Bourgeuil, Vouvray and the Touraine - Easter 2010

The Touraine is one of the most underrated wine areas of France. Time was when it was notorious in some circles for somewhat “stalky” reds made with Cabernet Franc and perhaps too acidic whites made from Chenin Blanc and Sauvignon Blanc.

There were, of course, exceptions – luscious sweet Vouvray and a few good Chinons and Bourgeuils. The rest did not all merit the sharp criticism. The past few years have seen a vast improvement.

Finding a hotel for these trips is always tricky. There has to be sufficient rooms and car parking, a restaurant and it must not too expensive. After extensive searching we settled on the “Luccotel” on the edge of the beautiful and historic town of Loches. It was some way from the vineyards but ticked all the other boxes, as they say. After the customary reception and regional meal on the first evening all 28 participants were ready for the next day’s visits.

The morning began with the Domaine Huët, the leading produce of Vouvray-the queen of Loire whites. Gaston Huët and his father started the domaine in 1928. Gaston was a prisoner of war in the Second World War but returned to take the domaine to great heights. His son-in-law, Noël Pinguet took over in the nineteen seventies and began practising Biodynamic viticulture in the eighties. American investment has meant a very modern tasting room and reception but the winery and more than a kilometer of cellar carved into the rock are of another age. The wines were superb, especially the mature dessert wines.

Lunchtime was a time for eating or sightseeing in the old town of Amboise. The more culturally minded visited the house where Leonardo da Vinci ended his days, others merely ate!

The afternoon was a contrast. A visit to a very new enterprise – the “Closerie de Chanteloup” just outside the town. It was set up by three young men who had met at wine school.
The Guichard family owned the Domaine de Chanteloup for three generations and Vincent Guichard brings vines from the family farm, others are leased , so there are grapes from Amboise and Montlouis. A few years ago they built the first stage of their winery – it looks like a small industrial unit in a field. Frederick Plou left a large family farm to be independent and they were joined by Willy Debenne in 2007. We were shown round by Freddy and his delightful English wife. Some of the wines, notably a Malbec and a Montlouis were excellent. These young men are going places. Look out for their wines being widely available in the UK.

Chinon was the destination for the next morning’s tasting at the winery of Baudry-Dutour. Christophe Baudry and Jean-Martin Dutour joined forces in the nineties to form what is now the foremost enterprise in Chinon. They recently added the renowned Château de la Grille to their existing three domaines. We were met at their ultra-modern and environmentally friendly winery by Sylvine Teston who presented a range of award winning reds and rosés

Damien Lorieux, a young winemaker in Bourgeuil arranged a memorable lunch and tasting in a vast cave cut deep into a hillside. He is a small independent producer but is making a name for himself far outside the appellation.

On to neighbouring St Nicolas-de-Bourgeuil for a tasting at Frederic Mabileau. Although St Nicolas is adjacent to Bourgeuil the “terroir” gives a different character to the wines and Monsieur Mabileau brings full expression to modern style Cabernet Franc.

Our last day started with a visit to Antoine Simoneau who produces some of the best value wines in the Touraine. An ancestor had worked on the estate of the Château de Chenonceau but in 1790 when the French revolution got rid of the “aristos” he was given one hectare. In the following 220 years the estate has grown to almost 60 hectares. The family produce a large range of wines – some good sparkling, some Cabernets, Malbec (known as Cot hereabouts) and some excellent Sauvignon Blanc. We were greeted by Carine, the daughter and after a walk through the vines, an inspection of the winery we went upstairs to the tasting room where we tasted about a dozen wines, led by Carine and her mother who had provided appropriate nibbles.

The Final dinner was held at the hotel – to a mixed reception.

The tour changed many members perceptions of Touraine wine – they tasted many and, in the evenings, drank a good deal.

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