There is a common misconception that being a wine merchant is a fantastic ‘lifestyle’ career and that we spend 90% of our time swanning around glamorous vineyards in warmer climes drinking wonderful wines and stuffing ourselves on the fantastic local cuisine. Well we do spend a fair amount of time doing just that and of course it’s very enjoyable but there can be a broad gulf between the public perception of a wine buying trip and the reality. Few people ponder upon the endless driving, bad hotel experiences, haggling over prices in a foreign language and soulless wines fairs. Not to mention a forced diet of andouillettes and fromage de tête and coping with the gastric crise that inevitably ensues - Raymond Briggs captures this experience well in Father Christmas goes on Holiday.
Relentlessly tasting young, often unfinished, wines can really take its toll which is why, rather like a flat stage in the Tour de France, the vineyards of Vouvray and Montlouis make for a welcome respite on a tasting trip. Thankfully there are no red wines to taste here and so no aggressive tannins to contend with, just fresh, clean, un-oaked still and sparkling wines made from Chenin Blanc.
In the Coquette Valley in Vouvray Didier Aubert makes classic wines by traditional methods. His marvellous Vouvray Mousseux Brut is hand-riddled and bottle-fermented. It has a toasty nose, a lively mousse and an elegant dry palate of ripe orchard fruit making it perfect for parties and family celebrations. Didier’s Vouvray Sec is always a pleasure to taste, not least because his father, Jean-Claude, is apt to appear with tartines of the delicious local rillettes. This apple-scented, mineral-edged, whistle-clean Chenin Blanc makes a perfect foil for the potted pork – it’s a dangerous combination as both are very more-ish. The off-dry Vouvray Demi-Sec has a similar bouquet and palate-cleansing acidity but a touch more residual sugar which lends it well to pâtés and cheese. The botrytised Vouvray Moelleux is rich and honeyed and capable of taking a decade’s bottle-age in its stride. We normally finish here by sampling Jean-Claude and Didier’s delightful ‘Cuvée les Tonnelles’ – a gentle, fruity, rosé fizz made from 90% Gamay and 10% Gros Lot that is bursting with ripe raspberry flavours.
On the opposite bank of the Loire at Montlouis, Laurent Berger is equally welcoming and his wines are every bit as enjoyable. His superb Montlouis Mousseux Brut is a shade drier and crisper than the Aubert offering and is a failsafe aperitif. Laurent’s Montlouis Sec is taut and tangy and unfailingly reliable. In favourable vintages Laurent makes a modicum of his coveted Côte Saint Martin – a late-harvested, botrytised Chenin Blanc with heady floral aromas and a complex palate of baked apples, dried fruit and minerals with a rich, decadent finish. It makes for a wonderful finale to a pleasurable day’s tasting.
What’s not to like?