Loire wines up high

IMG_0478As those who follow me on Instagram may have noticed, I had the pleasure of enjoying a lunch at quite the location last Friday. Dinner In the Sky is a Belgian project, started by a company that rose to fame thanks to its spectacular bungee jumping activities. The concept is simple and radical at the same time. A dinner, prepared by a Michelin-starred chef enjoyed in whatever company you prefer (so far we are on a pretty conventional track), but served fifty meters above ground with the help of a huge crane (there is always a catch).

Now, for someone with a mild case of vertigo it would have never crossed my mind to do this of my own volition. But then all of a sudden Vino Magazine and Vins du Val de Loire invite you for a lunch with Yves Mattagne, the chef of Sea grill, a Michelin-starred restaurant in Brussels, and who could pass such an opportunity?

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The Loire is a region rich in wine styles and grape varieties but hampered by its own complexity. When going through my sommelier notes, the stack of flash cards for the Loire region easily trumps the rest of France. The chance to discover a plethora of interesting wines in one region is a daunting task but a challenge that anyone serious about wine would readily accept. For your average consumer however, the complexity is not exactly motivating to take a gamble on a wine. Certainly in Flanders, the only Loire wines commonly found are either from Muscadet or Sancerre/Pouilly Fumé. It was only when we moved to Brussels that I discovered that the region could be so much more and ever since I have been hooked as evidenced by the wines presented here and here.

Of course, the regional promotional organization is also acutely aware of the difficulty in coming up with a message that is easily understood while doing justice to the richness the region as a whole has to offer. Therefore the event focused only on Vouvray and Chinon. Now, I was already sold on Vouvray a long time ago and what we tasted only served as confirmation that chenin blanc can truly deliver some of the world’s greatest wines. For a lot of people the wines of Vouvray are the benchmark of what the variety is capable of, and even though I have a slight preference for Savennières, I have to admit that it is extremely close to a tie. Vouvray wines are more delicate, less exuberant but again structured on the interplay of acidity and minerality.

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Vouvray has a reputation for delivering wines with residual sugar. Even though the categories are a lot more clearly defined than say Alsacien wines (and noted on the bottle), I get why people would hesitate to pick up a random bottle, especially as I have the impression that sweeter wines are falling out of favour with the general public. I believe that a tiny bit of residual sugar can add depth and delicate richness to a wine, allowing it to be a great accompaniment to food. The wines served perfectly matched the first dish; raw salmon with ginger, sake and foie gras as you had complementary elements of freshness (to go against the ginger) and richness (up against the foie gras) and the gastronomic versatility of these wines was obvious.

IMG_2491Chinon is a region that is also too often ignored by the general public and if it is known, it is for rosé and little else. People tend to be a bit dismissive about Loire reds and I have noted before that Cabernet Franc can be a finicky grape, too simple or either too green. When done right though, Chinon or Saint-Nicolas-de-Bourgeuil can be the perfect places to find the perfect summer wine. Freshness, a little bit of grippy tannic structure without being too heavy and open, straightforward fruitiness, all of which are more than welcome on a hot summer day. With the main course, sol and asparagus with a cream-based sauce though, the wines did not work so well, lacking the intensity to beat the distinct flavours in the dish.

IMG_2487Special mention goes to the absolutely astonishing dessert, made by Jean-Philippe Darcis and in particular to the stunning combo of yuzu and passion fruit. It was so good that I only now realized that there was no wine to match with!

All in all, it was an excellent experience. The whole setup is a bit gimmicky I admit but the food is up to the standard you would expect from such a setting. As someone who is not exactly a fan of heights, it was an excellent idea to conduct a wine tasting 50 meters up. You may be terrified at first, but after a couple of glasses you don’t really care anymore!

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Disclosure – Free lunch offered and paid for by Vino Magazine and Vins du Val de Loire

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