Print this page


After our tasting in Quincy, we took off for a two-hour drive up the autoroute to Azay-le-Rideau, west of Tours, where we had an appointment with Pascal Pibaleau, who is converting his vineyards to organic viticulture, and having a go at making sulphur-free wines. I first started buying his Azay-le-Rideau rosé over a decade ago – it is made from the Grolleau (alternative spelling Groslot) grape, and is always a fascinating, delicious, refreshing drink, with a touch of spiciness. He has now started making the world’s most natural sparkling rosé, which he calls La Perlette – unlike other sparkling wines, where either carbon dioxide or yeast and sugar are added to the base wine (as well as sulphur), absolutely nothing is added to this: he starts the alcoholic fermention (using only natural yeasts) in tank, and then bottles it while it is still fermenting, so that he ends up with a wine that is slightly less fizzy than champagne or crémant – 3 atmospheres rather than 5.

We tasted 18 different wines, starting with 6 rosés, 3 still, 3 sparkling, some with sulphur, some without; then 7 whites – including one sparkling, and two sweet; then 4 reds; finally, he suddenly remembered he had forgotten his Sauvignon, which we tasted last of all; it was delicious, and I reserved a quantity for later shipment.

Our next appointment was with the Domaine Aubert-Monory, producer of Chinon, based about 10 minutes’ drive outside the town. Monsieur Aubert is officially in retirement, and his son-in-law, Monsieur Monory, now tends the vines and makes the wine. He is a quiet, self-effacing man, making impeccable Chinon that speaks of its origin – and at very reasonable prices. His wines also age well. The range runs to about half a dozen wines (no white), including a very pale rosé, but I mainly buy his “Cuvée Prestige”, which is unoaked, pure Cabernet Franc. This visit we tasted the 2009 – here is my tasting note: “Nice purple colour, not quite as much as 2008 or 2007. Delicious smell – fresh, perfumed, violets. In mouth, little tannin. Bouncy, ready to drink.” I arranged to reserve a quantity of the 2009, and then we were off northwards to a small vineyard area between Tours and Le Mans, Jasnières, to see Bénédicte de Rycke. She is talkative, so I have to ensure that the visit to her is the last of the day, because, no matter what time we arrive, she talks till after sunset.

We reached Mme. de Rycke’s place at five o’clock, and were treated to a comprehensive tasting, including the new vintage, drawn off from tank, and a wonderful Demi-sec from the 1998 vintage, which was a lovely yellow-gold colour, and still fresh and lively. The grape variety for Jasnières is Chenin Blanc, which produces wines that can age indefinitely, owing to naturally high acidity. We also tasted her “Cuvée Louise A” 2009, which was sensationally good – brilliant, lively, with extraordinary length, and fascinating; what the Italians call a vino da meditazione. This wine has sufficient residual sugar to be classed as Demi-sec, but the crisp acidity makes it taste dry. Mme. de Rycke used to label this cuvée as “Louise”, after her daughter, but then Bollinger Champagne sued her, because they call one of their champagnes “Cuvée Louise”, on the grounds that customers might mistake one for the other – despite the fact that Jasnières is a still, not sparkling, wine.

We didn’t leave Mme. de Rycke till around eight o’clock. We then had a two-hour drive to Château Soucherie, just outside Beaulieu-sur-Layon, south of Angers, where we were very kindly provided with a room, and sumptuous bed, for the night. We let ourselves in, and had a late-night picnic before turning in.

The next morning we were up reasonably early – there had been a promise of breakfast, but nobody was about, nor was any food in evidence. So we went for a walk, and had a look round the grounds of the château. When we returned, people were arriving for work, and breakfast appeared. The lovely Florence treated us to a tasting of 14 wines – white, rosé, sparkling, red, sweet.

This estate changed hands in 2007, and the new owner has put an enormous investment into it. He has installed a young manager, Thierry Boudignan, who has experience of working in both Bordeaux and Burgundy, and who clearly wants to pull all the stops out to make the best wine – and best range of wines - that he can. This domaine makes a really outstanding Chaume, a sweet wine which the French like to drink with foie gras and the British like to drink with dessert – it displays flavours of quince, honeysuckle, citrus, butterscotch …… They also make a less luscious, though still sweet, Coteaux du Layon, which represents excellent value; and a Savennières, a long-lived dry white, very rare, much prized, just across the Loire from the Coteaux du Layon – this spends around 8 months in oak barrels, before bottling a year after the harvest.

I was getting a little nervous about the time, because we had a ferry to catch from Dieppe that afternoon, but Florence suggested we go and look at their Savennières vineyard, which is a single 1.8 hectare plot of vines, known as Clos des Perrières, in the middle of the village, surrounded by a stone wall. In order to maintain the quality, the vines are harvested in three separate parcels – a section of old vines, and the rest divided into lower and upper parts, since they ripen at different rates.

After a look round the Clos des Perrières, Florence gave us directions to the autoroute, and drove off. We headed off for Dieppe, a four-hour drive away, where we had a bowl of mussels and a glass of wine before boarding the ferry for Newhaven.

Next month – back to grape varieties.