This will be the last time I apologise for my tardiness in posting. We’re currently in Aÿ, Champagne, after one of possibly the best days of our lives…but as this is chronological, that post will come soon. There’s nothing like anticipation, aÿ? 😉
The drive from Paris to a little Chambre d’hotes in Vernou
-sur-Brenne via Chartres provided a few firsts for our Crusade: The first time I had driven a left hand drive car (the C3 Picasso dubbed “Pabs”); our first toilet argument in the grounds of Chartres Cathedral and the first time either of us had driven at 140kmh legally.
Heading off the motorway on a whim allowed us not only to discover the fun of French tollways with traffic banked up waiting patiently for us to work out the péage system, but also to find such treasures as Chartres Cathedral. A melange (a French word meaning ‘mixed’ that I found on a packet of rice crackers) of Gothic and of Roman styles dating back to the 11th Century. Very little tourists outside of summer allowed us to view the incredible & breathtaking work of the stained-glass windows. All the windows were removed during both World Wars; preserving a millennium of biblical images and ensuring their place as the oldest remaining stained glass in the world. Restoration of the church is occurring at a glacial pace but the speed is worthy, owing to the detail of the original that must be resuscitated.
We loaded up Pabs and headed for the first vinous destination: Vouvray in the Loire. At this point, I’m not ashamed to admit that my knowledge of Loire Valley wines was that Sauvignon Blanc from here tasted better than most Marlborough NZ attempts…and Clint Hillery, ex Time To Vino once had the Kilikanoon Sparkling by the glass.
It seems that if non-French wine lovers don’t equate Vouvray & the Loire with complexity, history & prestige, then they must certainly reconsider their position.
The Loire Valley is playground of the Parisian Riche. Grand Chateau dot the landscape & hills as if the tiny cottages beneath were the exception.
Indeed, Francois 1 invited none other than Leonardo daVinci to live in the Loire, in the village of Amboise.
Chateau du Clos Luce became his last home and now hosts a museum dedicated to his works & ideas. daVinci was an amazing man and no other being has come close to being a rival. Through paintings, drawings, inventions or words, Leonardo was a most unique individual.
Our visit there made even more special by Nadine meeting the director of Chateau du Clos Luce, Gaël, the week before we left Sydney and then again on site at the Chateau. His personal suggestions for the town of Amboise lead us to the extraordinary Troglodyte cellars of the Vouvray appellation.
Dug by hand hundreds of metres into the mountain-side, these tunnels provide the perfect climatic conditions for storing & ageing wine. 12 degrees, 60% humidity, total darkness and zero movement means these wines are but teenagers when bottled 40 years ago.
Caves Duhard was our first such stop with the amiable Amelie talking us through all the Loire has to offer and Duhard only picks the best from the region to bottle and age before selling at the wine’s peak. Cabernet Franc for reds, with the Saint Nicholas Burguiel appellation consistently showing elegance & structure. Vouvray’s Chenin Blanc starting to truly show us what a chameleon of a grape she is.
Let us also get something out of the way..French wine is ridiculously affordable. Even the top marques make you think, ‘hang on, 3 of those is almost the same cost as 1 bottle in Australia!’
Vouvray comes in 3 basic styles: sec, demi-sec & moëulleux. Essentially: dry, half-dry and sweet.
Our first tasting of Vouvray was courtesy of our glorious chambre d’hotes Moulin Garnier hostess, Brigette.
Brigette and Marcel’s daughter & son-in-law now run the place, but due to their holiday absence, they were left holding the fort. Blessed are the travellers who stop with them.
With broken English & a twinkle in their eye, our check-in was seen to with a bottle of the next-door Hallay et Fils Reserve 2008 demi-sec.
Hallay allowed us to visit their Cave for a tour & tasting: none of which was in English. Wine, however seems to break linguistic barriers, and we stayed in the Cave enjoying the products of generations of vignerons. The wines with a sweetness & rusticity that begs to sit with friends and a meal to enjoy what it delivers: acidity but balance with preserved lemon and some earthy nuances.
Warmth, hospitality, accommodation & comfort at a small price in Vernou was just the beginning of our journey. How do you continue to maintain this standard?
With tasting more and more Vouvray, Chenin Blanc truly shows it’s capability of being a noble grape.
Gourmet Traveller Wine had previously published a small article on the Loire with Domaine Huët being named as THE place for Vouvray.
Our appointment made, we almost collided on the narrow streets with a large truck laden with bottles destined for Australia. Irony had smiled, but not delivered a blow.
Huët showcased a modern tasting room and wines of exceptional quality.
The labels of the 3 terroirs showed marked difference: Le Mont, Clos du Bourg & Haut-Lieu. Each available in sec, demi-sec or moëlleux and all with power & balance that eclipsed all other Vouvray we tasted. Some Japanese guests present also at the cellar door decided that they would like a taste of the premium drop: Cuvee Constance 2003. At 80€ per 500ml and 190grams of sugar residual per litre…this is not a wine for those on a calorie controlled diet.
Our Asian friends simply wanted a taste and were generous enough to share the remains of the bottle amongst those present.
Pure gold in colour. Ferrero rocher and unctuous scents of tropical fruits, caramel oak & white flower blossoms. Incredibly long, still with a dash of acidity. Lifted vanilla & long bright fruit. Only 3 hecalitres per hectare output for the wine.
Only Chateau Moncontour Sparkling 08 Grand Milleseme stood out from the others as being a quality rival of Huët.
An exceptional vintage and 4 years old…yet still change from an AU $20 note. Crazy stuff!
The Loire Valley was a but a hint of some of the incredible things to come.
We were sad to leave our chambre d’hotes and the Loire but the next stop was Bordeaux. A region of nobility in wine & history.