RSJ's 30th anniversary: 1980-2010

2010 was a very special year for us as the RSJ Restaurant celebrated its 30th year. We held a number of special events through the year to mark our 30th birthday.

36th Year: 1980-2016

Another milestone with events happening during our 36th anniversary year.

Monday, September 29, 2008

Glorious harvest weather in Cher Valley

The Cher at Thesée

The weather over the past two days has been sensational. Cool overnight, sun and blue skies during the day with just the odd fluffy cloudy from time to time. The forecast is less promising for later this week. It is so dry at the moment that a little rain would be good.

Happy pickers: Catherine Roussel waving

Clos Roche Blanche
Busy picking Gamay at La Tesnière by hand with a group of experienced pickers, who include some over 70 years old as well as Laurent, a former restaurateur from Brooklyn, New York. “The Gamay is coming in a 12˚ potential,” said Didier Barouillet, co-owner and winemaker. “Overall the level of acidity is a degree higher than last year. The Cabernet is at 13.2% potential alcohol but the acidity is still too high at 7.5. There is a lot of tartaric acid this year because temperatures during the growing period have been lower than the average for the last 30 years. The Côt is at 12.3% with a similar level of acidity. We’ll pick those next week – possibly the Cabernet before the Côt, which is most unusual – normally we always pick the Côt first.”

Small bunch of ripe Gamay

Hope to see Jean-François Merieau, Domaine des Bois Vaudons later this week.

Picking machine in the vineyards of Pouillé.

Saturday, September 27, 2008

More news of the 2008 harvest

Harvesting Sauvignon Blanc

Christophe Daviau: Domaine de Bablut, Anjou
Went round the vineyards with Christophe on Thursday. They were harvesting the Sauvignon Blanc for the vin de pays de la Loire. Despite the poor summer the Cabernet Franc and Cabernet Sauvignon are looking promising, especially with this current spell of generally fine weather. “It will be another 10-14 days before we can start harvesting them,” said Christophe. “At the moment they have about 10˚ potential alcohol and the acidity levels are high.” Next Monday they will have the Grolleau Noir, a local variety, to make Topette, Christophe’s easy drinking, screwcapped red, which is sold in the French market.

Catherine Roussel and Didier Barouillet, Clos Roche Blanche, Touraine
Picking started on Monday 22nd. When I saw them yesterday they had finished the Sauvignon Blanc – unfortunately a tiny harvest this year. Friday morning they started on the Gamay. “The Gamay is really good – very healthy and almost no rot,” said Catherine. When Didier sorted through the grapes he only found five bunches that were rotten.” On Monday morning they will be again be picking Gamay – I hope to get some shots of them harvesting.

Frédéric Mabileau, Saint-Nicolas-de-Bourgueil and Saumur Blanc
Fréderic and Thomas are both very optimistic. “For the Chenin at Le Puy Notre Dame we’ll do the first picking on 6th and 7th October and then the second through the vines 10-14 days later. We’ll start picking the Cabernet Franc on Wednesday 8th October."

Jean-Marie Bourgeois, Henri Bourgeois, Sancerre
“The weather is great at the moment. We will be starting in earnest on Wednesday/Thursday of next week.”

Look out for further updates soon.

Friday, September 26, 2008

Pierre, Monique and Pierre-Marie Luneau, Domaine Luneau-Papin

Pierre admires bunches of 2008 Melon de Bourgogne
destined for Excelsior

(23 and 24 September 2008)
I visited Pierre and Monique Luneau, our good friends and suppliers of Muscadet de Sèvre-et-Maine, on Tuesday and Wednesday. They are in the middle of harvesting – initially concentrating on the top wines that are picked by hand. I just caught this part of the harvest in time as they finished late Tuesday. When I arrived they were picking a vineyard in the nearby commune of Chapelle-Heulin. These grapes will go into Excelsior, the Luneaus’ special cuvée that spends around 36 months sur lie. Of course there was a celebration party last night for the pickers, who I gather downed a considerable quantity of Muscadet.

The rest of the harvest will be machine picked, except for a small parcel of vines in the commune of Le Loroux-Bottereau. This special vineyard is on one of the highest hills in the region. It overlooks the Marais de Goulaine, the marshland that floods during the winter, as well as the Château de Goulaine and the city of Nantes in the distance. The soil is volcanic and is called serpentine – as it was originally molten lava. These vines were bought in March by Pierre-Marie, Pierre and Monique’s son, who has been working with them since 2005.

View from the new acquired vineyard over the Marais de Goulaine and to Nantes

The Luneaus started picking on Thursday 18th September. Pierre expects the harvest to continue for another week to 10 days. Fortunately the weather forecast is pretty favourable apart from rain today. Yesterday was magnificent – sunny, blue skies and around 21˚-22˚ C.

Although the quality seems good – 10.5%-11% potential alcohol and 5.7˚ acidity, the amount of wine is well down due to the frost of 7th April. “Depending on the parcel of vines the frost destroyed between 20% and 70% of our crop,” said Monique. “Normally we would make around 55 hl/ha – 60 hl/ha,” added Pierre. “Before we started harvesting we had hoped to make 25 hl/ha but, in fact, we are going to make around 20 hl/ha.” Having visited several other Muscadet producers 20 hl/ha appears to be the average with some producers even worse hit making only 12 hl/ha.

"Where's my wine?": Pierre can't believe
that the 2008 vintage is so small

With Pierre today I tasted the must from various parcels including the Clos des Allées, Les Pierres Blanches and Excelsior. They seem very promising, although I can’t claim to have much experience of tasting Muscadet grape juice and assessing what the final wine will taste like. Then I tasted 2007, 2006 and 2005 Excelsior, which are on their lees in tank. The 2005 will be bottled in November. Following this I tasted a number of 2007s in bottle and two further vintages of Excelsior – the rich 2003 and the fine 2002. Pierre’s first vintage of Excelsior was in 2001.

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

Muscadet harvest 2008

2008 Melon de Bourgogne

Due to a frost on 7th April the vintage is very small this year. The average seems to be around 20 hl/ha. Fuller report to follow but for the moment a couple of photos from yesterday in the Muscadet vineyards:

Monique Luneau of Domaine Luneau-Papin

Saturday, September 20, 2008

Frédéric Mabileau’s new Saumur Blanc is now in bottle

End of October 2007: Frédéric with his very young
Saumur Blanc – still fermenting.

(This item was previously on
The first white wine to be made by the Mabileau family for exactly sixty years was bottled by Frédéric on 5th June 2008. Until 1947 the Mabileau’s made white wine from Chenin Blanc planted in the Saint-Nicolas-de-Bourgueil vineyards. This was the year that Frédéric’s grandfather, Armand, took over from his father. Frédéric’s new baby is a Saumur Blanc 2007 from Chenin planted at Le Puy-Notre-Dame.

Although we haven’t yet tried the finished article, we have tasted the new wine on several occasions and been so impressed that we have already placed an order. Our modest allocation will arrive in the early autumn.

For further details visit: Don’t miss the two new videos – one of father and son, the other grandson and grandfather. Unfortunately the video from September 2007 of Frédéric scoffing many of the white grapes is no longer on the site.

Thursday, September 18, 2008

Didier Dagueneau dies in air accident

Didier at Saint-Andelain September 2007

Didier, perhaps the most famous and certainly one of the Loire’s best producers, was killed yesterday (17th September) in a microlite aircraft accident in the Dordogne. He was 52. Didier made his reputation with his Pouilly-Fumés, which completely transcended this all too often disappointing appellation. Later he bought a vineyard in Jurancon and then a small parcel of vines on Les Monts Damnés in Chavignol. It is believed that he had recently bought more vines in Sancerre.

Didier died when his microlite (ULM) stalled just after take off some 50 metres up and crashed to the ground and was engulfed in flames. The accident happened some 35 kilometres east of Angoulême.

Our condolences to Didier’s family.

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

Super Sauvignons tasting & dinner

(15 September 2008)
Our autumn season of tastings kicked off with a very successful tasting of Sauvignon Blanc. With the exception of the aperitif – a Sauvignon from Anjou – all the wines came from the Loire’s central vineyards, the home of Loire Sauvignon Blanc. This was a rare opportunity to see how well these wines age as we tasted wines back to 1989. With the notable exception of the 1997 Château de Tracy, the wines had lasted well and generally were remarkably youthful for their age. As well as the wines, the quality of the cooking, particularly the main course of a trilogy of fish, was much applauded. Chef Alex was congratulated on getting the timing absolutely right – not easy when serving some 25 people at the same time. "I've really enjoyed myself – everyone is so friendly and relaxed," said someone attending their first RSJ tasting.

Unfortunately only the first three wines are still available.

1] 2006 Sauvignon de Bablut £7.85
Christophe Daviau VDP du Val de Loire
From Brissac-Quincé in Anjou, some weight, easy drinking Sauvignon softer acidity than generally found in the wines from further east.

2] 2007 Quincy, Domaine des Ballandors £9.75
Jean Tatin & Chantal Wilk
Racy, lemony typical of the clean, precise flavours of 2007. Jean and Wilk’s wines tend to take on weight after a few months in bottle.

3] 2006 Menetou Salon ‘Clos de la Cure’ £9.75
Roger Champault et Fils
Disappointing: quite fat but dumb – lacked zip.

4] 1999 Sancerre (in magnum)
André Dezat
Opened up in the glass, citric and mineral, still youthful. Well liked by many of those present.

5] 2000 Pouilly Fume ‘La Rambarde’
Domaine Landrat-Guyollot
Showing well – yellow plum on nose, some weight with racy acidity in the finish.

First course: warm goats cheese, roasted peppers & ciabatta crostini

Badly oxidised 1997 Château Tracy

6] 1997 Pouilly Fumé, Château de Tracy
Comte Henri d’Assay
Both bottles badly oxidized. Served it anyway as an example of oxidation. Not clear whether corks were to blame or whether the fault lies elsewhere. Is this a similar problem to that suffered by some top end Burgundies from the same period?

7) 1996 Sancerre Dominique Midgeon
Last minute additional to replace oxisided Tracy. Still very youthful, quite lean.

8] 1997 Sancerre ‘Les Culs de Beaujeu’ François Cotat
Powerful, rich fruit matched by balancing acidity in the finish. Very good match with the fish.

9] 2004 Quincy, Cuvée Sucellus Jean Tatin
Tasted on its own the oak was not yet fully integrated leading one to wonder whether there was enough concentration to carry the wood. However, it was much improved with the fish and a particularly good match with the salmon. Sucellus was the Gaullish god of agriculture, forests and alcoholic drinks.

Main course: scallop, monkfish & salmon
Cress, crushed new potatoes
Peas & broad beans
White wine veloute

Jean Tatin's Cuvée Sucellus

10] 1989 Cuvée Pierre ‘Vendange tardive’ N/A
Joseph Balland Chapuis
Something of a curiosity. Not especially sweet with some honeyed and barley sugar flavours. Predictably overwhelmed by the dessert. Although it comes from Sancerre it can only be called a vin de table français as the Sancerre appellation is only for dry wines.

Dessert: spiced orange cake with plums & whipped yogurt

Monday, September 15, 2008

Wine Club: Autumn dates

The dates for our Autumn tastings have also been confirmed, when once again the taste buds can be titillated and tantalised and the mind enriched with knowledgeable comment on the wines and terroir. Each event starts at 19:15 with an aperitif. We then taste 8-10 wines with a 3 course dinner – finishing around 22:30.

Monday 15th September
Super Sauvignons £45.00

Monday 13th October
Chinon £45.00

Monday 17th November
Cellar Raid £45.00

For further details please

For all bookings please contact: Tel: 020 7928 4554, fax: 020 7928 9768, email:

Ursula Ferrigno: autumn 2008 schedule

Sunday 21st September
Returning from Tuscany £30.00
Ursula’s best recipes from autumn’s bountiful harvest in this memorable region.

Sunday 19th October
Nonna’s Kitchen’ £30.00
Special recipes passed on to Ursula by her grandmother.

Sunday 23rd November
Classical Italian winter dishes £30.00
A collection of Ursula’s favourite winter warmers.

As usual lunch will start at 1.00pm and will include a glass of wine on arrival

For further details visit:

For bookings please contact: Tel: 020 7928 4554, Fax: 020 7928 9768, Email:

Vines in Vouvray have a lucky escape

Rue de la Vallée Chartier

(This news item first appeared on the RSJ website:
Mid-afternoon on Saturday 31st May 2008 Vouvray was hit by a violent storm. An incredible 120 mm plus of rain fell in 30 to 40 minutes. Houses and cellars were flooded with some buildings partially washed away. Several of the small, steep roads that run down from the plateau where the vineyards are planted were washed away by the torrents of water. The Rue de la Vallée Chartier was one of the worst affected with a four-foot deep trench gouged out by the water. Elsewhere a small van was flattened by falling trees brought down by water cascading down the hillside (see photo below). The van’s owner, who was just about to get in, had a very lucky escape.

Water cascaded down the slope burying a blue van.

Crushed blue van.

Although the damage in the town was spectacular, the vines were little affected. “Fortunately the rain came straight down and there was no wind,” Catherine Champalou explained, “so shoots weren’t broken. There was a little bit of hail damage. Water flooded into our cellars but we were able to get it pumped out quickly. Amazingly the water was hot!”

Mud and water also got into the cellars at Domaine Huet. “We have 5000-6000 bottles that may be affected,” said Noël Pinguet, “we’ll have to see – they may be OK. The main worry is the need to treat the vines against mildew. Because of the rain we won’t be able to get tractors into the vineyard for at least a week, so we may well have to use a helicopter to spray the vines. Being biodynamic this is a problem for us as there aren’t any suitable biodynamic sprays but the most important thing is to save the vintage.”

Overall fortunately damage to cellars and bottles stocked there appears not to be too serious.

The storm was very local. “There was very little rain in our vineyards at Rochecorbon,” said Catherine Champalou. Across the river in Montlouis there was also little rain on Saturday afternoon – everything was dumped on Vouvray!

Trip to the Salon des Vins de Loire 2008

Report on our visits leading up to the Salon: 29th January – 3rd February 2008
(This account first appeared on the RSJ website:

The end of January and beginning of February is really our first chance to start to get an idea of how the latest vintage is shaping up. Although it is possible to taste wines at the end of October and November, when many of them are still fermenting, it is really very difficult and too early to make any real judgments about their quality.

2007 was a very difficult year. Very early start with a lovely hot, dry April and first part of May. After that the weather went seriously downhill with July and August particularly bad with a lot of rain and decidedly cold, especially in August. In many parts of the Loire mildew was a big problem.

Fortunately in late August the weather changed dramatically becoming hot and dry until mid-October. This saved the 2007 vintage.

After such a difficult season it is going to be very interesting to see how 2007 will turn out.

29th January 2009: London – Sancerre
We (Nigel and Jim) had a really easy drive down to Sancerre and arrived in plenty of time for our first appointment with Jean-Marie Bourgeois of Domaine Henri Bourgeois in the little village of Chavignol.

Jean-Marie is one of the great characters of Sancerre. It was in 1956 that Jean-Marie started working full time with his father, Henri, and his brother. Rémy. At this time they had 3.5 to 4 hectares of vines and like almost everyone in the region they were polyculturalists: raising goats, rabbits and vegetables. Vines were just part of the mix. “You didn’t make a living from wine then,” Jean-Marie explained. Life was hard particularly if you had vines on the Côte des Monts Damnés, the very steep slopes that tower above Chavignol. Jean-Marie has very clear memories of planting vines on those unforgiving clay and limestone slopes using a pick and spade.

It was also in 1956 that the Bourgeois family bottled their first wine. “We did 15,000 bottles,” Jean-Marie told us, “which was an enormous quantity for those days. Today’s impressive tasting room is above their first cellar, which was built by Rémy. “We had everything down here – our tanks, bottling equipment, storage and our office.”

Jean-Marie’s hard work and vision has been in a big factor in the transformation of both the Bourgeois’ fortunes and the success of Sancerre. They now own 70 hectares of vines and make around one million bottles of wine – 500,000 bottles from their own vineyards. They also have Clos Henri in Marlborough, New Zealand. Jean-Marie was one of the first Sancerre producers to appreciate that it was important to go out and sell your wine. Initially in France, especially in France, and then all round the world.

The Bourgeois 2007 whites are looking good with attractive fruit balanced with good freshness in the finish with acidity levels higher than in 2005 and 2006 and without the same weight. As ever the Cuvée MD from the Monts Damnés stood out. The reds seemed particularly promising with good colour and fruit. The weather was typically Chavignol in the winter: very misty and at times foggy.

The very steep slopes of Les Monts Damnés at Chavignol. Shrouded in mist as usual.

Les Monts Damnés: autumn

That evening we ate at the Restaurant La Tour in the centre of Sancerre. We took the basic menu, which was extremely good and great value at €27. In memory of Nicolas Reverdy’s recent tragic death we drank a half of Pascal and Nicolas 2006 white followed by a bottle of their 2006 red. A visit to La Tour ( is highly recommended.

30th January: Sancerre to Touraine
An early start at the Champaults – tasting 2007 Sancerre whites at 8.45am on a freezing morning is not really our idea of fun. However, better than being out in the vines pruning – we saw a number of people already out in the vines on our way over to the Champaults. No wonder they have their own mobile fires to burn the prunings as they go! We tasted with Claude Champault. As at Bourgeois the whites showed pretty well – more classic Loire after the ripeness of 2005 and 2006.

Claude Champault using a barrel thief to get
a sample of their 2007 Sancerre Rouge.

Next a quick dash across to Quincy to the Domaine de Ballandors and Tremblay owned by Jean Tatin and Chantal Wilk. Neither Jean nor Chantal were there so we were looked after by Mathieu, who joined in September. He looks after the commercial and marketing side. The stand out wine here was the 2004 Sucellus Quincy, which is aged in 400 litre barrels.

Then we moved further west into Touraine to see Catherine Roussel and Didier Barouillet at the Clos Roche Blanche, which is between the villages of Mareuil and Pouillé. Jim first met them in early autumn 1989 and we have always been impressed with the quality of their wines. The Cot 2007 was impressive for 2007. As they had a big problem with mildew Didier kept this wine on the grape skins for a very long time – right up to 23rd December – to give the wine additional weight. This is a technique that was practised 70 years ago.

Next – just down the road to St Julien de Chedon to see Jean-François Merieau, who is making some very impressive wines and, very unusually for straight Touraine, is aging his wines for a very long time: in some cases up to three years, which is extremely unusual in Touraine. We particularly liked the soft and ripe Cents Visages Cot 2006 and the 2005 Boa le Rouge Vieilles Vignes Gamay.

31st January: Touraine
Very icy start with the roads like sheet ice. Indeed so slippery that it was difficult to stand. Fortunately once we reached the main road it was OK but the minor roads were very dicey. Despite this we got to our first appointment with Montlouis producer François Chidaine in the little village of Huisseau. François is very pleased with his 2007s, which are very clean and have the minerality that he looks for in his wines.

François Chidaine in his cave in Huisseau, Montlouis.

We tasted his range of 2007s both from Montlouis and Vouvray. The domaine now has 19 hectares of vines in Montlouis and 8.5 hectares in Vouvray, where François and his business partner, Nicolas, have bought the vineyard of Prince Poniatowski, which includes the famous Clos Baudoin. Unfortunately the vines in the Clos are in a very poor state and it is going to take 15 years to put them right. “We are not working for us but for the generation to come,” says François.

They also 6 hectares in Touraine including 1.5ha in the village of Chissay, which is close to Montrichard in the Cher Valley. François is very enthusiastic about the Cher Valley. “It has great potential – there are some very good sites – some with similar soil to Vouvray.”

Nigel wrapped up against the cold tasting 2007 Chidaine.

After the 2007s we tasted various 2006s and 2006s plus a 2003 and 2002. All were showing well. We particularly liked the 2006 Clos Habert and the delicate 2005 Moelleux.

Then it was time to head across the Loire to Vouvray and to Didier and Catherine Champalou, who have now been joined by their daughter Céline.


Thursday 31st January: Touraine
Catherine and Céline Champalou: Vouvray
With Didier Champalou away, Catherine and her daughter, Céline looked after us. Céline has joined the family business as the assistant winemaker, having made wine in a number of countries Of the 2007s Catherine said “this is an attractive vintage in the traditional Loire style - more lively and with more acidity than in 2006 and 2005.” We tasted the 2007 Sec (grapefruit and lime), the 2007 Fondreaux (demi-sec – delicate sweetness, ripe apple) and the La Moelleuse 07 (delicate apricot and tangerine). This last is likely to be a rarely seen wine as they only made one barrel last year. After a delicious lunch prepared by Catherine, we headed west to Bourgueil and to Yannick Amirault.

Yannick Amirault
We started in Yannick’s winery with some samples of 2007 - the roundly plummy and soft La Coudraye. Then we headed up the hill to the top of the limestone coteaux, where Yannick, like many vignerons in the area, has cellars that run underneath the wood that caps the slope top. We sampled the very impressive 2007 Petite Cave, which probably won’t be in bottle until sometime in 2009, and the 2006, which is still in barrel. Then it was back to the winery to taste a few bottled wines - the Quartiers and the Pavilion de Grand Clos stood out – both 2005s and both very concentrated and dense with plenty of black fruits, especially black cherry. Two hours sped by and confirmed what we have known for some time – Yannick makes extremely good wine.

Yannick drawing a sample of Petit Cave 2006.

Frédéric Mabileau
Frédéric’s new star wine – a Saumur Blanc 2007 100% Chenin Blanc from vines in Le Puy Notre Dame was our first tasting. At the end of October this looked promising - and it still does. Both rich and with a lovely mineral character - we look forward to the finished wine later on in the year. The 2006 Les Coutures St-Nicolas-de-Bourgueil – soft and structured – also showed well. We finished with the very soft, easy to drink, strawberry fruited 2007 Les Rouillères. Lighter than the 2005 and 2006 vintages but a Loire red to enjoy young, especially when chilled on a hot summer day.

At the end of the afternoon we tried out the Autoroute A85, the last section of which, from Druye to St Aignan, is now complete. Importantly the new section bypasses Tours, which makes moving up and down the Loire much easier. Our journey, from St Nicolas-de-Bourgueil to our base in eastern Touraine close to St-Georges-sur-Cher, took 55 minutes - observing the speed limits- instead of previous year’s 90 minutes.

Frédéric Mabileau among the bottles

Friday 1st February: Saumur and Anjou
Château de Villeneuve: Jean-Pierre Chevallier
Across to Saumur, where we started a busy day with Jean-Pierre – well pleased with his 2007 Saumur whites, while the reds were more problematic. Around 75% of Jean-Pierre’s straight Saumur Blanc is now fermented in 400 litre barrels –producing a wine that is attractively lemony with just a discreet touch of wood.

Once again Jean-Pierre told us that the fine weather in September and early October had saved the day, though volumes here as elsewhere are down.. “Our yields in 2007 for Saumur-Champigny averaged 32-33 hl/ha whilst in a normal year we expect 40 hl/ha. (the maximum yield allowed for Saumur-Champigny is 69 hl/ha)” Jean-Pierre has already decided that as in 1998 and 2004 there will be no Vieilles Vignes or Grand Clos. Everything has been blended together to make one cuvée.

We suspect that this is likely to offer very good value in a year that will generally see lighter reds, especially from Touraine and Anjou-Saumur, than in 2005 and 2006. Six weeks of good weather from September to October saved the 2007 vintage, but isn’t enough to overturn the effect of four bad months, especially with red wines where the flavours and ripeness in the skins and pips are vital. For white wines it is less crucial and a good autumn may well be enough to turn things round. Overall the 2007 whites are better than the reds. We also tasted the 2006 and 2005 Vieilles Vignes and the Grand Clos 2005. The VV 2005 is already in bottle, while the 2006 will be bottled in March. These are wines need time and are for enjoying from 2010 onwards

Domaine du Collier: Antoine Foucault
Next a quick trip across the Champigny appellation to Chacé. At the Domaine du Collier you drive into the courtyard, where Antoine’s parents live – Charly (Clos Rougeard) and Françoise (ex-Château Yvonne). At the far end is a sloping path that disappears into the earth and leads to an extraordinary complex of cellars, where Antoine makes his wines. We concentrated on Antoine’s wonderful white wines from his vineyards in Bréze. 100% Chenin Blanc, they have a wonderful purity of fruit, especially the La Charpenterie 2006 and 2005, made from vines that are over a 100 years old. Unfortunately about 25% of the vines are missing as the old vines die off in patches.

Domaine de Nerleux: Régis and Babette Neau
Then we made the short drive from Chacé to Saint-Cyr-en-Bourg – the next small town to the south. We tasted the range of Régis’ 2007s with again the whites being the highlight. The straight 2007 Saunur Blanc is quite honeyed and rich with a refreshingly lively finish with Les Loups Blancs looking promising quietly maturing in 400-litre barrels. The 2007 Coteaux de Saumur has apricot and passion fruit flavours.

The straight Saumur-Champigny 2007 should be attractive to drink young. We tasted Les Châtains 2006 and Les Loups Noirs 2006. Both have a lot of concentrated black fruits and really need some time in the bottle to really show their best. Ideally I would leave Les Loups Noir until the early part of the next decade.

We had a quick lunch with Régis and Babette, which included a brief chat about the annual Marche des Vins de Saumur. This is held on the first weekend of September (on the 6th and 7th September 2008) and is an opportunity to taste lots of wine from producers in the Saumur region. Around 5000 visitors are expected. A date for your diary!

Domaine des Roches Neuves: Thierry Germain
Thierry was on his customary lively form tasting with us while organising a big lunch party for Sunday with some 80 to 90 guests – many of them fellow vignerons from various parts of France with three top Corsican chefs flying in to prepare the feast.

“I’ve changed my philosophy.” Thierry told us. “I’ve moved away from concentrated, over-ripe wines with high alcohol and am now concentrating on the quality of the fruit and looking for a lighter purer style.” He is no longer using new oak barrels for his Marginale. “2005 was the beginning of me harvesting early,” he explains. “The grape pips never matured, so I decided to harvest earlier thus releasing their green flavours into the wine. I’m looking of a Burgundian style than Bordelais.” The Germain family are from Bordeaux.

Thierry tasting in a cellar at Roches Neuves

The stand out wine was the very pure and citric Insolite 2007 Saumur Blanc. Thierry is now producing the first vintage of Solitaire, a second wine to Insolite. It will be used to reduce the amount of Insolite made with the young vines and less good fruit, avoiding over-mature grapes, so the style of Insolite has changed considerably from what it was.

Château la Roulerie and Château de Fesles: Philippe Germain
We left Thierry overseeing arrangements for his Sunday feast and drove onto Anjou and Château de Fesles near Thouarcé to see Philippe Germain, Thierry’s younger brother. Here we tasted both Château La Roulerie, now Philippe’s property, and Château de Fesles, which still belongs to Bernard his father. It remains unclear what the future of Fesles will be as both Thierry and Philippe declined to take it on as Bernard moves into retirement. Several times Philippe stressed that his preoccupation was Château La Roulerie. In future Roulerie wines will no longer be made at Fesles as Philippe is building a new winery at Roulerie in Sain-Aubin.

As Thierry makes the wines for both his father and Philippe the emphasis is on freshness. Amongst the wines we tasted was a sample of the 2007 Roulerie Anjou red, which has attractive blackcurrant fruit and is much better and fresher than the rather poor Roulerie 2006 red. Curiously the Fesles Anjou Rouge was better than Roulerie in 2006 – it is less successful in 2007.

Philippe Germain making a point

Our five-visit day complete we headed for Angers and the Hotel du Mail in the centre of the town (tel: ; This is a quiet, comfortable friendly bed and breakfast hotel in the backstreets close to the Boulevard Foch. We have been staying here for years and certainly recommended it.

We met up with Tom King, who had just arrived on the train from London. Nigel, suffering from flu, retired to bed to try and get fit for the Salon on Monday, missing dinner at Les Tonnelles. with Christophe and Claire Daviau. Les Tonnelles(tel: is on the island of Béhuard in the middle of the Loire between Savennières and Rochefort-sur-Loire. Long established, it is run by Catherine (front of house) and Gérard Bossé (the chef). The menu du saison at €45 is quite expensive but high quality – a cheaper menu is available at lunchtime. The scallops and pigeon were both excellent.

We enjoyed a fine bottle of Les Noëls de Montbenault 2005 Anjou Blanc from Richard Leroy, a talented producer in Rablay-sur-Layon who concentrates on dry whites. This was followed by the 2005 Anjou-Villages 2005 Evanescence Yves Guegniard (Domaine de la Bergerie). Yves is a great friend of Claude Papin and Vincent Ogereau and they work closely together. As both Claude and Vincent were on next day’s programme, this is a convenient time to finish the second report.

Saturday 2nd February
The very brief appearance of Nigel around breakfast time confirmed that he unfortunately would not be joining Tom and Jim for their final round of visits to producers before the Salon. Instead he spent all of Saturday in bed.

Claude and Joëlle Papin: Château Pierre-Bise
In contrast to the day before this was a lovely sunny day with a little early morning mist arising from the Layon Valley. The new winery, which is still not quite finished, is further along from when Jim saw it in early November last year. Claude said that it had made a big difference during the harvest giving them much more space to work in.

Château Pierre-Bise

Château Pierre-Bise: the new winery

There was a brief visit with Claude to his vineyards, close to Pierre-Bise, overlooking the Layon and across towards Saint-Lambert-du-Lattay. Claude pointed out the recent changes of ownership amongst some of the big estates nearby. Château du Breuil, long owned by the Morgat family, has been sold to Michel Petitbois Also the Tijou family has recently sold Château de la Soucherie.

There is concern that rich business people buying up these properties will change the character of this part of Layon. However, Eric Morgat, when net at the stands previously had been positive about the sale as the new owner was in a position to make the sort of investment that in recent years the Morgat family has been unable to make. This will include replanting vineyards and maturing the Anjou Blanc for longer. Although it is sad to see families, who have owned these domaines often for generations having to sell them, there is also a need for new ideas and new investment. If the incoming owners are focused on quality and prepared to spend to improve wine quality, this may well be positive for the region.

Vincent and Catherine Ogereau, Domaine Ogereau
It is just a short drive from Pierre-Bise across to the Ogereau’s in the middle of Saint-Lambert-du-Lattay. The tasting started with the rosés and the reds before moving through the dry whites to the sweet Coteaux du Layons. As ever, there wasn’t a poor wine amongst them, although the reds are unsurprisingly in a lighter vein. “The four poor summer months last year meant that there was a lack of colouring matter in the grape skins,” explained Vincent. The Anjou Rouge 2007 (100% Cabernet Franc) should be delicious to drink lightly chilled during the summer of 2008 – assuming a proper summer this year.

As with other producers the Ogereau whites are very pure this year – the Anjou Blanc Prestige looks particularly promising, as does the basic Coteaux du Layon St Lambert, which is a lovely blend of pure fruit and a mineral character. Although it has around 100 grams of residual sugar, it has a refreshing finish. Vincent has also made the Layon Cuvée Prestige and Bonnes Blanches in 2007, although as they are both still fermenting they weren’t tasted. Neither of these cuvées could be made in 2006.

Catherine Ogereau shows off their new
presentation for their Anjou Blanc Prestige 2007

Highlights from previous vintages included the Anjou Villages Cuvée Prestige 2003. Made from 100% Cabernet Franc and only in 2003 when the fruit was too rich to make an Anjou Rouge. This powerful rich wine is like an ‘Anjou-Villages-du-Pape’! Also very concentrated but with greater freshness is the 2005 Côte de la Houssaye Anjou Villages and 100% Cabernet Sauvignon. The pure and minerally 2005 Savennières Clos Le Grand Beaupréau was also very impressive and the richly citric 2005 Clos de Bonnes Blanches with 200 grams of residual sugar.

Following the tasting there was a very agreeable family lunch – a simple but delicious pot-au-feu – with Vincent and Catherine and their two children.

Jean-Hubert Lebtreton, Domaine des Rochelles
The last visit of the day was to the Lebreton’s in St Jean de Mauvrets, which is up in the Coteaux de l’Aubance and close to the Loire. We saw Jean-Hubert as his parents, Anita and Jean-Yves were off doing a tasting up in the Sarthe department.

The cross that is close to the Lebreton’s
Croix de la Mission vineyard – hence its name.

Starting with a couple of Anjou Blancs, the 2007 looked much fresher than the 2006, which was rather tired and seemed slightly oxidised. Then onto the reds. The Anjou Rouge 2007 Ardoise, which will be bottled early and released in April, was soft and easy drinking with that hint of sooty/green pepper aromas, which will probably be a characteristic of 2007 reds. The good weather in September and into October never fully compensated for the poor summer, so the 2007 fruit was naturally less ripe than in 2005 and 2006. Fully ripe Cabernet Franc does not have green pepper aromas and flavours.

Next a look at the 2006 Anjou Villages (80% Cab F, 20% Cab S) and 2006 Croix de la Mission (90% CS 10% CF). Both showing how much richer 2006 is than 2007 with the rich, concentrated, black fruited Croix de la Mission the most impressive. These wines will really need several years cellaring.

Then to the 2007 version of the same two wines, which were both impressive. It is still very early days for these wines, which are unlikely to be available before 2009. “We were amongst the last to pick,” said Jean-Hubert. “The fruit from the Croix de la Mission came in at 14-14.5%. There were no leaves left on the vines and it was around 130 days after the flowering.” Normally grapes are ready to pick around 100 days after flowering but in 2007 the flowering was very early and then everything was delayed by the poor weather.

The final red was the 2005 Millerets – 100% Cabernet Sauvignon. With its youthful toasty nose and coffee and bitter chocolate flavours the 2005 makes more than a passing nod towards a classy Bordeaux. This big wine needs a good five years to show its best.

Jean-Hubert Lebreton at a tasting of the
Lebreton wines@RSJ February 2006

There were three sweet wines to finish. The reds from Domaine des Rochelles have always been their strong point. However, although their vineyards are not ideally sited for making sweet wines they have improved noticeably over the last five years, particularly with the arrival of Jean-Hubert. The suggestively citrous 2007 Tradition Coteaux de l’Aubance was the most attractive and best value and again with that purity of fruit that is a hallmark of the 2007 whites. “L’Aubance is selling well,” Jean-Hubert told us. “I would serve this as an apero or with food but not with a dessert – it’s not rich enough.”

Back at the hotel Nigel unfortunately still wasn’t up to eating, so Tom and Jim headed out to Le Relais (, which is near Anger’s main railway station. Le Relais is one of the best restaurants in Angers, with menus ranging from €22.50 to €41 with a lunchtime menu of €18.50. The menu at €31comprised an entrée and main dish. The meal was accompanied by Eric Morgat’s rich and powerful L’Enclos 2005 Savennières and then had the 2005 Saumur from Domaine Dubois. This juicy and plummy wine was ideal with the main course of fish.

Sunday 3rd February: Renaissance des AOC, Angers
A good, crisp but rather chilly morning. Nigel managed to struggle up from his sick bed to walk over to the Greniers St Jean with Tom and Jim. The Greniers St Jean is over the other side of the River Maine that flows through Angers before joining the Loire. Having got a breath of fresh air, Nigel returned to the hotel.

By the Grenier Saint-Jean

The aim of the group ‘Renaissance des AOC’ is to return to wines that reflect their terroir or sense of place by working organically and eschewing chaptalisation, cultured yeasts, fining etc. - to try to make wine as naturally as possible. Nicolas Joly of La Coulée de Serrant is one of the leading people in the group. The tasting was split into those who are fully paid up and those who follow the criteria but who are not part of the group.

Although there were also producers from other parts of France, Tom and Jim concentrated on those from the Loire. As at last year’s edition quality here was extremely variable. We tasted some extremely good wines from producers like Richard Leroy of Rablay-sur-Layon, who makes wonderful dry white Anjou, and Eric Nicolas of Domaine du Bellivière in Jasnières and Coteaux-du-Loir.

Eric has long been an RSJ favourite and his wines are on our list. Other good producers included Thierry Michon, also on the list as well as Françoise and François Plouzeau (Domaine de la Garrelière, AC Touraine) near Richelieu, our old favourite Mark Angeli (Anjou and Bonnezeaux) and Catherine and Philippe Delesvaux (Anjou).

Equally there are some real horrors. Completely oxidised wines are a speciality of some of these producers. Unfortunately they see it as a badge of honour that they should not use sulphur dioxide at all not even in the smallest dose to provide some protection for their wines against spoilage. As they cannot get appellation approval many of these wines are sold as vin de table.

The wines of Jean-Christophe Garnier from St Lambert are one such case. Working without sulphur is possible but the winemaker has to be absolutely meticulous about topping up barrels very regularly to make sure that they are full, so that there is no air to oxidise the wines. Generally you have take great care that everything is as clean as possible. Whatever Garnier does in his winery, he ends up with undrinkable oxidised wines.

That evening Sarah Ahmed, a wine journalist, joined Tom and Jim for dinner, at Le Petit Comptoir (, a small but very good restaurant where booking is essential. Sarah runs the wine detective website and is one of Loire regional judges for the Decanter World Wine Awards. Dinner with a fixed price affair of four courses – entrée, fish, meat and dessert at €41 and was very good. Starting with an enjoyable bottle of Domaine Richou’s Anjou Blanc Chauvigné 2005 this was followed by another of Richard Leroy’s whites – Le Clos des Rouliers 2006 Anjou Blanc, which was quite rich with a little bit of wood on the nose. Rouliers is the cheaper of Richard’s two cuvées but it confirmed the earlier good impressionof his wines. Moving further east to Saumur-Champigny, the accompanying red was Patrick Vadé’s Cuvée Lea 2001, which was also showing very well. 2001 tends to be rather overshadowed by 2003 and 2006 but there were some good wines made in this vintage, which are drinking well now.