I happened to be in the Loire when Joe Dressner held his annual meeting last february (humorously dubbed Viti-Valaire International) and although being sick and coughing hard, I decided to pay a visit. Imagine a nice restaurant, l'Herbe Rouge, in the countryside south of Blois buzzing with a crowd of vignerons from France and Italy and distributors from the US working with Joe Dressner. The distributors came from very different places like the east coast, California, Texas, and had also probably attended the Salon d'Angers (Loire Wines Fair) and a couple other wine events during the same trip. But this one event was more intimate and Joe Dressner had found the energy to be there and enjoy the company and the wines. When I arrived at about 3pm, people were just leaving the tasting tables and seating for lunch. After chatting with Denyse who was having a cigarette outside, I said hello to Joe and to several vignerons and went to the deserted tasting table to taste a few wines. My throat couldn't let me appreciate any of the few reds that I tried but somehow it was much easier with the whites. Very nice surprises, in particular with Italian whites : Cascina Degli Ulivi, la Merla Bianca Monteferrato 2007, a beautiful white with 15,5° alcohol but such an acidity that you didn't feel it. light sugary feel too. Another white from the same winery that I liked was a Montemarino Duemi Salette, vino di tavola (table wine) : a 13° wine from Novi Ligure with a beautiful generous mouth. Then a white Burgundy from Catherine & Claude Maréchal, Cuvée Antoine 2007 was also fine, with a very nice balance and dry fruits aromas.
After that, I joined the lunch tables even though I had already eaten and chatted with a few people, beginning with Philippe Pacalet who was in good company and poured me his Monthelie 1er Cru Clos Gauthey 2007, nice and fresh. His friend Monica, who is from Brasil, pours me another nice Italian white : Cascina degli Ulivi (again) Filagnotti, Gavi 2006, a honeyed, well-balanced wine with substance.
Good bottles kept coming and I had more than one good sip, with somewhere in the back of my mind, my conscience raising a flag against the high probability of alcohol breath checks on the road this saturday evening when I would leave this party for my base. Philippe Pacalet is opinionated on that subject, he has only one point left on his (originally) 12-point-driving-permit after loosing a few points in Burgundy following a tasting with clients. The police didn't want to hear his story, he went into an argument and was brought to the police station from which he was released only after a few hours.I myself lost a few points due to excessive speed, including recently on the motorcycle on my way to the Loire. Click anywhere on this map of France to locate and have idea of the density of these fixed automatic radars - the worse for the motorcycles are the yellow pins, they flash the back of the vehicule... I think that the speed and alcohol checks are going over the board in this country. Could be a good rant and post subject. Among the other vignerons I spoke to were Noella Morantin, Pierre Breton (here speaking with the gorgeous Piemontese Alessandra Bera who made the nice sparkling Moscato d'Asti Barbera), René Mosse, Thierry Puzelat. There was also several Americans among whom Shawn Mead, David Lillie and Paul Courtright with whon I spoke a bit. For the info, David Lillie is pictured here with a glass of Marcel Richaud and Fifi with the very nice Cheverny les Ardilles (I can't read my notes, I think it was a 2002).
The first red was a Gamay, she has 12 casks of it. Beautiful fruity Gamay, ready now already I think. She thought initially that it was a "thirst wine", a vin de soif, but actually this 12° wine which was vinified in a stainless steel vat, whole-clustered with 13 days of carbonic maceration, has substance and she decided to have it go through an elevage in old casks for several months. She racked it a few days ago into a fiberglass vat for a bottling somewhere in mid april.This wine is absolutely sulphur-free, but the labels are already designed and there's still the words "contains sulphites" on it. Remember if you buy a bottle, zero SO2 here. Retail price for the public at the estate will be 7 Euro.I remember a particular Gamay that Noëlla gave us a few years ago (a magnum) while she worked at les Bois Lucas and that we kept a few months in the cellar, so beautiful.
The second wine is her Cot 2008, also made from purchased grapes. I'm surprised by the fact that this Cot is aready so much round and pleasant, without the usual astringency found on many Cot wines, especially in the early years. Here the tannins are discreet though present, there is almost some sort of silkyness in the mouth.. The grapes were partly destemmed (manually) and macerated 18 days. We tasted it straight from a vat but she decided to let it age some time in casks, and she put it in the casks just emptied a few days ago from the Gamay. She thinks the old casks will bring some structure. Planned bottling : june or july. Public price at the estate will be 11 Euro.
Listen to the podcast interview Ray gave on GrapeRadio.
Didier Barouillert was using an air-powered pruner that is not very common, at least to me : the pruner gets its power from the pressure tank at the back of the tractor and with a very long rubber-tube he can prune a row to the end. With the large size of the tank, he gets enough power to work for hours when with the small units found on the market, you're obliged to let the engine running to keep the pressure. he says that he has been using that system for years and that's the most economic he knows. The battery-powered ones need a regular replacement of the battery part and parts are very expensive. Here, he has no such hassles, you just have to be used to maneuver with the long rubber tube.
After leaving him, we passed the 100-year-old-Cot vineyard of Clos Roche Blanche [picture on the left], beautiful, strong vines which have made all the way through the 20th century in their woody environment. Amazing
The "Vieil Ecu", Vin de Table de France is bottled in Belleville 69220, north of Lyons.Hard-plastic cork, no origin indicated whatsoever, nothing about the variety. The back label says a few nice things that you won't find in the wine like ripe red fruits aromas, round mouth with silkyness [!], pairs well with sauced meats and cheeses. The nose is strange, cardboard, says B. Later, I'll hint vague burned-plastic smells. Mouth lacking substance, a bit burning, the 12,5° alcohol isn't balanced at all. But, well, it's not as bad as we might have expected, I mean this is one Euro, of which the taxes make 20%, then you have the glass-bottle, the store's margin, the transportation. We're speaking of a wine that is worth maybe 50 cents, I visualize huge tank train cars (don't count on me to bash a particular region...) full with the cheap commodity. After a quick taste, the rest of the bottle went down the drain. I'm thinking to the wine (red and white) that I buy in bulk from time to time in the Loire for barely more than one Euro a liter : first, it can really be called wine and I know where it comes from, I could even locate the vineyard if I asked...
The Rioja 2005 Vina Tesos is an Appellation wine. The back label offers more information (in French) : estate located in Fuenmayor in the middle of the Rioja area [....] 24-month elevage in the estate including 12 months in oak casks. Tempranillo and Mazuelo varieties, generous and fruity, etc... While also very generous themselves, the tasting notes on the back label of this 3,99-euro wine are less out of touch with the actual wine. the nose is not expressive but the (short) mouth offers substance and soft spices notes, with also a buttery feel. Could make it for a barbecue. The wine found in these discount grocery stores is mostly on pair with the poor chicken of the meat shelves, an industrial product without soul, but some good suprises may lay await (or may not)...
It is always noteworthy to remember that you can find natural, real wines for as little as about 5 Euro in several Paris wine shops, so, except if you're in dire shortage of wine and kilometers away from the right retailer, you better ponder the pertinence of purchasing wine in a discount grocery store, although we bought from a similar grocery store (for a picnic along the Seine) last summer two interesting wines.