Wine, wine, wine... My baby sister recently came to visit and, as she is not really a baby at all, but a new college graduate, we decided to take a trip to the Loire and sample the region's finest offerings: the beautiful Abbaye de Fontevraud, the chateau of Chenonceau, and, of course, the Loire wine. Very grown-up stuff befitting a woman in possession of a Bachelors of Science degree, I say.
We had brought along the Hachette wine guide, an annual bible of wine produced in France, rated and described. (I was reading this before bed for a while, but I was having really weird dreams. Fruity ones, with cherry noses, great legs and full bouquets.) Anyway, the plan was to just phone some vineyards in the book and ask if we could stop by for a taste. Eagle-eyed MCM was rereading the Loire guidebook before breakfast (while waiting for Baby and I to dry our hair - serious stuff, you know) and realised that, by marvellous coincidence, our trip coincided with the Vouvray wine festival. We decided that we would check it out on Sunday morning before proceeding to visit a chateau in the afternoon.
That's right. In the morning. This was either brilliance or madness: who goes to a wine festival at 10.30am? It must have been brilliance because we had an absolutely fantastic day, completely forgot about the chateau, and left at 4pm.
Vouvray is located near Tours, in a region known for its troglodyte dwellings: houses, garages and wine caves that are built into the local rock. The festival was held in a huge cave that snaked through the rock, and there were 19 winemakers exhibiting, offering tastes and selling their wine. Entrance was free but you paid 3 euro for a wine glass, which you used to taste the wines and then took home with you; nearly all the wines cost 5-8 euro for a bottle. Definitely a bargain.
Baby, like me, is an expert list-taker and noted down the name, style and year of each wine we tasted. And we tasted... weeeeel... about thirty-five wines. It was fabulous! I loved being able to ask the winemaker questions and the atmosphere was very friendly and not at all snobby. We told the winemakers that we had come to learn and discover new things, and they were all very happy to answer our questions. Baby was initially hesistant: "I don't know anything about wines! I won't be able to tell the difference!" Let me tell you, by noon she was musing about the merits of the 2006 over the 2007 vintage. It goes to show that you learn about wine by tasting it and it's really easy to learn to distinguish both quality and your own personal preferences.
Vouvray makes exclusively white wines from the Chenin grape. There are 4 styles: sec (dry, i.e. not sweet), demi-sec (sweeter), moelleux (quite sweet), and what is variously called petillant, cremant or fines bulles (sparkling). The dominant taste in the dryer wines was fresh green apple; the more mature and the sweeter wines are more floral (like honeysuckle) and honeyed. (Think that's all wine jargon hooohaa? Try one of these next to an oaky chardonnay or lemony sauvignon blanc, and you'll taste the difference). You serve them all quite chilled - say 8-10C/46-52F. Most of the wines have a sweet, inviting aroma, taste fruity but fresh, and pair well with food - not too complicated that they overpower the food, not so light that they taste watery. They're lovely as a pre-dinner drink (aperitif), with fish or shellfish, with light east Asian foods, or with poultry with light creamy sauces. The moelleux wines could be drunk with dessert.
All the wines we tasted were good; of the 35, there were only 1 or 2 that I didn't enjoy. But here were our favourites:
In general - 2008 - A better year than 2007. Vouvray grapes are picked really late - in October - and need a nice warm September in order to fully ripen. The weather was lousy in 2007 but 2008 was just right.
Fabrice and Laurent Maillet - these guys have won lots of praise from Hachette and they deserve it. Their sparkling brut wine, at 8 euro a bottle, was great and would be a perfect Champagne substitute for those on a budget, provided you like fruitier (rather than dry or citrusy) Champagnes.
Alain and Christophe Le Capitaine - Ahoy! We really liked their demi-sec - very balanced. They import to the US under the name L'Aumone. They are still recovering from a trip to Boston to meet their importer, where they went to Au Bon Pain. "Normally this name is very comforting and reassuring to us French, but we were very mistaken," Le Capitaine told me sadly.
La Grande Taille - As well as producing a lovely and very food-friendly demi-sec, Messieurs Bonzon and Boitelle cheerfully answered my inane questions for about twenty minutes. Lovely people, lovely wine.
The moral of the story is, go to a wine festival if you're visiting France. It's a fantastic cultural experience and a lot of fun. The Vouvray fest happens three times a year and is highly recommended. Sante, mes amis!
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