Unsung jewels of The Loire – Chinon & Saumur
Before coming away to France this summer I drank and recommended plenty of wines from the Loire. I found them to be perfect summer wines, and having so far spent four days in the Chinon area I am an even bigger convert, if that was at all possible. If one word can define the wines of Chinon and Saumur it has to be FRESH. The Chenin Blanc has such a lively streak of citrus-sherbet acidity, and the reds made from Cabernet Franc conjure up thoughts and tastes of summer pudding.
I love the Chenins of Vouvray and it saddens me beyond belief to read about the hailstorms in June that wreaked havoc with the 2013 and most likely 2014 vintages. I wanted to visit the region on this trip but the winemakers are so busy supporting one another that there isn’t the time to spend with wine tourists. It’s incredibly sad that we won’t be able to drink the bounty of Vouvray over the next couple of years. Given the geographical proximity, fans of Chenin Blanc should count themselves lucky that Chinon and Saumur are producing such good examples of this splendid variety.
Chinon is delightful town on the banks of the Vienne river, steeped in centuries of history. A visit to the marvellously restored fortress is a must for anyone visiting the area and tells the various stories of kings, heroines and dragons. We arrived on the day of the annual “Marche Medieval”, where the whole town dresses in garb from centuries ago and eats food as it was in times gone by – this town lives and breathes its history. But they are making new history every year with their fantastic wines. I visited one of the most passionate winemakers I have ever met at Chateau Petit Thouars, on the edges of the appellation and loved what he is doing with Cabernet Franc – the next post will all be about Michel and his wines. With every meal in the town I have loved these fruit-driven, easy drinking wines and hope that we soon start to see them appearing with greater frequency on the lists of wine merchants and restaurants in the UK.
We also spent a day in Saumur and as well as enjoying one of the best meals of the trip at Bistro de la Place in the Place St-Pierre, we visited the Loire outpost of Champagne Bollinger at Langlois-Chateau (the Chateau being the maiden name of one of the founders). This sparkling wine house was founded in 1912 and bought by Bolly in 1973. Today the estate produces sparkling and still wines and is a great introduction to the ones of the region (they also own property in Muscadet and Sancerre to give you a real flavour of the Loire from West to East). The visit includes an introduction to winemaking, a tour of the vat room and a visit to their 4km of chalk cellars beneath the primes. This is topped off with a tasting of ten wines… And all of this for €5… Which is refunded if you make a purchase!
Below are my notes from the tasting – these wines may not set your world alight but they will provide plenty of joy… Especially at these prices (all prices per bottle direct from the estate).
I would just encourage you to search out the red, white, rose and sparkling (Cremant de Loire) wines of Chinon and Saumur – I promise you will not be disappointed and you’ll be back for more pretty swiftly.
Domaine Langlois-Chateau Saumur Blanc 2012 (€7.70)
100% Chenin Blanc. So pale in the glass but inviting aromas of apple, citrus and peach. Huge streak of acidity and flavour of apple, ripe pear and a hint if honey. A perfect afternoon quaffer. 87 points
Chateau de Fontaine-Audon Sancerre Blanc 2011 (€14.00)
100% Sauvignon Blanc. This estate in Sancerre is owned by the same group but doesn’t live up to the wines from Langlois-Chateau. White blossom, citrus just a touch of green pepper on the nose but the flavours fall off before you even get a chance to distinguish them! An example of paying over the odds for the Sancerre name. 82 points
Domaine Langlois-Chateau Vieilles Vignes Saumur Blanc 2005 (€15.95)
100% Chenin Blanc, aged in oak for 12 months. Rich, toast and buttery on the nose but so fresh on the palate, which delivers apple skin and ripe nectarine. The oak is pleasant at the end and the wine us beautifully balanced. Reminds me of an oaked premier Cru Chablis. 92 points
Domaine Langlois-Chateau Cabernet du Saumur Rosé 2012 (€7.55)
100% Cabernet Franc. Very pale and heaps of strawberry sherbet on the nose – smells fun. Nice early hit if soft red fruit but drops off pretty quickly. 85 points
Chateau de Fontaine-Audon Sancerre Rouge 2011 (€14.00)
100% Pinot Noir. I’ve heard that Sancerre reds are picking up in quality but this certainly isn’t one of them. Looks like a rosé that has had a couple of days of skin contact. Smells of damp earth with the merest hint of red fruit. Mouth puckeringly dry and flavours of underripe red fruit. One I forget. 77 points
Domaine Langlois-Chateau Saumur Rouge 2010 (€7.45)
100% Cab Franc. Raspberry and red currants jump out if the glass and the aromas scream if summer pudding. Bags if fruit and not much else… But that’s the point! Fun quaffer – drink chilled in the garden. 87 points
Domaine Langlois-Chateau Saumur-Champigny 2011 (€8.80)
100% Cab Franc. Deeper and more concentrated than the Saumur rouge and also has a delicious hint of black pepper. Very ripe red fruits fill the mouth and the pepper is there at the end if a generous finish. Nice stuff, especially at this price. 89 points
Domaine Langlois-Chateau Brut Medaille d’Or Cremant de Loire NV (€10.45)
60% Chenin Blanc, 20% Chardonnay, 20% Cabernet Franc, spends 24 months on lees. Honey, apples and pastry aromas which are very pleasant indeed. Very dry but there’s a delightful hint of honey right at the end, after the apples and peaches have dissolved. Lovely light mousse of bubbles. This would make a superb wedding sparkler instead if a cheap, naff Champagne! 89 points
Domaine Langlois-Chateau Rose Brut Cremant de Loire NV (€10.65)
100% Cab Franc. Soft red fruits first, but the astringent finish is quite flat and unpleasant. 82 points
Domaine Langlois-Chateau Reserve Millesime Brut Cremant de Loire 2005 (€12.95)
60% Chenin Blanc, 20% Chardonnay, 20% Cabernet Franc, spends 48 months on lees. The aromas are a supercharged of the non-vintage and the initial attack us the same but really drops off very quickly. I’m not convinced the bottle was in the best condition so lets leave it there. N/A