An overdue reflection on the Salon des Vins de Loire

IMG_3212If you are a serious winelover, France is definitely the place to be in the beginning of the new year as large events are organized throughout the country. Millésime Bio gives the kick-off in the final week of January, leading directly into the Salon des Vins de Loire (with its numerous off-events) and ending with Vinisud. Unfortunately, some winelovers have completed unrelated day jobs, meaning that choices have to be made. Last year I visited La Dive Bouteille, basically the first off-salon event, and this year I combined it with a visit to the actual Salon (yes, people still go there) as well as Renaissance (formerly Renaissance des Appelations). Even when spending four days in Angers, this still meant that I had to skip Pénitents (Thierry Puzelat and René Mosse inviting friends) and Les Anonymes.

There is an argument to be made against the overload of events that you can attend in such a short timeframe. If you visit all three mentioned above however, you realize that they are more complementary than they appear at first. Sure, there are winemakers who attend more than one event (I encountered one even at all three) but what you get out them can be radically different depending on their intake as well as your approach. Given that the Salon is accessible only to professionals and that winemakers have to pay quite a hefty sum for their stand, it is a lot more business-driven whereas Renaissance and La Dive had a very different vibe, more of an informal gathering of likeminded winelovers. The business crowd reflects this as well as I spotted a couple of supermarket representatives at the Salon while the wine merchants and importers encountered at La Dive were of a significantly smaller scale.

Anyway, the Salon was terrific, a great opportunity to learn about wine with the only disadvantage being its scale. The partnerships with the Levee de la Loire, focusing on bio/biodynamic wines as well as Demeter (same concept but expanded to winemakers from the rest of France and Europe) have certainly contributed to its appeal, but makes it even more difficult to find a focus. I personally thought that the inclusion of winemakers outside of the Loire region was a bit of overkill so I limited myself to the original purpose of the Salon.

Muscadet is widely available in Belgium. Plenty of importers offer one, maybe two different estates but more often than not it feels like an add-on, something that they have to offer to complete their map of France. It is however an incredibly dynamic and diverse region, offering quality for frankly ridiculous prices. I took the opportunity to visit some of the regions leading growers and was stunned by the depth and focus found at producers like Jeremie Huchet and Bonnet Huteau but the one who just left me gobsmacked was Luneau-Papin.

The inherent neutral quality of Melon de Bourgogne is both its worst and best quality as one the one hand it can produce bland, meaningless wines while on the other hand can act as perfect conduit for terroir characteristics. Luneau-Papin produces quite the range of wines but there were two that clearly stood out. I enjoyed a terrific vertical tasting of L d’Or going back to 1982 (!), all showing stony minerality that encapsulates the fruit, and almost preserving it in its purity. On the palate I thought that the older vintages had become a bit more dense, while preserving precision and freshness. Excelsior, tasted back to 2002 was a marked contrast, much more driven by minerality instead of merely being supported by it, gaining lightness and finesse with time.

Luneau-Papin is part of Latitude Loire, a group of friends based in various parts of the region while all being located on the same latitude. Frankly, quality at all of them was high. Rocher des Violettes, located in Montlouis has a delicious demisec chenin blanc, floral and pure on the nose, structured with ample richness without ever showing its sweetness and an acidity that would make it great with food. I was glad that they were offered on 1jour1vin upon my return! I had my first wine by Nicolas Grosbois following last year’s dinner in the sky event and was impressed by the delicate balance struck between freshness and spice. 2015 looks to become a great vintage in Chinon and I look forward to retasting these wines over the coming years, with the entry level wines already being approachable and top wines like Clos Denoyer clearly showing the potential to become more interesting with time.

Moving on to Cabernet Franc I have to admit that I lost a bit of focus, hoping between Chinon and Saumur Champigny. Philippe Alliet was very convincing in 2014, tight, way too young but brimming with potential. Clos Cristal was another eye-opener, perhaps not with the chenin blanc, which was a bit unbalanced, but most definitely with the Boutifolle 2011, still quite hard and reductive but showing great depth and purity in character. The estate also presented the atypical Boutifolle VdF, which was actually a multi-vintage blend (2011 to 2015), incredibly complex, freshness, dark evolving fruitiness and great tension. It was only an experiment, but I would buy this in a heartbeat!

There was alas not that much time to go through the producers of Anjou, one of those immensely intriguing regions that for some reason always seems to slip of my radar. I did manage to have a chat with Patrick Baudouin following a workshop that he gave on the current state of affairs with regards to chenin blanc. Clearly passionate and incredibly knowledgeable when it comes to the history of chenin, he also presented an impressive range of 2013 wines, really showing off the potential of Anjou’s terroir.

All in all, the Salon is huge and a bit overwhelming when you visit it for the first time (although Prowein last weekend puts things in perspective, that is just daunting) but to try to understand what wine in the Loire can be, it is an invaluable experience. The partnership with the Levee was strong although there were some things that gave the impression that both parties are still warming to the alliance. In the long term though, it is the best way moving forward, and hopefully it will lead to an increase in reputation and attention.

Next week, Dive Bouteille and Renaissance!

Disclosure: Hotel (one night) and lunch (one day) paid and provided for by the Salon.
Photo credits – Marc Chevalier

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