Showing posts with label Chinon. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Chinon. Show all posts

Friday, January 24, 2014

Really Old Vines and just about old vines! From the Loire.

Really Old Vines and just about old vines! From the Loire.

Have been doing a bit of work (drinking!) on the subject of old vines and, in general, it seems that, other things being equal, it is worthwhile paying something of a premium for the wines from the gnarled old vines. With that in mind, why not try a few and compare them with a regular wine from the same vineyard, which is often possible. I’ve been doing that over the years and have regularly come down on the side of the wine from the older plantings.

But what is old? Twenty five years, fifty years. The experienced wine commentator Mary Dowey reckons it has to be “forty years at least” and cautioned that not all varieties benefit from age. “It doesn’t do anything for Cabernet Sauvignon or Merlot but Grenache is well suited.” The main benefit is an “intensity of flavour, really concentrated”. 
Pony on left is not interested in wine!
Vignes Centenaire de Minière, Bourgueil 2009, 13.5%, €19.00 at the château.
Colour is a dark ruby and the aromas are of dark fruit. It is refreshing and concentrated, with a strong element of dark fruit flavours; it is smooth, rich with hints of spice and has an excellent dry finish.

The local pony club, at least the adults on the party, were finishing an outdoor tasting when we pulled into sunny Chateau de Minière in the heart of the Bourgueil appellation last summer. After a pleasant hour, maybe two, we finished off our tasting under the shady trees with this wine made from the local stalwart, Cabernet Franc. Loved it then and love it now.

The fruit comes from vines that average more than 100 years old and it has spent two years in oak. The grapes are hand harvested and hand sorted, all under the direction of wine-maker Eric Goujat. Belgian couple, Kathleen and Sigurd, took over the chateau a few years back and have the vineyard in conversion to organic, a process that is almost complete.

Wines that are labelled VieillesVignes (generally more than 30 years old) can command a premium. This is the château’s most expensive wine but worth it, I think. Not all  vines are suitable for long age but Cabernet Franc seems to do well on it in this area!

In the cool cellars of Montplaisir (Chinon)
Domaine de L’Abbaye Vieilles Vignes Chinon 2008, 12.5%, €7.50 at Cave Montplaisir in Chinon.

Aromas of pepper and spices and dark berries are a feature here. On the palate it is refreshing and fruity, with engaging fruit flavours and a lingering dry finish. A very Cabernet Franc and good value too, at least in France!

According to the current World Atlas of Wine, the wines of Chinon are “absurdly undervalued”. That opinion is reinforced by the quality and price of this bottle.

The vines are single varietal Cabernet Franc over 35 years old. It is aged in the cellars in oak barrels for about 12 months depending on the vintage. 

Find out more here 


Anjou Blanc Vieille Vignes 2009, €15.00 at Chateau Soucherie
A tasting at Chateau Soucherie saw us start with two classy wines, the Anjou Blanc Vielles Vignes 2009 and the more expensive Savennières Clos des Perrières 2010. Could have spent more time with these two but, on the initial tasting, put my money on the Vieilles Vignes (and even more of it on the Chaume that we came to later on).

The Vieilles Vignes was another winner  for the old vine brigade. “A unique wine from vines of more than 80 years, rich and round, delicious as an accompaniment to veal stew.”

Probably should have bought more of it as, on our way out to the car in the baking parking area, we were told that the 80 year old plants had been dug up and this was the last of the old stuff! So, if you do come across it, do buy some and include one or two for me! I have none left now and indeed I seem to have mislaid my notes on it. But it was a beautiful well balanced wine, another confirmation for me that wines from old wines are worth exploring!

You may check out the Château’s tasting notes (by Olivier Poussier, once voted the Best Sommelier in the World!) here.  





Wednesday, December 11, 2013

The Red Zone of the Loire


The Red Zone of the Loire
Underground in Chinon.
Read more about my 3 weeks in the Loire Valley here
Let me take you to the red zone of the Loire Valley. Let us start in Chinon, just west of Tours. Chinon (population c.16,000) is a lovely old town, full of history (Jean d’Arc, Eleanor of Aquitaine, Rabelais, etc…) and surrounded by vineyards, and is the heart of the appellation of the same name.

The appellation is situated mainly in the triangle formed as the Vienne and Loire rivers meet and also includes some communes to the south of the Vienne. And I’ve read in the latest Wine Atlas of the World (a terrific book) that some seven communes to the west of the Vienne are soon to be included.

Immediately north of the confluence of the two rivers you come to Bourgueil and appellations named after that town and its close neighbour St Nicolas. Wine is so important here that there is a huge wine bottle outside the church in St Nicolas and a huge bunch of grapes is a centrepoint on at least one roundabout..

The communes to the west of the Chinon appellation come under the general Touraine label and I’m sure that the seven mentioned in the Wine Atlas would jump at the chance to join up. Hopefully, Chateau du Petit Thouars will be included as they make some great wines from their Cabernet Franc, the red grape for both neighbouring Chinon and Bourgueil.

Domaine du Raifault, Clos du Villy, Chinon 2009, 12.5%, €7.60 at Caves de Montplaisir
Okay, let’s start at the heart of it, in Chinon itself. Along the bank of the Vienne on the road to the west, you’ll find the unusual wine cellar called Caves de Montplaisir.  The cellar, “unique in the Loire Valley, is a former underground quarry of over 2,500 square metres”. The tufa (a type of limestone) extracted was used to build many castles and manor houses in the region.

It is a pretty cool place in more senses than one! Indeed, there was one area where you need a brolly as the water drips through from the top of the town, many metres above. They were busy at reception when we arrived so we had our own little tour among the damp and mould inducing  “chambers”, passing much wine in storage including some 1977 Chinon and small lots dating back to 1947, 1921 and 1893.

But when it came to tasting and buying (they represent three growers), we came much more up to date and included this 2009 in our lot. It has excellent fruit flavours (with an almost silky mouthfeel) and well matched by a refreshing acidity, then a good long finish and overall is pretty typical of the Chinon reds. I've really gotten to like this grape and what they do with it where the Vienne and Loire meet.
Chateau du Petit Thouars, Selection 2009, Touraine, 12.5%, €5.00 at Chateau

This vineyard, situated in the area of St Germain sur Vienne, is outside the Chinon and Bourgueil appellations. It is owned by Sebastien du Petit Thouars - his winemaker is the experienced Michael Pinard - and is regularly regarded as a top producer (see High Johnson handbook 2014 for example).

This 2009 is quite aromatic, notes of red fruit evident. It has a lively refreshing palate with soft tannins and shows the ripe Cabernet Franc (in another good year here) at its best. And, at its best, it is a memorable glass indeed.

Domaine Thibault, Bourgueil 2005, 12%, €6.80 at Syndicat des Vins de Bourgueil.
After one of the quickest ever tasting sessions (about three minutes flat for six wines), we bought this Thibault at the local syndicate. From a good year, it is really smooth and velvety on the palate. Colour is light red and the nose is fruity with some spice. 
The domaine is certified biologique since the early 90s but organics have been in practice here since 1974. There are two types of soil in the area, one tuffeau (rocky), the other graviers (gravelly). This one comes from the rocky area but sometimes even locals find it hard to spot the difference in a blind tasting.

Domaine de la Closerie, Vielles Vignes, Bourgueil 2005, 13%, €8.00 at Syndicat des Vins de Bourgueil.
This was another purchase from the syndicat and another where the grapes were grown on the tuffeau. Another excellent buy, even if I say so myself! It is a "traditional wine of the estate, this is a very nice open nose and palate with aromas of red fruits". All that and more, underlining again the quality available in Bourgueil and neighbouring St Nicolas.

Not sure you’ll be able to find these exact wines in Ireland but Loire wines are widely available, more whites than reds admittedly. Still, my recent check revealed that Curious Wines, Karwig Wines, and Ballymaloe (at Brown Thomas), sell Chinon red.

* Read more about my 3 weeks in the Loire Valley here





Saturday, September 7, 2013

Smooth Sailing All The Way Home

Day 21 & 22

Smooth Sailing All The Way Home
Our trusty steed takes a break as we "picnic" near Pouancé
The thunderstorms forecast for the Loire and for Brittany never materialised or at least not on our route from Chinon to Roscoff last Friday. True, there were a few showers in Brittany but nothing major and, indeed, the trip to the port was a very easy one.

The only bit of autoroute came early on and took us close to Angers. With time on our hands andthe sun shining most of the time, we made plenty of stops, one of them off piste and in the vicinity of Pouancé. Luckily, we stumbled on a nice picnic site (sign-posted) near the local football pitches and enjoyed a pleasant break before heading back to the main road.

The Sat-Nav, in conjunction with the map reader of course, took us safely through the Rennes Rocade and soon we were on the final leg, the N12 towards Morlaix and Roscoff. After another stop or two, arrived at the port just as the Pont Aven as coming in but it took another two hours, indeed it was just shortly before sailing time of 9.15pm (Friday), that we got on board.

Winding down: Closing time approaches in the Pont Aven Bar
Then it was time for some food. With the hour being rather late, we headed for the excellent self service and two excellent chicken dishes (mine a Poutlet Basque),  two desserts  and two bottles of water, and cost us less than thirty euro. Headed for the bar then only to bump into a bunch of former work colleagues returning from an annual golf trip.

This crossing was one of the very smoothest we’ve ever enjoyed on the Pont Aven and she docked in Ringaskiddy bang on the scheduled time of 10.00am (Saturday). After the inevitable delay in unloading, we eagerly hit the Cork roads and soon landed at home. Nice and uneventful trip and that’s the way we like them.

Roches Point, one of the arms of Cork Harbour, a welcome sight.








Thursday, September 5, 2013

Riverboat Trip as we Wind Down in Chinon

Day 20

Riverboat Trip as we Wind Down in Chinon
It is our last full day in Chinon. It is also very warm indeed, up and beyond 30 degrees. Just looked at the wall thermometer in our courtyard terrace and it is threatening to go off the scale that peaks at 50C. For these reasons, this is an easy day.
Baubles 'n bangles at Market
Got up a little later than usual before heading for the market. Made a bee line to the Asian speciality stall and joined the queue. Enjoyed the chit chat with Madame as we stocked up for lunch and evening. Also had a good look around and bought one or two presents.
Busy fruit stall. The grapes,
for eating, are Italian.
Got back around noon and headed straight for the pool. Cooled down and as we walked back to our gite we picked a few plums from the numerous trees in the garden. Did I tell you we have been living in a cave for the past three weeks? And I don’t mean a wine cellar.
Our suntrap! A "foot" of the cave
may be seen on the right (with flowers)
Les Cathelinettes is built on three levels.   The first building is the main one where the hosts, Sylvie and Roger, live and where they also have two B & Bs. Next level up is where we are, a 2/3 person gite built into the hill and an existing cave and termed Troglodyte. These kind of buildings are very common around here and also in the Dordogne. Another gite, a slight bigger one, is built above us.

By the way, you’d never know you’re living in a cave. It looks like an ordinary house but has the advantage of staying nice and cool in this very hot weather. All holiday makers here, and there could be up to a dozen at times, share the pool. In practice though, we’ve always had it to ourselves, often having to take the cover off. It has been fantastic facility the way the weather has turned out.
Chinon and its fortress from our river-boat today.
Chinon too – we can walk to the centre in 20 minutes – is a lovely and sometimes lively town, lots to see and do here and it is also well placed for touring to the east and west as there is a terrific road network.

We used the bigger roads, including autoroutes, to get to places like Vouvray, Amboise and Chenonceau and smaller ones most of the time. They take you through the fields. The landscape, aside from a few hills, is mostly level and quite often the roads are straight. 
A little riverside beach.
We enjoyed some lovely drives with the fields alongside. Crops of Corn on the Cob, Vines (of course) and Sunflowers are the main ones at this time of year. The sunflowers may be a disappointment to some of you. Now, in September, they look delicate, like faded golden paper dolls, all bowing to the inevitable and awaiting the grim reaper, the yellow of their vibrant youth long gone.

Roused ourselves in mid-afternoon and headed down to the tour boat dock. It turned out to be third time lucky. And, with a nice little (very little) breeze on the water, our mini-cruise on the flat-bottomed boat up and down the Vienne was delightful. Some nice views, especially those of the Fortress.






Wednesday, September 4, 2013

Big Heat Hits Loire. Two wine visits

Day 19

Big Heat Hits Loire. Two wine visits

Teach 'em young!
Super September continued in the Loire Valley with temperatures exceeding 30 degrees and boosting the hopes of wine producers such as Sebastien at Chateau Du Petit Thouars for a super harvest next month.  Rain, forecast for the weekend, will also be a help. Big juicy grapes!

We called back there after a couple of weeks to catch up with the news. Sebastien had been in Sligo for a wedding and his and Darcy’s daughter Elizabeth had taken her first steps and gave us a little demonstration. Great to meet up again with the trio and purchase some more of their fabulous wines, all destined for a trip to Ireland at the weekend.
Chateau du Petit Thouars
Back then to the gite and saw that the thermometer on the wall in the courtyard was getting up towards fifty – this is quite a sun trap as the general temperature is about thirty. Nothing for it but to tog out and take the few steps to the pool and soon we were cooling down.

Over a light lunch, we found we were a little short of Chinon wine, of all things. So we headed off to the riverside cave of Mon Plaisir, another one of those cellars built into the tufa, “free” cellars again, but very impressive even if many of the casks and barrels were covered in a fungus! Skipped the white and roses and went for the reds in the tasting and came away with some 2008 and 2009. 

Cave Mon Plaisir
Happy out but not so happy when we turned up at the opposite river bank for an expected boat trip up the river (Vienne). For the second time, we were disappointed as we were the only two that showed up. The boatman said he had twenty the day before.
Mould on bottles of Chinon 1979
So back to the car and up the river to Montsoreau, just where the Vienne and the Loire meet. Quite a lot of activity on the wide waters and we enjoyed a pleasant spell there.
Fun on the river
Amazing how many restaurants around here stay closed on Wednesdays and that was one of the factors, the heat another, in our eating at the gite this evening. On the way back from Montsoreau, we raided the traiteur and loaded up with pate, salads, main courses and a vegetable gratin. Over across the little square then to the baker and a nice little boule (it doesn’t always have to be baguette – there is a huge range here) and a couple of their winemaker tartlets!

Loire speedsters
Should be a lovely evening as the temperatures are still way up! A demain.
Winemaker's Rartlet - this evening's dessert from the baker.








Saturday, August 31, 2013

Two men of France, Richelieu and Rabelais. And some animals!

Day 15
Two men of France, Richelieu and Rabelais. And some animals!
Would Richelieu approve?
Those of you following my Loire story will be aware that I’ve “met” some admirable women here, including Eleanor of Aquitaine and Jean d’Arc. Today, it is the turn of two men, beginning with Cardinal Richelieu, a major influence in French politics, for much of the time what we’d call a prime minister today, in the 17th century, having been consecrated a bishop in 1608, and the man responsible to a large degree for the flight of the Huguenots to Cork and elsewhere.

You’ll find the Wikipedia article on him here. Not too far south of Chinon, Richelieu set about building a walled town to be named after him. And he made such a good job of it that much of it remains today, with the glaring exception of his own chateau.

 We thought we’d hit the jackpot when we saw a load of stalls in the market place and the outstanding timber framed market hall, another thriving Richelieu relic, all set up for a feast. But the fun and games weren’t due to start for some hours.

Still we had a walk in the magnificent park, another legacy from the cardinal, and saw some of the animal and farm machinery exhibitions being set up, including some very strange forms of poultry and a great line-up of vintage tractors (some with machinery on tow).
The Cardinal. "I want...."


Big Boy. Rabelais's Gargantua
Sixteenth century Francois Rabelais was the complete Renaissance man, a monk (of at least two orders), a doctor, a major writer and a humanist. We visited his original home in La Deviniere today, a modest enough dwelling, though hugely enlarged by its underground caves, which have many uses.

Between La Deviniere and a nearby Abbaye de Seuilly there is a short walk, a pleasant one. The 600 metres is lined with banners, mostly with quotes from Rabelais. “I love you from the bottom of my liver” is one. “To philosophize in wine, not in vain” is another.  His humanist tendencies are underlined with “Try every art of peace”.
Try all the arts of peace. 
Read them all on the way back to the car park at La Deviniere and soon we were on our way to Chinon and to our favourite traiteur. Every holiday maker in France, especially if you don’t want to do any cooking, should check out the best local traiteur on arrival.

They make lovely cooked dishes, including some French classics, at a fraction of restaurant prices. Quality is usually good (you should try at least two shops) and the meals just need re-heating in the oven or microwave. We bought enough for two main courses each for about thirty six euro and are all set up for the weekend. Back to the restaurants after that!

And the wine this evening? Nothing less than bubbles and a very special rosé sparkler from yesterday’s visit to Chateau Minière. Eating and drinking, included among the arts of peace. Cheers.





Well Fed at Les Années 30

Day 14 (Part 2)
Well Fed at Les Années 30

2009


Crazy Salad and Aspic Bunny featured in the menu that drew us to Les Annees 30 in Chinon last evening. Well not in the restaurant's French language menu, but in the Google translation. Also, we had a recommendation from Sylvie, our hostess here at the gite.

Sylvie has good taste! It was an excellent meal, quite leisurely with French style service meaning a 10.15 pm exit after a 7.30pm entrance. But, in between, we enjoyed four lovely courses, some quite superb dishes and a bottle of excellent local Chinon wine.

Amuse Bouche
Rabbit in aspic, Grapefruit and Ginger, Ice Mustard, Surf Pink Grapefruit, 
Bouquet of Mesclun with Coriander. A superb starter.
Cream Codfish cumbava,Sandre chips and Smoked Salmon, 
Parmesan, Salad, Sauce Beetroot Balsamic Vinegar.
Loved this, especially with the other two fish, the
salmon and the sandre (river perch)
Dorade Redfish Snackée, Mashed Potatoes with Olive Oil and Fresh Cheese,
Espuma of Broccoli, Cream Lemon Tarragon. Five star dish!
Fillet Roasted Duckling Chinon Wine Jam, Duxelle Mushrooms, 
Roasted Pear and Celery Cream of the Tonka Bean.
Another five star!
Red fruit "soup", iced Pistachio with Amarena

Chocolate Mousse Guayaquil and Madagascar (chef's specialty),
Caramel Ice Lavender and Violet. Top class choc!







Thursday, August 29, 2013

The magic gardens of Villandry. Chinon Market and the Wines of Bourgueil

Day 13
The magic gardens of Villandry. 
Chinon Market and the Wines of Bourgueil
Joachim Carvallo and Ann Coleman were the couple that, in the early 20th century, bought Chateau Villandry and created the 16th century style gardens that you can enjoy today. The chateau was built in 1536. We were there today and, with the aid of two very good booklets, enjoyed both the house and the gardens.
While the gardens are undoubtedly the star of the place there are many treasures inside the building. The one that really stood out was the Mudejar ceiling, which combines elements of both Christian and Moorish art and was brought by Carvallo from a 15th century palace in Toledo.
From the chateau you step out on to high terraces overlooking the gardens and can walk all around, going down to different levels as you wish. The Ornamental Garden, also known as the Love Garden, is best seen from above but you do get closer to the Water Garden (most of the water is recycled) and there is also a Sun Garden and a Maze.
Perhaps the real star is the ornamental kitchen garden where flowers and vegetables mix, well over 115,000 of them! There is a standard rose bush in each plot. The work is ongoing. It takes four gardeners three months each year to prune the 1,015 lime trees! Also needing pruning are the box trees which, if placed end to end, would measure a distance of 52km. All in all, quite a spectacle

The Christian/Arab ceiling

Hot at the chateau today!
After that, it was time for a drink and we headed to the Maison Jean Carmet des Vins de Bourgueil.  Bourgueil wasn’t really damaged by the hailstones earlier in the year so they are looking forward to a good harvest. After a rapid fire tasting, I decided to concentrate on the good years there of 2005, 2009 and 2010. That filled a carton and off we went, intent on dinner.

House of wines!
My man at the market for wine, beer and juice.
It was already in the fridge. First job of the day had been a visit to the local market. Among other stalls, we called to the Asian specialist we met last week and bought those fantastic spring rolls again. Main course though is beef “with three delicacies”. Sipping a local craft beer now in anticipation!
By the way, the crowd at the market was well down on last week.  Looks as if most of the holiday makers have headed home.
St Joan of Arc rides in to the market






Wednesday, August 28, 2013

Lovely meal at Au Chapeau Rouge. Also Vouvray and Vendome

Day 12

Lovely meal at Au Chapeau Rouge. Also Vouvray and Vendome

Au Chapeau Rouge (The Red Hat), in the heart of Chinon and one of the best restaurants in the town, was the venue for this evening’s excellent four course dinner (€29.00).  You can see the picture of the menu above but briefly, after an Amuse Bouche, our starters were Marinated Mullet and Fondant of Rabbit with Foie Gras. 

Marinade de Mulet, almost a carpaccio.
Main courses were outstanding. CL enjoyed her Roasted fillet of young duck while my Mousseline of local fish with a saffron sauce was delightful. The local cheese, St Maure, was served with pear and was gorgeous. The desserts were perhaps the weakest course but were still good. And the wine. A 2008 Chinon by Philipe Brocourt, was light, bright and excellent.
 Mousseline of local fish with a saffron sauce

Chocolate and cherries. Great combo!
First call of the day was to Vendome, about one hour forty minutes from us but about half that for Parisians who have made it a popular weekend retreat. Sometimes called “Little Venice”, the pretty town (Pop. about 18,000), stands on a group of islands on the River Loir (yes, that spelling is correct, it is a different river!).
A beautiful children's garden at rear of abbey in Vendome
First call of the day was to Vendome, about one hour forty minutes from us but about half that for Parisians who have made it a popular weekend retreat. Sometimes called “Little Venice”, the pretty town (Pop. about 18,000), stands on a group of islands on the River Loir (yes, that spelling is correct, it is a different river!).
A 15th century wash house in Vendome
Flowers and water are well used by the council and there are some ancient buildings in the town that changed hands many times during the Hundred Years War. The best known is the Abbaye de la Trinite with its striking ornate facade. It dates back to 1034.

With the visit to Au Chapeau Rouge, we had to go easy at lunch time and found just the solution in the middle of Vendome, a €3.90 deal. It included a sandwich (mine a 12” baguette) with two fillings of your choice, a drink (eg Coke or organgina) and a cookie (from a choice of three). Good stuff and very good value.
At Domaine du Clos de L’Epinay in Vouvray with David (right)
Vouvray, where they put the white grape Chenin Blanc through its paces like nowhere else was an obvious call on the way back. We drove around the little town and then into the heart of the vineyards. Thought that the Domaine du Clos de L’Epinay looked inviting and we called in there.

Got a very warm welcome indeed from David who told us it is a small operation, just two of the family and two employees involved. They were badly hit by the hail earlier in the summer and may salvage just ten per cent of the crop. “That’s nature,” he shrugged.

We had a very good tasting here in a small and homely room. Started with the sparkling and here our purchase choice was the Tete de Cuvee Brut. The demi-sec Cuvee Marcus is a house speciality (named after one of the children) and is a gorgeous drink and the 2009 too formed part of the purchase as did their dry Vouvray 2010.