28. BUYING TRIP TO FRANCE Part 6
After a feverish, sweat-soaked night, I woke up on Wednesday morning refreshed. I was still feeling delicate, but at least not wiped out.
First tasting was at 9.30 outside Avignon, and then we went on to Allen and Marie-Laure Chevalier at Lourmarin in the LubÃ©ron, in theory to taste and in practice to have lunch. They are charming, and their lunches are always worth eating. Allen used to run Saatchi & Saatchi in France, but gave it up about 20 years ago to make wine in Provence. He is a great Anglophile, and a Jaguar sits parked outside his house. I rather struggled, still tired and not on top form, so Broo did most of the talking on my behalf. And we drank some of their wine with lunch, but Allen sent me away with samples to taste at my leisure, including some of his 2007 red, which is delicious, spicy, lively, interesting â€“ probably the best wine from this estate that I have tasted.
Next, after lunch, a couple of hoursâ€™ drive down to the coast to the appellation of Bandol. Here, Luc Sorin makes, among other wines (including Bandol), a wonderful, pale, food-friendly CÃ´tes de Provence rosÃ©. He never seems particularly cheerful, and he skirmishes constantly with his daughter, Audrey, who helps him with the business and neighs when she laughs (which she does quite a lot). The 2010 rosÃ© which we tasted was as bright and appetising as ever. We took away some samples, and spent the night in a cheap, but perfectly serviceable, plastic hotel a few minutesâ€™ drive from the Sorins.
The next day, Thursday, we had one tasting in Gigondas near Avignon, before setting off westwards towards the CÃ©vennes. This is an interesting part of France. Robert Louis Stevenson walked across the CÃ©vennes with a donkey called Modestine (great name!), and wrote about it in Travels with a Donkey. It is a Protestant part of France, which suffered much persecution, and it feels rather different and detached from the rest of France.
On Friday we went to see Thierry Coulomb at his domaine, Puech-Berthier, situated near the point where Robert Louis Stevenson finished his walk. He is a big-boned, slow-talking man with huge hands. This was my first visit here. He gave us a guided tour all round his winery, and talked about his domaine before we started tasting. Half way through our visit all the blood drained from Brooâ€™s face and I thought she was going to faint. She wasnâ€™t feeling well, and had to spend the rest of the visit sitting in the van.
I had met Thierry last year with Mme. de Rycke (of whom more next month) at her domaine a few miles down the road, when his rosÃ©, made from the Cinsault grape, had impressed me. I shipped some, and it had sold well. This year he produced a Sauvignon, from the 2010 vintage, which was amazingly aromatic, fresh and grassy â€“ reminiscent of a New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc â€“ and not expensive. He explained that it had been a cool growing season, thus enhancing the aromatic qualities of the Sauvignon grapes. The new vintage of his rosÃ©, which he unfortunately calls â€œFannyâ€, was as good as ever.
I promised to ship some of both these wines, and said Iâ€™d be in touch when I had worked out the quantities I would need.
We then had a long drive over the CÃ©vennes â€“ winding, precipitous roads, spectacular scenery, up to three thousand metres altitude, before reaching Le Puy en Velay, home of Puy lentils. This is a charming place, with a cathedral built of pumice stone. The surrounding countryside is all volcanic. There also happens to be a particularly fine hotel with a Michelin-starred chef-proprietor, and very reasonably priced.
On Sunday we had another long drive up to the Loire region, and spent the night in a restored chÃ¢teau on the outskirts of Bourges. It was a beautiful evening, with a spectacular sunset. Surrounding the chÃ¢teau were pleasure grounds for the people of Bourges, with a lake. People were out walking, enjoying their Sunday afternoon.
Monday morning got off to a rather difficult start, and Broo nearly didnâ€™t come to the first tasting at all. This was with the RouzÃ© family in Quincy, where they grow Sauvignon Blanc vines to make a Loire white similar in character to Sancerre, but more reasonably priced. Their wines always manage to get the balance right, with good, fresh, gooseberry and elderflower fruit, a touch of earthiness and minerality, and nice acidity. They are impressively consistent, producing excellent wine every vintage. We tasted the 2010, and here is my tasting note: â€œMineral. Quite delicate fruit â€“ fresh, lively, delicious. Leafy.â€ The tastings here are always quite brisk affairs, and we were away by about 9.30 â€“ thankfully, because we had quite a bit of ground to cover over the rest of the day.
NEXT WEEK â€“ the last leg!