Monday, February 13, 2012

Geektime in Angers

The Chateau with a sprinkling of snow

Just when I thought I had geeked out enough on Organic or Biodynamic wines in Montpellier, here came the real geek shows in Angers, in the Loire Valley: La Renaissance des Terroirs, La Dive Bouteille, and the new Salon des Vignerons Bio (because another one is what’s really needed…), one after another. Basically three days of non-stop small producer Organic, Biodynamic or Natural wines being poured by the winemakers themselves, usually in absolutely stunning settings.

The center of Angers

Angers is a small lovely city in the Loire Valley. It’s very old, and sort of looks like what I imagine a scrubbed down medieval 5th and 6th Arrondissement in Paris would look like without all the knights, the peasants or the Plague. It’s always a pleasure to be there, even if in winter it can be pretty cold and humid. Luckily, we have lots of yummy wines and delicious food to keep us warm.

The Renaissance des Appellations Show

First up: La Renaissance des Appellations at the ancient Greniers St Jean. This stunning setting almost overwhelms you when you enter, with high ceilings, gorgeous wooden arches and stone pillars embracing the thirsty crowd. The room is quickly filled with Natural, Organic or Biodynamic fans, both journalists and buyers. Some of the favorites of the geek crowds are always in attendance (Pinon, Huards, Larmandier, etc…), and their tables are always crowded. There are also lots of interesting new producers, and it's a thrill to discover something new and delicious. Still, despite the increasing quality of the wines, there are still way too many bad examples using their labels as marketing tools. Natural/Organic/Biodynamic should not be an excuse for sloppy winemaking.

The Chateau de Brézé

The next day was the Main Event that I'd been really looking forward to: La Dive Bouteille. If I thought the Greniers St Jean were beautiful, the Château de Brézé outside Saumur, where this tasting takes place, is absolutely stunning. This breathtaking castle has very steep moats that were never filled with water, and there are stairs that lead to caves cut into its sides, where the tastings were held.

The caves fill up

This tasting is much more informal, as the winemakers stand next to overturned barrels and pour you their wines. You pretty much spit onto the cave floor, which is always fun. Each cave has several regions, and you can find some pretty amazing wines here. Again, there are some crappy ones too, but that’s to be expected. There’s a lot more energy here among both the presenters and the attendees, it’s more like a wine geek festival than a business meet and greet like the Renaissance. Which is fine by me.

Jean-Pascal and Pascal say "bonjour"

I was joined by my Muscadet producer Jean-Pascal Aubron and my Azay-le-Rideau winemaker Pascal Pibaleau, both of whom have a natural curiosity and love discovering what their neighbors are doing (warning, I’m biased about them as I think they’re doing some great work, so deal with it. It’s my blog after all). As we bounced from barrel to barrel, it was so thrilling to hear them compare notes with their friends. Why’d you do this? Why’d you do that? How’s this turning out? As a wine-lover, and someone who loves learning how things are made, this was beyond cool. And MAN were some of those wines good.

The new Salon des Vignerons Bio de la Loire

Finally, the newest show on the block arrived, and this was more like a Renaissance-light than something completely different. That said, there were many more small and younger wineries, which can be both good (high quality, exciting wines), and bad (high prices, small production, or just plain bad wines). Pascal was showing his wines here too, so it was great catching up with him as he’s such a wonderful person, full of warmth and humility despite the quality of his wines.

That night, Jean-Pascal drove in from his winery in Vallet to join us for a long, delicious and wine-soaked dinner, my last one in Angers for a week. I said my sad farewells to them, only to be reminded that we’d be seeing each other in a few days at the huge Salon des Vins de la Loire.

Finally, off to BURGUNDY!!!!

PS: Here's a full album of pictures from La Dive Bouteille for your enjoyment.
PPS: There are also picture albums of Domaine Sauvaire-Reilhe and Chateau la Croix des Pins in that Facebook folder.

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