One family have managed and owned this vineyard since two years before the French Revolution which, considering the French laws of inheritance, is a feat in itself. Situated in the heart of the Coteaux du Layon, south of the Loire below Angers, this is a wine well-known for its sweetness and, surprisingly Richard liked it!
The Chenin Blanc grapes are harvested early (20%) for acidity, the balance being picked when the grapes have developed sweetness and it this superb balance of the sugars and acids which makes the wine so attractive. The wine is kept – in bottle – for 10 years before release thereby maintaining freshness as it slowly matures over the long period. The result – a beautifully balanced wine of 14% ABV which is a delight to drink.
Colour? Think Lucozade, deep orange, but bright as a button and with minimal viscosity.
Aromas? Slightly oxidised, slightly toffee, not particularly complex.
Taste? Sweet honey, long, acidity for freshness, light weight and relatively simple, beautifully made.
Absolutely superb with the salty andsweet Dolcellate which brings out its richness. Not so good with salty Roquefort as it makes the cheese appear acidic.
Great experience. A dessert island wine.
[Richard: from the WS, £30, not unreasonable for a 34 year old wine. Sold out unfortunately. Can’t add to Geoff’s comments except to emphasise that the wine really comes to life with a blue cheese. There is still plenty left so I’ll try with another variety next time.]
Quinta do Vale Meao is sited in the Upper Douro region of Portugal, a region that is inhospitable to most life forms apart from the growing of vines. Minimal soil, 60 degree slopes of unstable schist, 100 F. heat and malaria are all to be found in this region. Those elements plus a sparse infrastructure (until recently) have kept this area relatively poor. If the Bordeaux chateaux is one end of the vineyard spectrum these Portuguese farms are at the other. But, times they are a changin’.
We gathered round two glasses of the 2009 vintage Q. do Vale Meao last Sunday. We saw intense colours of blood red – ‘brooding’ seemed apposite – with considerable viscosity (14.5%) and smelt aromatic black fruits, lifted by acidity lending the wine some freshness. The palate was certainly weighty, tannic and dry with a medium length but still attractively fruity. This was a big wine in every sense yet not overly rustic. Certainly one to enjoy with strong flavoured foods but I liked its definite character; it proclaimed its region well.
Grapes? A blend of Touriga Nacional 57%, Touriga Franca 35%, Tinta Barroca 5%, Tinta Roriz 3%.
[Richard: a really top-end Portuguese red – at least in terms of price – but I wasn’t much impressed. A peculiarity in that I thought it better before decanting when it had a port like sweetness but this vanished the following day and the wine failed to soften much over the course of an evening.]
This champagne, Jean de Foigny NV (12.5%), is made for the Wine Society by de Castelnau, a 100 year old champagne house. The house being named in honour of a WW1 general who commanded French forces in two Marne battles. de Castelnau make a range of champagnes – as well as a pretty impressive web-site. [Edit: it turns out that de Castelnau was acquired by a co-op – the Co-op Regionale de Vins de Champagne – in 2003. No mention of this on the Castelnau website but the bottle, above, gives the Co-op as the maker. Doubtless why it is such a good price.]
The WS blend is 45% Chardonnay, 35% Pinot Meunier with Pinot Noir making the balance thereby producing a surprisingly gentle drink. The mousse was very fine in the pale straw coloured wine and had no hint of green, which suggested older rather than younger wines. This was confirmed by the distinctly rich caramel nose redolent of a vintage champagne. The palate was definitely dry, however, with an almost salty quality and of medium length. Although uncomplicated, with slightly bruised apple flavours, this was a lovely champagne and gentleness was its abiding characteristic. Many cheap champagnes – and some expensive ones for that matter – can be very aggressive in terms of bubbles and acidity but Jean de Foigny can definitely be excluded from that dubious category. Definitely recommended.
[Richard: very nice – not dissimilar to the WS English sparkling wine made by Ridgeview. Well balanced, easy to drink. A bargain at £19.50.]
This was Zaha’s 2015 Chardonnay made in Mendoza, Argentina. Made from vines grown at 1200 metres, the wine is sold by the Wine Society, who, amongst other descriptions, describe it as ‘taut’. The cost is £20 which puts it into the white Burgundy price bracket.
A pronounced green colour suggested acidity but the viscosity also hinted at richness. There was a very slight smokiness on the nose which smelt predominately of stone fruits. (R. thought there was burnt match smell, possibly a sign of reduction). The big mouth feel was attractive as was its richness, dryness and the expected acidity. It didn’t shout Chardonnay to me – not that it needed to – but it was a good wine, nevertheless.
If I was pushed to liken it to a classic Burgundy it was certainly more southern but not as broad as the Maconnais wines. Another good wine on this weekend of good wines.
[Richard: I thought this was very good. £20 for a South American chardonnay might seem ambitious but, as Geoff has implied, it compared well to a Burgundian equivalent.]
Over the weekend Richard produced wines from two grape varieties that I had never heard of, let alone tried.
The first wine was from the red grape Mandilaria, originating in the eastern Aegean. Jancis Robinson describes the wine as “very deeply coloured and tannic but generally lack[ing] body” so it is used in blends. However, she mentions that Lyrarakis (a Cretan producer) has used good sites and produces wines of balance. The wine we tried was from Lyrarakis’ Plakouri vineyard (2014) and it was very impressive. An intense red colour with purple rim, it had an attractive menthol nose followed by dark fruit aromas. The forward black fruit continued on the palate which was long, dry and with the right amount of tannins. The wine did not lack body – or quality.
Sunday’s white wine was a blend of Assyrtiko and Moshoudi, entitled Papargyiou Blanc (2016). The wild yeast fermentation had produced an alcohol level of 13%. Richard initially found it a touch sweet and very astutely proclaimed it similar to a Muscat – which it was! The Moshoudi grape is Muscat Blanc a Petit Grains, the world -wide classic but having Greece as its original homeland. Blended with the more austere Assyrtiko to raise the acidity levels, I found this another good wine. The nose was intriguing – mint, melon, spices (inc. ginger), very slightly smoky and still floral; it kept changing as it opened up. A rich mouth feel, fresh and very slightly off-dry, of medium length, this was another example of some excellent Greek wines that we have tried recently.
It’s really worth seeking out these wines.
[Richard: the red came from the duty free shop at Chania airport on Crete (if you ever visit, the shop on the right after you pass through security has much more stock), around €14. We’d tried, on holiday, a few wines from Lyrarakis and they were of consistently good quality and usually made with local grapes. This was a lovely wine with an an enticing nose and a good tannin/fruit balance. The white was from the Greek shop in Birmingham, mentioned here several times. Rather expensive at around £16 but…High Street rents and all that. For my taste not quite dry enough – I spotted the Muscat taste without realising it and Moshoudi were the same thing. But, a well made wine, with, for me, a pronounced mint aroma.]
The wines from this premier cru vineyard are described by Clive Coates as ‘rather foursquare’ and lacking the elegance found in other Volnay wines. Other critics, in 2016, have stated how it needs some development. I’d be blunter and say this wine was not overly enjoyable.
Decanted 40 minutes previous to tasting, the brown rim and medium intense colour pointed to age and a cooler climate. The overwhelming vanilla aromas masked the slightly past-its-best smell (Richard called it ‘vegetal’ and ‘leaf mould’) which was not appealing to me. I did not pick Pinot Noir at all.
The taste was dry, long and cherry-like with high acidity but it wasn’t a generous wine at all and, to be frank, disappointing.
Evidently, 2006 produced patchy wines in Burgundy and this was certainly proof of that opinion.
[Richard: a poor wine lacking any redeeming characteristics. No improvement over the evening. I placed a negative review on TWS website (not published because the wine is no longer stocked) and received an emollient reply, suggesting that the wine is out of it’s drinking window (2011-16) and had lost the ‘charm of youth’. This is doubtful in my view, not least because a similar wine from the same maker and vintage was much better. I’m reminded of a phrase an old friend uses when we ‘enjoy’ a similar experience – ‘another disappointing Burgundy’.]
I have just spent four days in the Loire wine region of France with five fellow wine-educators, three of whom are currently studying for their Master of Wine exams. We visited seven wine makers who gave us tours of the vineyards and wine-making facilities as well as arranging tastings of their wines. We tasted about thirty wines per day and asked technical questions about the wines.
It was my maiden AWE trip; my thoughts are below.
When tasting for commercial reasons, it must be difficult for a wine buyer to remain objective and not ‘go native’. In a cellar, in front of an enthusiastic grower and trying the twelfth Cabernet Franc of that morning, the wine can taste and smell wonderful. “It’s so much richer than Cabernet number three, not as mineral as number one because it is grown in clay, hand harvested and kept in oak for twelve months”. However, will all this be experienced by Mr Jones taking it from the shelf at Asda on a Friday night? Probably not. How do buyers (and I’ve never bought commercially) remain ‘end-user focussed’?
The enthusiasm – not to mention their generosity – of wine growers is contagious. Proud of their produce and eager to share knowledge with an interested audience, small vineyard owners must be the hardest workers in the wine business. Their tasks are endless, very repetitive and often physically demanding. We’ve got the easy job – drinking it and then writing and talking about it.
There seems to be a lot of wine sold direct to the public who live close to vineyards. That would make a great study for a budding MW’s dissertation “Compare and contrast the local sales profile of vineyards?” The Parisian on-trade got mentioned a few times but all the vineyards had payment and collection facilities for customers. Are there any local wine shops in wine regions? Why would someone go to a wine shop rather than the vineyard to buy their wine?
Lastly, what’s in it for the growers? Why spend time, money and resource on putting on tastings for wine educators? There were a few times when I felt guilty about not buying some wine after the time spent on us by a grower. Maybe it’s just my naivety of the whole experience but I wondered what the grower’s private response was as they saw the minibus pull out off their premises without a few cases of their produce.
Needless to say, I really enjoyed the experience and would jump at doing it again.