Meusnes, in Touraine (Loire). This season sees many wineries have their Open Doors (Portes Ouvertes) Weekend. At this time of the year, say in april/may, many vignerons have their wines already finished and bottled, and are eager to have their customers come and taste by themselves the newly available vintage. That's all about the Portes Ouvertes, the vignerons often want this special weekend to be festive and they put tasty charcuteries and cheeses on tables in the tasting room or in the vat room so that the visitors enjoy it best.
But more than a simple tasting and purchase thing, the Portes Ouvertes are a family outing, a multigenerational miniature-feast where wine is the chief guest. While you still can drop any day year around in most of these family wineries (including sunday, I confess that I did it more than once that day...) to taste the wines for free before buying a few bottles, the Portes Ouvertes phenomenon offers more rituals, decorum, and just plain fun. Also, the winery staff and owner's family give a hand for the event, making it a relaxing digression where buying wine is a side issue. And if you're broke or in a stingy mood you can have fun chatting and drinking wines without buying any, it will pass unnoticed (I unashamedly admit that I may have done it several times).
But one of these young heads definetely had a taste for wine and kept asking to taste some, to which I may have agreed once (or maybe not, I don't remember). As I didn't want to be at the origin of some uncontrolled addiction, I insisted on the fact that he better not start drinking this type of drink before his late teens or he would have a hard time to keep control. I personnaly think that a bit of wine now and then is not bad for children (it is even proved to prevent binge drinking) but it has to be done under the parents' control and on special occasions. Anyway, visiting cellars, wineries with their parents while they taste wines is excellent for the wine education of children and helps inculcate a moderate and integrated relation with wine and alcohol, on the pattern found in general in southern Europe (this was the morality lesson of the day).
There was also these delicious rillettes and pâtés with bread which were at the disposal of the visitors on the table near the tasting counter, and it helped so much enjoy the tasting.
On the picture on the right, Hubert Sinson pours one his two rosés and someone on the left outside of the frame is going to ask for a sip...
The girl at the stand was nice but we had to rein in the children who tended to loot the free cheese and were'nt very discreet, not that we grown-ups always behave properly but we at least put some mondane manners to our greediness...
I tasted also two rosés :
__The first was a Rosé de Loire AOC 2007, made out of Gamay, Cabernet Franc (majority) and Cabernet Sauvignon. A direct-press rosé, like the next one. Mineral and dry in the mouth (the Cabernet Sauvignon touch) with floral aromas. This is alas the last vintage of this one as they will downsize their Cabernet Franc vineyard. 3 Euro public price.
__The second rosé was a Valençay rosé 2007 or 2008 (they had both and I forgot to note the particular year of the one that I tasted. Direct press of Gamay, Pinot Noir, Pineau d'Aunis (majority), Côt and Cabernet Franc. Pepper and spices aromas, with also fruit notes which according to Olivier Sinson are brought by the Gamay & Pinot Noir part of the blend. 3,9 Euro.
__The Pinot Noir 2007 had my preference, compared to the one from 2008. A Pinot Noir with both the pepper and the fruit. Vineyard near the Sauvignon one, also with flint stones. Short fermentation, 5-6 days, because, Olivier says, they are not looking for tannins, but they want the fruit, the roundness and the pleasure side. He says that the silex, the flintstone, has a drying effect in the mouth, in the end of the mouth particularly, and this effect is toned down after a year, which may be why I preferred the 2007 to the 2008. But the 2008 was also darker, because the yields were considerably lower than usual. Both vintages of Pinot Noir are sold 4 Euro a bottle.
My last try was for the Méthode Traditionnelle, or Champagne-type sparkling, a cuvée named Plaisir du Musa, labelled as Table Wine (2007-not written on the bottle). 100% Chardonnay, harvested in full maturity (12-12,5°), rather ripe compared to what they have usually. They let the fermentation go to 11-11,5° and had the remaining sugar ferment in the bottles. They had this round wine as a result, Brut without being Extra Brut on the palate, with some richness left. The dosage was thus very symbolic. Public price for this sparkling : 5,35 Euro.
There are a few wines that I didn't taste, the Côt, the Côt-Cabernet blend and the late harvest named Rêverie and priced 5,7 Euro for 50 centiliters.
Here around the village of Meusnes and Couffi, south of the Cher river, France had during all of the 18th century the monopoly of flinstone making, thanks to this immense reserve of silex and hard stones in the soil. Just consider : before the revolution, there were no less than 600 hard-stone cutters busy producing thousands of flintstones for all the rifles of the civilized world...This was a sensitive production then, and the best-quality stones, named Pierres de Gouvernement (Government stones) were strictly controlled and reserved for the French armies. It's only with the invention of fulminating caps in 1830 that the flinstones suffered a steep market-contraction, but there was still a sizeable production of flintstones in the region till the 1920s'.
Talleyrand, Napoleon's foreign minister, who was keen at political maneuvering, may have purchased the Chateau de Valençay in 1803 with an idea on the side of his mind (strategic investment), who knows ?
Watching Jean-Jacques Dutrieux select sides of big silex stones to cut his flintstones was fascinating. He would first turn around a big flint, the type of stone that you find commonly when you stroll in the region, including in the vineyards; sometimes these stones have a thin limestone shell on the outside. When he finds the right angle, he begins to strike the stone with his tools, taking off bits of flat stones that he will later finetune into the unmistakable trapezoidal musket flint. This guy can make a dozen of them, ready to use, in just a few minutes.
Asked how he decided to follow this professional path, Jean-Jacques Dutrilleux says answers that he didn't fit in the "normal" world and found his independance and his personal way in this niche of hard-stone cutting workshop. He gets orders from all over the world without much competition. Plus, a flint stone is supposed generally to fire 60 shots, after which it's better to change it or risk fail the spark and thus, the shoooting...
Jean-Jacques Dutrieux has opened in Meusnes a Musée de la Pierre à Fusil where you can learn everything about flint stones and muskets.
As long kids are educated properly about the pros and cons of alcohol, teenage alcohol abuse can be avoided.