We left chilly and snowy England at the crack of dawn on Monday by EuroStar to find ourselves in chillier and snowier France. The frosty weather and frosty economy have undoubtedly thinned visitor numbers at the annual Salon des Vins de Loire, but it is still one of France’s best regional wine fairs with a diverse selection of exciting wines to taste.
The recent vintage run has been excellent, 2009 and 2010 are both terrific, but conditions were more challenging in 2011 with much depending on how wine-makers managed their vineyards and when they harvested their grapes. As seasoned vigneron Vincent Lecointre from Coteaux du Layon explained, ‘2011 was a year of great successes and great disasters’. According to impressively-moustachioed Loire expert Jim Budd who we button-holed on arrival, the worst hit area had been Nantais where grey rot had impacted heavily on the Muscadet harvest.
Our old chum Fredrik Filliatreau from Saumur Champigny was positively upbeat, talking us through an impressive range of brightly-fruited Cabernet Francs that should make for rewarding early drinking when they are bottled this Spring. Sauvignons from Menetou Salon and Sancerre are bien classique, with a nervy minerality and fine elderflower and nettle aromas.
Encouragingly, some of the best wines we have tasted have also been some of the most keenly-priced – there are exciting wines in prospect from Saumur, St Pourçain and Chinon. Finally, we have managed to bag some last call allocations of the voluptuous 2009 reds that are drinking splendidly already and will continue to do so for a further few years. After two days of full-on tasting, our palates are primed and our notebooks are full. We are off for a well-earned demi-pression at the Brasserie de la Gare.