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

Monday, 28 January 2019

Charles Sydney Loire Benchmark Tasting, London + Loire's @2019Millésime Bio

 2018 Gamay in the Côte Roannaise

Last Thursday (24th January) was the annual Charles Sydney Wines Loire Benchmark tasting in London. Charles Sydney Wines, offering a courtier service, was set up by Charles and Philippa Sydney in 1989. They have now retired and Chris Hardy, previously of Majestic Wines has taken over. Chris has now been joined by Alex Meunier.

Although I did taste the 2018 wines at Domaine Belargus and some at the sparsely attended French Wine Discoveries (15th January) where the ripe and concentrated 2018 Muscadets from Alexandre Déramé stood out, the Sydney tasting was my first chance to taste more than 100 of these wines following their fermentation. 

My overall impression – bearing in mind these white wines (Muscadet and Sauvignon Blanc forming a substantial majority) are still very young and many of them were quite cold – is that they are very clean and precise wines. I suspect that they will tend to take on considerably more weight over the next few months. Chris Hardy emphasised that growers should take their time before bottling this vintage to give it a chance to reveal its potential. Of course if you are short of stock following frost in 2016 and 2017 this may well not be easy. Tasting at Millésime Bio (Montpellier) today it is clear that a number producers, who are very short of stock following the successive frosts of 2016 and 2017, have already started bottling some of their 2019, especially some whites and rosés. Fortunately 2018 is a generous vintage and it may only be necessary to bottle a small amount of stock now. 

Tasting whites today at Millésime Bio they seemed more generous than in London probably due to being mainly tasted at slightly warmer temperature. It also be that the wines when in London were adversely affected by the misery of Brexit.... Amongst the 2018 whites I tasted today I was impressed by Bonnet-Huteau – their Muscadet but also a Gros Plant in very limited quantity – only 1500 bottles.

Vincent Pineau, who has joined his 
Domaine de la Roche with Bonnet-Huteau

For the first time I met and tasted with Michel Delhommeau, Les Vignes Saint Vincent and was impressed by his 2018 Muscadet Sèvre et Maine, especially the Clos Amand from old vines. It was good to taste with Denis Jamain (Reuilly) – fine 2018s in all three colours including a richly textured Reuilly Rouge (Pinot Noir).  

There are some lovely ripe, rich Loire reds in 2018 – most, of course are not in bottle yet. I have yet to taste many 2018 Cabernet Francs. One of the few I tasted today was the 2018 Clos de Bienboire, Saumur-Champigny, Château de Villeneuve – ripe concentration of delicious black fruits – very recently bottled. In London I was impressed by the Saumur Champigny from Domaine des Sanzay and and the Chinon from Noblaie. I have now tasted rather more 2018 Gamay than Francs including some wonderfully seductive  Gamays from Touraine – Domaines Sauvété and Domaine L'Aumonier – and the Côte Roannaise – Domaines Sérol and des Pothiers. 

Back in London I tasted a few sweet wines from 2018 – from this limited evidence there could well be some great sweet wines to enjoy. 

Note to myself – I must drink more sweet Loire Chenins in 2019! 

One half of Hall B2 

Millésime Bio continues to expand:
This year there are some 1100 organic/biodynamic producers exhibiting at the 2019 edition with four large halls now in use to cope with this expansion. It shows the marked increase in the number of domaines, who are now either organic or biodynamic. As all regions and countries are mixed up it is now a considerable feat of organisation to get to see producers in the most efficient way possible. I guess that from one end of Millésime Bio to the other is not far off the distance from Rablay-sur-Layon to Champs-sur-Layon. 

Doubtless one of the shows' sponsors is Fitbit......   



Couple of dates for your Loire diary – VinoTours + ViNAViVA

'Bienvenue au salon VinoTours

Organisé depuis 2008 par le club de dégustation VIN sur VIN, notre salon donne à découvrir aux visiteurs une sélection de vins produits par des vignerons en BIO et NATURELS de la France entière.
Les Tourangeaux le savent : le salon des vins VINOTOURS n’est pas une foire au vin comme il y en a beaucoup. La vingtaine de vignerons qui y sont présents ont tous fait leurs preuves dans les verres et dans leurs vignes. Témoins de la diversité des terroirs français, ils disposent pour la plupart de petites exploitations, produisent des vins naturels, travaillent en bio ou en bio-dynamie. Les visiteurs de plus en plus nombreux ont fait de ce salon un rendez-vous incontournable. Les vignerons fidèles, reviennent d’année en année pour renouveler le plaisir de partager leur savoir-faire avec des amateurs de vin exigeants.
Bon salon et à bientôt !
Le club œnologie VIN/VIN'


ViNAViVA: 6th-7th April @ Saint Étienne de Chigny

janvier 2019
Le Goût des cépages !
La lettre de liaison gratuite VINAVIVA, Salon des Vins de Libre Expression, par l’association Amaviva (Amateurs de vins vivants et authentiques)
Salon 2019
Retenez la date, portez-la sur vos tablettes : 6 et 7 avril prochains. 25-26 vignerons de presque toute la France. Nouveau vigneron : Fred Lailler qui a repris le domaine Michel Brégeon en Muscadet et le convertit à l’agriculture biologique. Invité 2019, Philippe Tessier de Cheverny ; et finalement le domaine de Quissat dont les vins nous ont été réclamés. Un seul absent, Château Bas de Provence.
A suivre sur

Sunday, 27 January 2019

Some Christmas treats moderated..... (Part 1)

Introducing 'Modération' – our vinous pet dog......
Nous buvons toujours avec Modération.....Santé Modération !

We spent Christmas and the start of 2019 in Touraine before returning last week to the lunatic asylum located, for the moment, a few miles off the coast of Northern France. Over our Touraine spell we broached a number of bottles some with considerable bottle age. With one exception – a badly corked bottle – none were out of condition illustrating once again that many well made wines have the capacity to live on one, two decades or more and still give pleasure as well as retaining freshness. Obviously it depends on what stage of development you like your wine ....... however, over a nearly three week period the only complaints I received was when their glass was rather depleted......

Some highlights:

beaucastel 78 nl 


Two bottles of this legendary Southern Rhône vintage formed the centrepiece of our Christmas Day meal. We must have bought them early in the 1980s – perhaps 1982 or 1983 from Château de Beaucastel. Still in wonderful condition – ripe, savoury fruit, complex, long finish and still very much alive. Having checked both bottles there seemed little difference between them so I poured both into a magnum decanter. Often with wines of this age there is considerable bottle variation but not this time.

bouscassé 90 blanco

Another example of wine bought a number of years ago – 1990 Pacherenc du Vic Bilh Sec from Alain Brumont's Château Bouscassé. Unfortunately the first bottle I opened was foully corked but fortunately I had a second which was fine. The more recent versions of this wine are a blend of Sauvignon Blanc, Petit Manseng and Arrufiac. I can't remember now what the blend for the 1990 was but I don't think it included Sauvignon Blanc. Instead I fancy it had Arrufiac, Petit Courbu and Gros Manseng ..... but I certainly cannot be sure. Anyway whatever the blend was this 1990 was impressive with a lovely golden colour, rich fruit and still a good fresh finish.

yvonne 1997

Lastly in this initial survey of moderate wine consumption at the end of 2018 and beginning of 2019 a wonderful bottle of 1997 Le Gory, Saumur Blanc made by Françoise Foucault. 100% dry honeyed Chenin Blanc, richly complex from a warm year and like the other two wines here still fully alive. Great memories of how Françoise loved making these wines and how proud the late Charly Foucault was of her stunning wines. Something to treasure!


In brief:

Launched recently in London:

essential guide italian wine
Daniele Cernilli: The Essential Guide to Italian Wine 2019
Published by Doctor Wine.
Available in Italian and English €18, 647pages
5th edition of this guide

Wednesday, 16 January 2019

Gérard Basset dies – terrible news after a long fight against cancer

Gérard tasting @the Decanter World Wine Awards

Terribly sad news that Gérard Basset MW, MS (born 1957) died this morning. He had been fighting oesophagus cancer since the autumn of 2017. A year later it was revealed that Gérard was terminally ill

Despite his numerous achievements both as a sommelier – Meilleur Sommelier du Monde 2010, hotelier – a founder of Hotel du Vin,  – there was no side to Gérard. He was a great guy, modest and always friendly.

My sincere condolences to Nina and family.  

See also post on Les 5 du Vin and in The Drinks Business. Another tribute – Anthocyanes – Yohan Castaing.

Monday, 7 January 2019

Bel avenir pour Belargus ?

Ivan Massonnat, owner of the new Domaine Belargus*
Was initially called Bel Argus (2 words) now Belargus (one word) 

Last Thursday (3rd January) we had a very useful and interesting journey and visit to meet Ivan Massonnat at the winery of Pithon-Paillé in Saint-Lambert-du-Lattay. During last year Ivan bought Jo Pithon's vineyards, Pascal Laffourcade's ten hectares of Quarts de Chaume and nearly three hectares in Savennières – creating his new Domaine Bel Argus, which I think is an exciting project for both Anjou and for Loire Chenin Blanc, the new domaine's sole focus.

We met Ivan and his new winemaker 24-year-old Adrien Moreau. Ivan explained how the new venture had come about.

"It had been intended that Jules, Jo Pithon's son and his partner Tania, would take over Pithon-Paillé. However, Jules and Tania separated and Jules decided against taking over. Jo and Isabelle, Jo's wife, decided to sell as they were ready to retire. Because of the frosts 2016 and 2017 had been difficult for Jo."

For a number of years Ivan has had a house in Champigny-sur-Veude to the south of Chinon. "For a long time I have been looking to buy a domaine in Anjou. I am particularly interested in single varietal wines and am a lover of those from Burgundy and have a passion for Chenin Blanc. I have often spoken with Patrick Baudouin. Last February I was with Patrick at the Salon des Vins de Loire. He told me that Jo Pithon's  estate was up for sale. I had never heard of Jo."

Patrick took Ivan to meet Jo at the Salon and early next day he was with Jo visiting the steeply sloping Clos des Treilles. There were a few others interested in acquiring Jo's domaine but Ivan soon emerged as the front-runner and the deal was completed on 6th June. Ivan explained that the Clos is not in the best state with some vines missing. The financial restraints imposed by the two successive years of frost would have made it difficult to do all the necessary replacements. 

excess bunches 
Generous 2018 crop @l’Echarderie

At the same time Ivan bought Pascal Laffourcade's ten hectares in the Quarts de Chaume Grand Cru. These ten hectares are in one sole block around Pascal's Château de l’Echarderie. This represents a quarter of the appellation. I mentioned that I had been been walking in the Quarts de Chaume in October last year and had noted that the vines around l'Echarderie were carrying a considerable crop. "We made mostly dry wines from these grapes," said Ivan.  

More recently Ivan has bought nearly three hectares in Savennières adjacent to the Roche aux Moines. This brings his new domaine up to 26 hectares. 

adrien moreau
 Adrien Moreau

Ivan encouraged Adrien, the young wine-maker, to introduce himself. 

"I joined in October for the end of the harvest." Adrien said. "I come from the Beauce and my parents are cereal farmers.  I studied wine-making at Paris and Montpellier along with spells at Cheval Blanc, Haut-Brion and Harlan Estate in the Napa Valley. In April 2018 I joined Roederer in Champagne and was there for the harvest, which was exceptional. I was very interested by the Roederer's vine collection and especially the work on Pinot Noir sélection massale,"

adrien moreaua

"What I like about Adrien," added Ivan, "is that he is more than a technician. Adrien is passionate about wine, a good taster and very keen to learn."

"2019 will be a year of reflection," explained Ivan. "This is a collective adventure – it is not about my ego. Anjou is not well known. Wine amateurs are becoming aware that Anjou has some grand terroirs." Ivan is keen that the general wine drinking public discover Anjou's potential. The current winery in Saint-Lambert will be considerably improved. It hasn't been decided whether to demolish the old building and start again. Possibly they may decide to build a new winery elsewhere.

Other details of Domaine Belargus were covered in an earlier post here.   

After introducing the project we went down into the cellar to taste the 2018 Chenins from barrel. Covering dry wines from Savennières, Les Bonnes Blanches (Saint-Lambert-du-Lattay), dry Chenin made in the Quarts de Chaume and Les Treilles. We finished with the sweet wines – delicacy and finesse from Belargus, Les Treilles (tiny production), 1er Cru Chaume Coteaux du Layon, and two parcels in the Quarts de Chaume – Les Rovers et Les Quarts with the latter currently more expressive. Ambroisie (35.5˚ potential) from Quarts de Chaume set us up for our return to the Cher Valley.  These wines are all still babies but 2018 looks very promising, very precise and well balanced. 

jo pithon
 Jo Pithon

Jo Pithon joined us part of the way through the tasting. He looked very relaxed – retirement is clearly suiting him!  It was also apparent that he and Ivan have a mutual respect. 

ivan and jo
Ivan and Jo

Suffice to say that I was very impressed by Ivan and his Chenin Blanc project. Ivan stressed that this is very much a nine-strong team of mixed ages from Adrien in his early twenties to Jo at retirement and Guy Bossard, as the consultant for helping the entire domaine to become biodynamic. Interesting and encouraging that Ivan has persuaded Guy to take Belargus on as his only consultancy, choosing someone who knows the Loire intimately and not plumping for a 'stellar' consultant from Bordeaux or elsewhere and who already advises a large clutch of domaines.

After the harvest all of the team piled into mini-bus and headed to Côte Rotie where they visited a number of vignerons that Jo knows well. In addition to this team building Ivan stressed that they all meet regularly and that everyone is kept informed about what is happening in all aspects of the domaine. 

Jo's last business partner – Philip Fournier (Now Domaine FL) turned out to be a distressing disaster. I hope and think it very likely that that this new project will work much better and Jo will see his work, particularly on the Clos des Treilles, carried on and taken to the next level.

I asked Jo how this new partnership compared to his previous business arrangement. Diametrically different was the response...... 
Ivan, Jo and Adrien   

Thursday, 3 January 2019

Bel avenir pour Bel Argus ?

Ivan Massonnat, owner of the new Domaine Bel Argus  

Today we had a very useful and interesting journey and visit to meet Ivan Massonnat at the winery of Pithon-Paillé in Saint-Lambert-du-Lattay. During last year Ivan bought Jo Pithon's vineyards, Pascal Laffourcade's ten hectares of Quarts de Chaume and nearly three hectares in Savennières – creating his new Domaine Bel Argus, which I think is an exciting project for both Anjou and for Chenin Blanc, the new domaine's sole focus.

This post will be expanded considerably but suffice to say that I was very impressed by Ivan and his Chenin Blanc project. Jo's last business partner – Philip Fournier (Now Domaine FL) turned out to be a distressing disaster. I hope and thuink it very likely that that this new project will work much better and Jo will see his work, particularly on the Clos des Treilles. carried on and taken to the next level. 

Ivan and Jo