The only way to make sense of such an array of wines is to have a notional 'shopping list' before you go in. We were looking for a really typical but inexpensive Sauvignon Blanc, at either Touraine AOC or vin de pays level, first and foremost. After that I was hoping to find a good red wine or two, because we have had a definite if select following for our previous Loire red, the Bourgueil from the Domaine le Petit Bondieu, and nothing in our current list quite compares to the freshness and velvety grip that the Cabernet Francs and Côts (aka Malbecs) of the Loire can offer.
Cyril had a personal quest to sample as many of the very special and expensive sweet wines of the region as possible. Despite their excellence, they're practically non-starters for the Irish market: very expensive and with unfamiliar names. There's only so much horizon-broadening Bubble Brothers can take on at a time.
We were delighted to make the personal acquaintance of our existing suppliers of Pouilly-Fumé. Franck Champeau, in the middle of the picture here, gave us a chance to try the new vintage of the Pouilly-Fumé we already stock as well as of his other wines: a Pouilly-sur-Loire made from the ancient variety Chasselas, and two premium Pouilly-Fumé cuvées: the 'Silex' and the 'Vieilles Vignes', both from flinty clay soils. 'Vieilles Vignes' seems to be a bit of a modish label generally at the moment, but the Champeaus' VV is given the distinction of oak aging and is further distinguished for an oaked Sauvignon, in my view, by being very nice drinking. I'm not sure we intend to expand our range, because the basic Pouilly-Fumé is so good, but the possibilities are there.
We were treated to very warm welcomes all round. The Ibis hotel in Nantes was wholly adequate, but the chambre d'hôte accommodation
that Cyril organized in the heart of the Chinon district was, like many a gîte, superb. If you need a base in the Loire Valley, we recommend it. The picture with the vines shows Chinon in the distance, where we dined extremely well at La Treille, on a menu featuring the use of sweet woodruff (Galium odoratum). What you can't see in the picture, and what I didn't get a shot of, was the great globes of mistletoe that colonized the treescape just about everywhere we went, like ominous shadows on a chest x-ray. Some trees were almost solid with it. Is there anywhere in Ireland like that?
We accompanied the meal with two different cuvées of Chinon from Nicolas Grosbois, who you can see in the picture right, and who extended a very warm welcome to us despite being very busy indeed on his stand at the Salon. The enthusiasm of the young winemakers we met and their broad knowledge of wines and techniques from all over the world would give you hope for the future of French wine. A good few of them seem to have the right ideas about the marketing side of things too.
Now we're back at the ranch, there's plenty to do, as the people we talked to submit their proposals, offers, &c. &c. I think we have more than a couple of definites lined up already, and I'm determined to add one or two of the really magnificent and characteristic reds we tried to the BB list. Jam-juice they ain't, but I think if Gary Vaynerchuk at Wine Library TV is prepared to give them a go - here's a Bourgueil - and he tried a Chinon too, at the same time as the Montirius wine I wrote about earlier - with his chiefly American clientele, we shouldn't be shy.
I'll let you know what emerges from the melting pot. Don't want to give too much away until we sign on the dotted line and the final decisions are made.
Though, breaking news, I have placed my order with Alessandro Speri for his fabulous, grown-up but satin-smooth Argentinian Malbec, Prodigo.
PS nearly forgot, and only found out the day before I left Cork: the Salon in Angers hosted an inaugural blogging trophy for the wine world, with prizes for a Loire Valley blogger, a French one and a world-wide one. Goes with what I said about one or two people taking a wider view of marketing. Nonetheless, nobody was able to tell me who had won, of course - French bureaucracy and all that. But thanks to Vitiblog, I found a link and here are the results: I've left the link to the French page, but you can choose a Google translation into English if you like.