The spring visit to a French wine region is becoming an annual event. After successful expeditions to Champagne and Burgundy this year we chose the Loire. Twenty-nine people made there own way to Saumur, where we stayed at the excellent Clos des Bénédictins. The patron, Jean-Luc Délias , had arranged for the “Commaderie du Taste de Saumur” to attend the first evening reception where they inducted one of the society’s most experienced tasters, John Howard OBE, into the Commanderie. With chef Jocelyn Destouches, Jean Luc devised a superb welcoming dinner and tutored tasting for that evening – something he was to repeat on the third night.
Day 2 by coach to visit to Bouvet-Ladubay, perhaps the leading makers of sparkling Saumur, which began with a beautifully shot video about the company, marred only by a commentary whose prose was as purple as an extremely young Cabernet Franc! A whole range of wines were tasted – and a small van load was purchased and taken up the road to the hotel. A pause for lunch in Doué came before a visit to Chateau de Fesles, for some Coteaux de Layon, Savennières and Bonnezeaux.
Late on in the afternoon our coach driver negotiated the lanes to Château de Fosse-Sèche, a small family owned winery run by Ulrich Keller, a Swiss who bought the property a few years ago after making wine in Madagascar. Along with his young son he makes a range of excellent AC Saumur, both red and white, and a Saumur Champigny. It is not an organic vineyard, but one which uses a “Culture raisonné” – sometimes described as “Terra Vitis”. The welcome (not least from the family’s seven dogs) and the quality of the tasting made this one of the highlights of the tour.
There was a change of coach driver for day two. Jean-Marie, an anglophile with good English took us first to Sazilly, near Chinon, the site of Domaine Charles Joguet – rated by Robert Parker as the best maker of Chinon.. The dynamic and engaging Alain Delaunay, one of the owners, conducted a tour of the winery and then got into his white van and guided the coach through a maze of tiny rural roads and finally stopping in what appeared to be a lay-by, miles away from anywhere. In the side of a small cliff there was an iron gate – and behind that another. Down the curious party went and discovered at the bottom of a steep passage cut into the rock, a most amazing series of caves cut from the tufa. Here M. Delaunay led the group through an impressive range of Joguet wines, ranging from an intriguing white through “Varennes de Grand Clos”, “Clos de Chene Vert” to the superb “Clos de la Diotterie” from 70 year old vines. Most of the reds were from the 1999 vintage and needed aging – except for a wonderful magnum of “Varennes de Grand Clos” 1989. A considerable amount of wine was bought and M. Delaunay filled the trusty white van and took it to Saumur for us.
After lunch in Saumur the next stop was “La Grande Vignolle” the troglodyte “habitation seigneuriale” now used as a tasting centre by Domaine Filliatreau. Unfortunately Frederik Filliatreau had to be in the vineyard following a fairly sharp frost that morning, but his sister led an interesting tasting of Saumur – Champigny, Saumur Rouge and an an unusual white.
The Saturday morning started with a visit to the “Distillerie Combier” in Saumur – home of “Triple Sec” made in stills dating back to the middle of the nineteenth century. Tastings over sight-seeing was the order of the day. In the evening was the farewell dinner at the magnificent “Le Prieuré” in Chenehutte – a superb meal accompanied by wines from Bouvet Ladubay.