH readings were in the right range. 

Of the producers I have seen all have been satisfied – in some cases relieved – that the pH in their juice are correct – most around 3.15-3.30. There are some unconfirmed rumours that the pH levels for some other producers are considerably higher but I didn't come across any producer worried about high pH levels. 

One of the positive weather factors this year was the wet and humid end of May and early June. This meant that there was a reserve of water available for the very dry months that followed. However, young vines on well drained soils have suffered as their root systems are not as well developed as older vines. 

Later today we are headed to Bourgueil, Chinon and Saint Nicolas-de-Bourgueil. Here I think picking started during last week, so it will be interesting to catch up on what has been happening.  

Sorting @Domaine Vincent Delaporte  
before going through their new
automatic tilted

plate press



Monday, 24 September 2018

Les Grands Crus de Bourgueil: 4 octobre, Maison des Vins de Langeais

Communiqué de Presse from Alexis Caraux, director Vins de Bourgueil
Le jeudi 4 octobre à la Maison des Vins de Langeais, le syndicat des vins de Bourgueil organise une soirée exceptionnelle pour mettre en lumière les plus beaux terroirs de l’appellation.
Une douzaine de cuvées seront proposées à la dégustation et à la vente : cuvées parcellaires sur des millésimes à maturité. Pour cette occasion, les vignerons ont accepté de sortir de leur cave quelques pépites rares en quantités limitées.
Cette soirée est l’occasion de montrer à la fois le potentiel de garde des vins mais aussi leur complexité après quelques années passées en cave. En particulier pour les vins dits de « tuffeau », issus des terroirs argilo-calcaire des coteaux bordant l’appellation.
Le syndicat de vins de Bourgueil propose cette soirée dans leur dernier écrin ouvert début juin : la Maison des Vins de Langeais au pied du Château.
Avis aux amateurs de grands vins, les quantités sont limitées donc : « premiers arrivés ! premiers servis ! »
·       Soirée exclusive le jeudi 4 octobre, 19h – 21h
·       Maison des Vins de Langeais, 15 rue Gambetta, 37 130 Langeais
·       Participation sur réservation:  / 20

Thursday, 20 September 2018

Loire 2018 – round up of harvest news

Since we arrived in the Loire we have seen producers from Muscadet Sèvre et Maine to the Côtes de Forez – just about from one Loire vinous extremity to the other.

In Touraine Vincent Ricard started picking on Monday 3rd September. He is happy as he has avoided any serious attack of mildew but at the cost of treating his vines 14 or 15 times. His Sauvignon is coming in at between 12.5˚ potential with the acidity averaging 5.2. Yields at 50-55 hl/ha. He expects to finish harvesting the middle of next week.

Vincent Roussely (Angé) started picking on Monday 10th September. Due to the heat they are only picking in the morning. I saw some Sauvignon Rosé that they had picked – the grapes very healthy and clean.

Luc Poullain, Domaine des Echardières – also in Angé – like Vincent Roussely also started on Monday but picking Chardonnay. He warned that vines on clay were coping well with the drought – just 10mm of rain in two months – but other on easy draining soils were suffering with maturation blocked especially if they were young vines.

In Montlouis Jacky Blot started on Thursday (6th) – earlier than he had originally thought but with the grapes ripening rapidly he didn't want the alcohol levels to shoot up and the acidity to fall away, especially as he picks by hand – three teams of pickers in action.

In certain parcels he has been badly hit by mildew with very small yields. However, the incidence is very irregular with his best parcels like the Clos Mosny and Clos Michet resisting well.

Jacky and a team started picking his top Vouvray (Vin de France) from the Clos de Venise on Thursday 13th September.

On our way to the Côte Roannaise last Thursday (13th) we dropped in quickly to see the Pinards  – Vincent, Florent and Clément – in Bué and then Domaine Fouassier in Sancerre itself. The Pinards started picking their Pinot Noir on Thursday 6th and have subsequently picked some of their Sauvignon Blanc. They are very happy with the results to date with the Pinot coming in at 12.4˚ to 13.5˚ potential with acidity averaging around 5. Florent and Clément thought that the 2018 reds will be easy to drink and easily digestible.

Sauvignon Blanc
2018 Sauvignon Blanc (Sancerre)

Pinot Noira
2018 Pinot Noir (Sancerre)

Benoît Fouassier was also very happy with their 2018s. They started on 5th and have been picking both Pinot Noir and Sauvignon Blanc. The Pinot, which they have nearly finished, coming in at up to 14˚, while the Sauvignon Blanc is between 12.5˚ and 13.5˚ and an acidity on 4-4.5.

From Sancerre we headed south to the small town of Renaison in the heart of the Côte Roannaise where we stayed at the Hotel Central, which is in town square. The hotel is very reasonably priced and is run by the very welcoming Arlette, who appears to have boundless energy as she is on the go from the early morning until late at night.

The Côte Roannaise we saw Carine, Stéphane and Robert Sérol (Domaine Robert Sérol). Their chai and some of their vineyards are up above Renaison and is one of the appellations top domaines. They started picking at the end of the previous week –  Gamay for their pétillant rosé naturel – Turbullent. Picking Gamay for their reds had started this morning.

2018 Gamay, Domaine des Pothiers, Côte Roannaise

Early on the Friday we also saw Romain Paire (Domaine des Pothiers) – another top Roannaise estate. Romain had started that morning – kicking off with his Pinot Gris (13˚ potential) before moving onto his Gamay. The juice tasted very clean and promising. Indeed everywhere the fruit in the Roannaise and the Forez looked very clean and healthy with apparently much less mildew than you can find in parts of Touraine. We also saw Simon Hawkins, an English guy who with his French wife bought the Domaine de Fontenay in 1991 and started making wine leaving the textile business behind.
We had left the car in Renaison and instead explored the Roannaise on our e-bikes. Along with the Côtes de Forez and Sancerre I think that the Côte Roannaise is one of the three most picturesque Loire appellations. The vines are planted on the lower slopes of the granite hills that quickly rise to 1000 metres or more – so an electric bike is certainly a good investment, especially if you are of pensionable age. There are plenty of quiet roads both through the charming little villages and up higher in the hills.
Gilles and his team sorting Gamay @Domaine de la Madone
– little sorting needed this year

Friday we headed the just over 50 kilometres south to Champdieu and Gilles Bonnefoy Domaine de la Madone. Gilles was generally  happy with the way the harvest was progressing, although he had some parcels of vines that were suffering from the drought. We tasted some Gamay that he had picked the day before which had already taken on good colour even after one day but without much tannin in the skins. Gilles was happy with the potential degrees – between 11.5˚ and 12.5˚ – as his clientele appreciates wines with relatively low alcohol levels.

Max @Verdier Logel, Côtes de Forez

Leaving Domaine de la Madone we stopped off briefly at the Cave Verdier-Logel and saw Odile, Max and Jacky. They were preparing to start picking yesterday  (17th September). Max was hoping that there would be no rain despite the drought because any rain was now too late to be beneficial. Instead rain was all too likely to provoke rot.

Jean with his Portuguese worker
Jean Teissèdre (left) with his Portuguese worker 

On our way back to Touraine we made a first visit to Domaine des Bérioles in Saint-Pourçain in the hamlet of Cesset, to the west of the town of Saint-Pourçain, Bérioles has been rightly building a reputation since Jean Teissèdre took over the domaine in 2011, when it had 7 hectares. He was later joined by his sister Sophie and her husband – Jérôme Roux. The domaine has now more than doubled in size with 15 hectares in production and two more planted.

On the Friday when we visited they were picking Chardonnay, which was very clean and healthy. The nearby Pinot Noir looked equally healthy with no sign of rot. During the visit it was very interesting to see a parcel of ripening Tressalier, the local grape which will be picked last.

Tressalier grape also known as Sacy outside Saint-Pourçain
– note pinkish tinge @Domaine des Bérioles

Due to the artificial constraints imposed by the appellation rules – 100% Tressalier and 100% Pinot Noir are banned - a very significant part of their production is sold as IGP. "This makes no difference to our sales" says Jean "as we now have established a reputation but it is a pity for the appellation."

Monday, 17 September 2018

20 ans de Gorges

20th anniversary of the foundation of the Association des Vignerons du Cru Gorgeois 

Six producers in the vines 
Six celebrating Gorges producers in a vineyard

2013 Fred + Gabbro+ RiverCahier des Charges 
The production criteria for Cru Gorges  

2013 Fred + Gabbro+ River

2013 Gorges La Vigneaux, Fred Laffer with a lump of gabbro
- Sèvre Nantaise in the background

On Thursday 6th September I was privileged to be invited to the celebration for the 20 years of the Association, which was officially formed in 1998. However, its origins date back to the winter of 1996/97 when five Gorges producers – Michel Brégeon, Gilles Luneau, Christophe Boucher, Damien Rineau and Thierry and Christophe Luneau got together to define the criteria for a top quality Muscadet.

After much work the INAO recognised in 2011 Gorges as one of the first three Muscadet Cru Communaux, along with Clisson and Le Pallet. The criteria for Cru Gorges include: vines planted on the type of soil called gabbro, green harvest to aim for a yield of 40 hl/ha, the wine to spend 24 months on its lees and once in bottle a jury of experts have to agree that the wine is up to scratch.
Interestingly compulsory hand picking is not in the criteria. Perhaps this will be the next step as an insistence on hand picking would really mark out this top tier of Muscadet as something qualitatively different from the rest. Furthermore given the tiny quantities of Cru Communaux currently being produced obligatory hand picking ought to be easy enough to arrange.

We tasted some 15-20 different Cru Gorges from a number of different vintages. Overall they underlined that these Cru Communaux are indeed a step up and that, although slightly more expensive they still offer great value for money – these are very fine wines.

2000 Gorges
2000 Gorges, Christophe and Brigitte Boucher
served in magnum for lunchtime apéro
when it was magnificent.
Unfortunately they tried pairing it with

the dessert which in my view didn't work at all. 
Our fine lunch was @ The Restaurant L'Atlantide

Moulin Papier Liveau
Our day started with a visit to the recently restored  
Moulin à Papier at Liveau, a hamlet of Gorges. 

Water wheel
Part of the water wheel in the Moulin

The process of making paper


Wednesday, 12 September 2018

2018 Loire vintage – well underway and accelerating – quality high

Black hod guy
Hod carrier @Domaine Pierre Luneau-Papin, 
Muscadet Sèvre-et-Maine 
Romanian pickers
A trio of pickers from Romania @ 
Vincent Caillé's Le Domaine le Fay d'Homme,
Muscadet Sèvre et Maine  

The vintage is now well underway with some producers starting as early as the first days of September. Overall quantity is up except for producers badly hit by mildew due to the heavy rains and humid conditions of late May/early June. Quality wise this appears to be the fifth successive good to excellent Loire vintage, which is quite unprecedented.

The very wet and humid weather at the end of May and into June provoked a lot of mildew with organic producers particularly hit. Touraine appears to be have been more seriously affected than the Pays Nantais. Here the producers are very happy after two very difficult years – 2016 and 2017 – due to serious frost damage. It was good to see Vincent Caillé (Domaine de Fay d'Homme) relaxed and smiling in contrast to the obvious worry and concern of last year. Pierre-Marie Luneau (Domaine Luneau-Papin) was delighted with the quality of the fruit and its balance. We tasted some of the juice, which appeared to be very promising indeed. 

With temperatures hitting the 30s early this week the pace of picking is accelerating to avoid alcoholic degrees shooting up and acidity levels declining.  

In Touraine Vincent Ricard started picking on Monday 3rd. He is happy as he has avoided any serious attack of mildew but at the cost of treating his vines 14 or 15 times. His Sauvignon is coming in at between 12.5˚ potential with the acidity averaging 5.2. Yields at 50-55 hl/ha. He expects to finish harvesting the middle of next week. 

Vincent Roussely (Angé) started picking on Monday 10th September. Due to the heat they are only picking in the morning. I saw some Sauvignon Rosé that they had picked – the grapes very healthy and clean. 

Luc Poullain, Domaine des Echardières – also in Angé – like Vincent Roussely also started on Monday but picking Chardonnay. He warned that vines on clay were coping well with the drought – just 10mm of rain in two months – but other on easy draining soils were suffering with maturation blocked especially if they were young vines.

In Montlouis Jacky Blot started last Thursday – earlier than he had originally thought but with the grapes ripening rapidly he didn't want the alcohol levels to shoot up and the acidity to fall away, especially as he picks by hand – three teams of pickers in action.

In certain parcels he has been badly hit by mildew with very small yields. However, the incidence is very irregular with his best parcels like the Clos Mosny and Clos Michet resisting well. 

Today Jacky and a team will start picking his top Vouvray (Vin de France) from the Clos de Venise. 


Monday, 10 September 2018

Spécial Cavistes/Wine shops (1): A vinous treasure trove in Lisbon

This post was originally published on Les 5 du Vin as part of our special series on independent wine shops.

Garrafeira Campo de Ourique 


Brief description:The Garrafeira Campo de Ourique is a fairly small shop but crammed from floor to ceiling with a huge range of wines and spirits. Their wonderfully cluttered shop is a remarkable treasure trove of mainly Portuguese wines and not just recent vintages but some older ones too. In Portugal, with the exception of Port and Madeira, it can be difficult to find old vintages. Here, however, the Santos family make a point of being able to offer some mature wines.
Campo de Ourique is a well-established fashionable suburb around three kilometres to the north west of the centre of Lisbon. The Garrafeira is not far from the western terminus of the famous 28 Tram, which is at the entrance to the Prazeres Cemetery, where many of the famous are buried including the legendary Fado singer Amália Rodrigues.
It is also close to the revamped Mercado Campo de Ourique.
Arlindo and Mafalda Santos
Name: Garrafeira Campo de Ourique

Address etc: R. Tomás da Anunciação 29 A, 1350-322 Lisboa, Portugal
Tel: +351 21 397 3494
Buying site: Mr Santos Wine House:
Founded:   in 1988 by Arlindo Santos
Now run by: Arlindo Santos and his daughter – Mafalda Santos
Employees: 4
Products sold 
Total range: 5500
Wines – still and sparkling: 4000
Sparkling: 100
Fortified wines: 1000 – mainly Port and Madeira
Spirits: 500
Beers – now stocking a small range of beers from three small breweries.
Other products: corkscrews and glasses – Schott Zwiesel.
Mafalda comments that they do not have enough space to show everything in their cramped shop.
Further details of wines sold:
By country:

The Douro is the most popular followed by Lisboa and the Alentejo.

Mafalda reports that they are now selling a lot of Dão with demand also for Bairrada and Sétubal. The Garrafeira is quite unusual in offering old vintages of still wines back to at least 1988.
Although about 90% of the stock is Portuguese but the range of wines from outside is expanding. Now includes not just wines from other parts of Europe, especially France, Spain and Italy but some from Chile, Argentina, USA, South Africa, New Zealand and Australia. From the latter I noticed Nine Popes and a Wynn’s Coonawarra displayed.
Sparkling wines: there is a good selection of Portuguese sparkling wines. Their Champagne comes from family owned Bauget-Jouette in Epernay with whom they have been dealing for 23 years. ( Their Spanish offer comes from Juve-Campos, Freixenet and Codorniu.

What prompted Arlindo to open an independent wine shop?
Arlindo Santos already had the delicatessen grocery store across the road. When this site became vacant in 1988 he decided to buy it and set up a wine shop. Mafalda started working with her father part-time in 1997 joining full-time in 2000.
How has your wine offer changed over the last decade?“We are seeing a lot more wine brands (in the widest sense) and many more producers – a lot of new wine producers. Also we now stock many more white wines and our offer of wines from outside Portugal has increased.”
In contrast overall spirits have declined a lot. Arlindo and Mafalda like Malt Whisky and sales continue to be good. “I think the Gin fever is slowing down,” adds Mafalda. “Aguardente, however, is important.”
Has the profile of your clients changed – by age, by sex?Our customer profile has become younger with an increasing number of young 20-something clients. Previously we had a mainly older clientele and younger people used to come in just to buy wine as a gift. Now as soon as young people have money they become regular wine buyers. Our clients are mainly male – 75%.”
Do your customers ask for advice? If so, what sort of advice? 
“Our customers ask for advice all the time,” says Mafalfa. “They ask for suggestions on what wines to buy and also on pairing wines with the food they are planning to eat. Sometimes we suggest red wine with fish.” Fish, especially grilled and salt cod, is very popular in Portugal.
“We don’t run wine classes, although we have had offers and plans to do so but it is a question of just not having the time. May be in the future.”
What about competition from supermarkets?
Although there are three supermarkets within a radius of about a mile, Mafalda doesn’t believe that they are in competition with the supermarkets. “We appeal to a different type of customer within a different range of wines. Nor are we more expensive than the supermarkets as we have wines from 4 € upwards. Furthermore we work directly with producers and avoid supermarket brands.”
Only one of the nearby supermarkets – Jumbo in the Amoreiras centre has a substantial wine offer and theirs is only fraction of the range that the Garrafeira carries. The other two – Continente and Pingo Doce – have a very limited range that is largely confined to cheap wines. Mafalda tells the story of a woman who came in recently and who was surprised that she could buy a wine for 4€ as well as getting advice on what to buy. “Why have I been buying wine from supermarkets all this time?” she exclaimed.
What wines sell best from your range?
“In the Lisbon region (formerly called Estremadura) Quinta do Rol ( sells well. Our range includes vintages back to 2006 along with their Pinot Grigio and Sauvignon Blanc varietals that are released when they are ready.”
In the Douro the Garrafeira has long stocked the excellent wines from Alves de Sousa ( They also sell a lot of Niepoort’s Charme and from Quinta Vale D. Maria (, which Cristiano van Zeller sold last year to Aveleda. Another popular Douro reference is Quinta do Pessegueiro (
Regarding sparkling wines have sales increased with the increased democratisation of fizz through Cava, Prosecco and Crémants?“Our sparkling wine sales are increasing thankfully. Something is happening. People used to buy sparkling wine only for a special occasion now with some people choosing a sparkling wine from time to time for an aperitif instead of a white wine. We don’t stock any Crémant but we do have one regular customer for Prosecco, who uses it to make a spritz. I think Prosecco is a question of fashion.”
What do you think of the fashion for organic wines? have you increased your organic range?
Mafalda reports that there has been long been a demand for organic wines. However, this demand is definitely increasing. Now their clients are also asking for natural and over the past year – vegan wines. Mafalda is keen on wines with low or no So2 as she suffers from headaches from certain wines with too much sulphur, so this is an important consideration for her. “It is good for winemakers to have this discipline – there is no need to add lots of sulphur,” she says adding “I haven’t tasted a ‘natural’ wine that I like.”
Do you taste wines and how/where? 
Arlindo and Mafalda taste wines both in their shop and at wine fairs. “There is always something new to try,” says Mafalda.
How do you see the future for independent wine shops? 
After several false starts with web developers who promised much and then failed to deliver, the Santos now have their own website. “We launched about two months ago. We can sell on-line both in Portugal and outside. We have always offered the option of shipping but this is different as it gives us the possibility of widening our clientele.”