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.

Friday, October 31, 2008

2008 harvest: further updates

Most of the harvest is now finished with the exception of the Chenins for sweet wines, especially in Anjou. From Nantes to Pouilly-sur-Loire the quality is a lot higher than everyone feared it would be in early September. Once again, as in 2002 and 2007, the vintage has been saved by a fine September and October. Volumes, however, are certainly sharply down throughout the Loire with Muscadet particularly badly hit by the sharp frost of April 7th.

Here three more of our producers report on the 2008 vintage:

Jean-Hubert Lebreton

Jean-Hubert-Lebreton, Domaine des Rochelles: 28th October
The 2008 vintage looks very interesting thanks to the fine autumn weather which concentrated the Sauvignon, Chardonnay, Grolleau, Cabernet Franc, Cabernet Sauvignon and Chenins. We have high alcohol degrees but small quantities.

We picked the Chardonnay and Sauvignon in the first week of October. Then we waited until the third week of October to first pick the Cabernet Franc followed by the Cabernet Sauvignon. The Chenin is still on the vine as we are waiting firstly for the rain that is forecast for this week to clear away and then for the grapes to reconcentrate and for the botrytis to develop. At the moment the Chenin is golden with botrytis slow to develop, so the rain should be very beneficial. We just have to be patient.

In short: 2008 is good but small.

Philippe Germain

Philippe Germain, Domaine de la Roulerie, St. Aubin de Luigné, Anjou: 28th October
2008 is a very special vintage. Right until the end of August the situation was very worrying but we had the luck to have two very good months – September and October. So the quality is there but not the volume. At La Roulerie I’m between 35%-40% down on a normal year’s production. In contrast we have degrees that vary between 12.8˚ and 13.2˚ for the Chenin with an acidity of between 5.5 and 5.8. As far as the Coteaux du Layons are concerned we are making the premier tri (first selective picking) with grapes between 12.5˚ and 18˚ and we will be continuing next week. For the reds production is even more limited with degrees between 12.5˚ and 12.8˚, which I’m quite happy about.

Champalou (Vouvray) 2008 vintage report: 31st October
We finished the harvest a week ago and are pleasantly surprised by the finesse and the richness of the grapes that we have pressed. After the poor summer we weren’t very optimistic. However, our work in the vines – deleafing and severe debudding as well as the sunny months of September and October gave us a healthy harvest with a very interesting potential: degrees from 12.5˚ at the lowest to 17˚-17.5˚ for the most concentrated. There was very little noble rot this year but had a significant concentration through passerillage (drying through sun and wind). The structure and the texture of the juice indicate that the wines will be fruity with an interesting potential to age. 2002 is the closest similar vintage with perhaps greater complexity. I think this year we will see the range of Vouvray will be from sec-tendre (off-dry) and sweets that are delicate with an emphasis on freshness and fruit – fine wines not too sugary.

Didier Champalou

Saturday, October 25, 2008

Vincent and Catherine Ogereau: 2008 progress report

I caught up briefly on the phone this morning with Vincent and Catherine, Domaine Ogereau in Saint-Lambert-du-Lattay in the Layon Valley.

Vincent: Overall the vintage isn’t too bad. We have been very surprised by how little there is – lack of juice in the grapes and small berries. However, the quality across the board – Rosé de Loire, Cabernet d’Anjou, Anjou Blanc Sec and the reds – is good. We finished the Cabernet Franc last Saturday. As it was completely ready we picked all of it in a day with a big team of 20-25, including university friends of Emmanuel (Catherine and Vincent’s son). The Franc had 13% potential and the acidity had come down to 4.8 gms – 10 days ago the it had been up at 7.5-8 gms. But the yield is only 20 hl/ha!

“On Thursday we finished the Cabernet Sauvignon in the Côte de la Houssaye – potential 13.7%. As far as the sweet wines are concerned we have hardly started – just two small passages through the vines with the grapes around 18% potential. The Chenin is now about ready to pick but it’s damp this morning and unfortunately rain is forecast for Monday and Tuesday. The pity is that if we had fine weather there is only about a week’s picking left.”

Friday, October 24, 2008

Nigel's wines of the moment (1)

This is the first of new series. I will be recommending wines that I’m particularly enjoying drinking at the moment. It might be the wine that hits the spot when I have a moment to relax. Equally some new discovery that we have just added to the list.

Hence my ‘wines of the moment’! I will be updating my choice fairly regularly, although it won’t be every week. Instead it will probably every two or three weeks. Tom King has promised to badger me. Equally you could always post a comment of this blog to remind me.

Here then are my first 'wines of the moment':


2006 Saumur Blanc Château de Villeneuve Jean-Pierre Chevallier (£19.50*)
Jean-Pierre’s ‘basic’ white is made from 100% Chenin Blanc, part is vinified in stainless steel and some in 400 litre barrels. I love the balance of ripe fruit and acidity. It has both concentration and freshness, which can be difficult to achieve – too often you have the concentration but lose the freshness.

I’m also enjoying Pierre Luneau’s Muscadets. He is really doing some good things and they are great value. We have a range Pierre’s Muscdets – all sur lie and from the Sèvre-et-Maine – starting from 2006 Domaine Pierre de la Grange (£16.25) up to the 1990 L’Or de Pierre Luneau (£29.95). Yes, that’s not a typo it really is 1990 as Pierre’s wines age incredibly well.


2006 Chinon Tradition Philippe Alliet (£22.95)
This is really quite big I thought as I poured myself a large glass of this last weekend. Going back to it a day later the acidity was starting to show through and it was fresher. This has developed a slightly gamy nose and is drinking really nicely at the moment. Nobody is making better Chinon than Philippe. Can be enjoyed now but should easily keep up to 10 years.

* Restaurant list prices.

Retail prices:
2006 Saumur Blanc Château de Villeneuve Jean-Pierre Chevallier £9.50

2006 Muscadet de Sèvre-et-Maine, Domaine Pierre de la Grange £6.95

1990 L’Or 1990 de Pierre Luneau Muscadet de Sèvre-et-Maine £12.95

2006 Chinon Tradition Philippe Alliet £10.15

Saturday, October 18, 2008

Loire sites and blogs

Over the last couple of months there have been several launches blogs or sites featuring Loire wines as well as the RSJ’s own blog. The most recent is Richard Kelley’s the definitive guide to the wines of the Loire. Richard, who is the wine buyer for Richard’s Walford one of the UK’s best wine importers and whose clients include Domaine Huet (say no more), went live this week. For the moment his detailed guide covers Savennières but more will be added soon.

We are delighted to see the Loire finally getting the attention it deserves.

We are happy to recommend:

Chris Kissack: The Wine Doctor (
Jacqueline Friedrich: The Wine Humanist (
Jim Budd: Jim’s Loire (
Richard Kelley: (

Friday, October 17, 2008

Chinon tasting: Monday 13th October 2008

Looking across the Vienne from the coteau
near Cravant-les-Coteaux

Around 20 members of the RSJ wine club enjoyed a tasting of Chinons from 2006 back to 1986 with the customary three-course meal. As Jim was just down the road at Vinopolis on a wine investment panel, Nigel ran the tasting. His comments on the wine are in purple italics.

Nigel: I thought all the wines were showing well – there were no major disappointments.

2006 Chinon Blanc Baudry-Dutour £10.15*
With the unfortunate family schism at Couly-Dutheil Baudry-Dutour is now probably the biggest individual producer in Chinon. The white has to be 100% Chenin and, although the area planted with Chenin has increased recently, it remains a tiny proportion compared to the Cabernet Franc planted for the red.

Had nice weight and it went down very well with everyone.

Cuvée Tradition 2006 Philippe and Claude Alliet £10.50
From gravel vineyards, which are not as good as those up on the coteau but these are what Philippe started and established his reputation with.

This is really quite big I thought to myself as I poured a large glass of this last weekend. Going back to it a day later the acidity was starting to show through and it was fresher. This has developed a slightly gamy nose and is drinking really nicely at the moment.

Christophe Baudry at the new Baudry-Dutour winery in Panzoult

2002 Vieilles Vignes Domaine de la Perrières Christophe Baudry £9.95
From a lovely vintage – not a heavyweight but classic Chinon character, very elegant.

2000 Beaumont Pierre and Catherine Breton n/a
The Bretons are one of several Bourgueil vignerons to have vines in Chinon, Pierre –Jacques Druet is another, and Beaumont to the west of Chinon tends to be a favourite area for them. Not surprising as it is close to Bourgueil. In 2000 you really needed to pick before the rains started in mid-October as they didn’t stop until the following March!

Compared to the big vintages like 2005 and 2006 this has a much fresher character, balanced with some weight. I would drink this now. Was good with the seared organic salmon.

Château de Coulaine

2004 Bonnaventure Château de Coulaine n/a
The property dates from 1300 and vines been grown here ever since. The estate, which is west of Chinon on the road to Avoine and Bourgueil, now has 12 ha and has been run by Etienne et Pascale de Bonnaventure since 1988. Coulaine now one of the appellations leading producers and is organic.

Really lovely – given that 2004 is not a superlative vintage, it showed very well against the 2005s.

2005 Vieilles Vignes Domaine de la Perrières Baudry-Dutour £9.95
From vines that are more than 40 years old and planted on gravel, the wine is aged in wood for 12 months – a mix of casks and barrels – before bottling.

Typical 2005 with very ripe black fruits to the fore and a touch of wood that gives structure and spice to the wine. Should age well as 2005 was an excellent vintage .

First course:
Seared organic Salmon
Roasted fennel, potato gnocchi
Red wine reduction

1986 Clos de l’Echo Couly-Dutheil (magnum) n/a
Just opposite the château Clos de l’Echo is the most famous single vineyard in Chinon and one of the best-known in the Loire.

I’ve spent years waiting for the 1986s to come round and show their paces. This is tasting much better than it has done in the past. Even though it hasn’t been brilliantly stored the neck level is good. It has a light red fruit nose and red cherry flavour. It is certainly not past it – indeed there is plenty of life there. I remember years ago Christophe Baudry telling me that the 1986s were potentially better than the 1985s, which was a very good 80s vintage.

2005 Vieilles Vignes Philippe and Claude Alliet
Although Nigel didn’t say so, the VV can be enjoyed young now but has the potential to age and become more complex.

Wow! This is a big old bugger! There’s so much fruit – black fruits and smoke.

2004 Coteau du Noire Philippe and Claude Alliet £16.95
Previously I’d found the oak quite present, however it's now showing very well with huge concentration and it went very with saddle of lamb. The oak and the tannins are becoming much better integrated. You need a good chunky dish for this one.

Main course:
Roast saddle of lamb
Black pudding
Creamed savoy cabbage, heritage carrots, new potatoes
Red wine jus

Iced pandan parfait, poached pear, passion fruit sauce

When we took a vote at the end the stars were: 2006 Chinon Blanc Baudry-Dutour, 2005 Alliet Vieilles Vignes and the Coteau de Noire 2004.

Were you at the tasting? Do you agree with Nigel’s comments? Either way we would love to hear from you.

Also if you are not on the mailing list for RSJ events – tastings and Ursula's Sunday lunches – please contact Tom King on 020-7928 4554 or if you would like your name added to the list.

(* retail prices and correct on the night of the tasting, when a 10% discount was offered on wines ordered during the evening.)

Thursday, October 16, 2008

Sancerre 2008: Roger Champault et fils

Receiving grapes at the Champaults' winery in Champin.
Note the conveyor on the right of the tractor.

8th October 2008
Late morning we dropped in on the Champaults in the hamlet of Champtin, which is just a couple of kilometres west of Bué. We saw Claude Champault and his father, Roger. Laurent, the other brother, was out in the vineyards.

“We started last Thursday,” said Roger, “and there are about three days harvesting left.” While we talked Claude and a couple of workers were trying to fix the belt of the conveyor that takes the grapes into the press. Machines breaking down at vintage time are always a problem. So much of the equipment, like presses and conveyors, needed during the vintage is only used for a maximum of two or three weeks in the year. Only after their long lay-off to be used almost continuously, so breakdowns are inevitable.

Using conveyors means that the fruit is treated much more gently than pumping it in through a pipe. It is very noticeable how much more care now take over the handling of grapes.

Claude had time to let me taste some of the 2008 juice, which was very clean – just as it has been with all the producers visited in Sancerre and Pouilly. “We picked the Pinot Noir in Menetou-Salon yesterday,” said Claude. “We harvest about two hectares a day and I expect that we will finish on Friday. Yields are averaging 60 hl/ha.”

As we left Claude pointed out their shiny new Italian Defranceschi pneumatic press. Just a few more days work before it gets a long rest before the 2009 vintage!

View towards hamlet of Champtin and its vineyards

Friday, October 10, 2008

Harvest news from Frédéric Mabileau

Freddy is now picking his Cabernet Franc. “We are harvesting in the sunshine,” said Natalie Mabileau. “The quality is very good with the grapes between 11.5% and 13% potential depending on the parcel. But unfortunately the yield is tiny – varying between 10 hl/ha and 30 hl/ha. Tomorrow we will be in Le Puy Notre Dame to make our first tri (selection) of the Chenin Blanc for our white Saumur.

Harvest news from the Central Vineyards (Part1)

On Monday we headed off to Sancerre and Pouilly to catch up on the harvest there. On the way we dropped in on Chantal Wilk and Jean Tatin of Domaine des Ballandors in Quincy. Jean was delighted with the harvest and certainly walking through the vineyards, watching the picking machine make its way up and down the rows, the grapes looked perfect. Chantal and Jean started picking on Friday 26th September and they expect to finish at the end of this week.

Jean Tatin tasting Sauvignon Blanc in Quincy: 6.10.2008

“It’s like 2006, which was a very good year,” enthused Jean, “The Sauvignon is coming in between 13%-14% similar to 2006, which had a level of ripeness that hadn’t been seen in Quincy since 1959! It was September, which has made the difference. Even though the temperatures have not been high during the good spell of weather it’s the wind from the north that has concentrated the sugars and acidity.”

Small bunch of Sauvignon Blanc: Quincy 6.10.2008

Next stop was Sancerre where they are getting fully into harvest mode having as usual started about a week later than Quincy, as Sancerre and Pouilly are noticeably colder in the winter. The drizzle that had been threatening form much of the morning became more persistent as we got towards Sancerre where we saw Jean-Marie Bourgeois (Henri Bourgeois).

He was as enthusiastic about 2008 as Jean Tatin. “I’m very happy with 2008,” he said. “We started picking last Thursday.” We tasted 2008 juice from several tanks, starting with the Petit Bourgeois – their vin de pays made from juice they buy in from producers in the Cher Valley, who have to operate under strict quality controls but who are paid well over the going rate. The juice is impressively good – pure and with considerable richness. It’s the same with the rest of the juice we taste. “We picked some of the Pinot on Saturday – between 12.55% and 12.8%. We are between a quarter and a third of the way through the harvest.”

Hotel and restaurant Les Côtes des Monts Damnés

That evening we had dinner with Jean-Marie in the new restaurant at La Côte des Monts Damnés, which has been enlarged to include a 12-room hotel and bistro. It is run by Jean-Marc and Karine Bourgeois, Jean-Marie’s son and daughter in law. We also stayed there overnight in a very comfortable room. The hotel and restaurant are definitely recommended.

Saturday, October 4, 2008

Harvest news from Saumur

(3 October 2008)

Looking towards the church of Souzay-Champigny
and Château de Villeneuve (right)

Jean-Pierre Chevallier

Jean Pierre Chevallier, Château de Villeneuve
Caught up with Jean-Pierre in his Les Cormiers vineyard (Chenin Blanc), close to the famous Clos des Murs. He and his pickers were busy doing a selective picking – choosing those bunches affected by noble rot and therefore too rich and powerful in alcohol to go straight into Les Cormiers, his grand vin blanc. They started yesterday afternoon and Jean-Pierre was very surprised that the juice that came out of the press was 18.4% potential. “I can’t make dry wine with that!” he said. “I’ll ferment it separately and may be I’ll make some Coteaux de Saumur again this year – not what I had intended to do.” Château de Villeneuve has made Coteaux de Saumur only twice before – in 1921 and 2003. JP is well satisfied with the quality of the fruit both Chenin and Cabernet.

What they are picking: botrytis affected grapes

What's being left to pick next week:
perfect bunches for a great dry white

“I got a special derogation from the INAO to start picking my Cabernet today as one parcel was already at 13.7% on Monday and the rest is between 12.8%-13.2% but with an acidity of 6.7. I’ll start picking the Cabernet next week.”

Thierry Germain (Domaine des Roches Neuves)
We saw Thierry on Thursday afternoon. He was hoping to start on Friday (3rd) if the weather holds. His Chenin is between 12.5%-13% potential and between 6.5 and 7.5 acidity. “The acidity levels are dropping,” said Thierry. He intends to start on his Cabernet Franc next Wednesday. “They were at 12.2% potential last Friday with the acidity at 5.5.”

Cabernet Franc in one of Thierry's vineyards (2.10.2008)

“With the high acidity levels and their thick skins the 2008 reds will be complicated to vinify well,” he says. “It will be very important not to extract a lot of tannin. With the white I will do a less severe débourbage (juice settling) than usual.”

We went with Thierry on a quick drive to look at his vines. This took in a visit to his small parcel (15 ares – 0.15 ha) francs pieds vines (ungrafted vines) planted using the old system of échalas (cultivation around a pole). Thierry’s 15 ares are planted with Cabernet Franc to the equivalent density of 10,000 vines per hectare – the average density in the region is 5500 per hectare. He is very excited as he will get the first crop off them this year as they were planted in 2004/05. “I love their purity of flavour – their freshness,” says Thierry. “The flavour is totally different to grapes from grafted vines.” This fruit will be vinified separately in 400 litre open topped barrels. Thierry hopes to get a few vintages from them before the vines are destroyed by phylloxera. The soil is sandy clay over limestone, so with luck it may take a little while for the phylloxera to get at them. “I’ve long had a dream to cultivate vines using this old system (échalas) that you’ll find in parts of Burgundy.” It can also be found in the Mosel.

Thierry in his ungrafted vineyard of Cabernet Franc

Thierry also confirmed that there will be no Marginale 2007 as the vintage wasn't good enough. Instead it will be blended into the other cuvées. Jean-Pierre Chevallier has come to a similar decision for his 2007 reds – there will be no Grand Clos or Vieilles Vignes 2007. As in 2004 and 1998 all will go into the straight Saumur-Champigny, which will be bottled in early 2009. On previous experience this should mean that the Villeneuve 2007 will be extremely good for the year and remarable value.

Antoine Foucault: getting ready for the vintage
We dropped in on Antoine at Chacé who, assisted by his cousin, was busy making final preparations for the start of the harvest of his Chenin Blanc expected early next week depending on the acidity levels. When last checked his young Chenin vines were at 12.2% and the Centenaires at 13.5% with acidity levels around 7. Antoine said that the Foucault brothers, Antoine’s father Charly and Nadi, will probably start in the middle of next week – again dependent on what happens to the acidity.

Antoine with his 2006 Domaine du Collier Saumur Blanc

We quickly tasted the Domaine du Collier 2006 Saumur Blanc, which has just been bottled – absolutely delicious (see below) as well as the 2005 La Charpentrie Saumur Blanc from 100 year old vines. This is richer reflecting both the vintage and the age of the vines but still with fine minerality.

Antoine Foucault’s stock control problem
So delicious is Antoine’s 2006 Domaine Saumur Blanc that his father, Charly, can’t keep his hands off this recently bottled wine, which has some floral aromas, a hint of butter and toast but overall a wonderful mineral purity and great length of flavour. Although the disappearing stock may be hitting Antoine’s bottom line, it’s also a huge compliment as Charly and his brother, Nadi’s, wines are the benchmark for the region.

Antoine's dog gets ready for the vintage – snoozing in the little trailer that will take the debris that's left over after being through the press

We currently have both the 2004 Saumur Blanc Domaine du Collier and the 2004 Saumur Blanc La Charpentrie from Antoine Foucault on the restaurant list.

Régis Neau, Domaine de Nerleux
Our last visit on Friday (3rd) was to see Régis. From having been a glorious morning the sky was now covered and threatening rain. There’s good news for RSJ customers, who enjoy Régis’ ever-popular Crémant de Loire.

Régis in his vines destined for Coteaux de Saumur: early November 2007

“I’ve finished picking grapes for the Crémant,” said Régis “We started on the Chardonnay on 19th September, the Chenin on 22nd and the Cabernet on 23rd/24th. We finished on 29th/30th with another parcel of Chenin. We now have 7 hectares, which we use for sparkling wine. As everywhere the yields are down this year. Normally we have 70 hl/ha – this year it’s 57 hl/ha overall. The Cabernet at 50 hl/ha and the Chenin at 65 hl/ha. We are now waiting for the Chenin and cabernet for the still wines. For the Cabernet the acidity in the best parcels is now down below 6. At Monsoreau I have some Cabernet that is between 11.2 and 12.2 with acidities between 5.2 and 6.5. The Chenin is a 12% with 7.5 acidity. It’s been very dry – we need a little rain now but not too much!”

Will be reporting from Sancerre, Pouilly etc. early next week.