The sole June 2020 panel tasting is Loire Sauvignon Blanc.
Ooh la la! L'elegance, la finesse, etc etc.
What's under test? Pretty much anything from the core regions of the upper/central Loire ... such classic AOCs/names as Pouilly-Fumé, Sancerre and Menetou-Salon, plus the outliers of Quincy, Reuilly and the broader downstream area of Touraine (as one heads intyo Chenon Blanc country). Map-wise, that looks a bit like this:
map courtesy of Decanter (www.decanter.com)
Some general chat
But those names: Pouilly-Fumé and Sancerre.
Come with me on another journey, this one back in time; bear with and indulge me, if you will. It is 1998: the Spice Girls and Jamiroquai (Heaven forbid) are in the charts. France are closing in on an unexpected World Cup victory. Most importantly, the sea trout are coming in from the Atlantic. Your narrator, you see, is working as a fishing ghillie (rowing boats up and down a loch) by day and serving wine in a far North Highland fishing hotel by night. The celebration of a (rare) good fish - accompanied, very occasionally, by the fish itself - will seldom be made with Champagne, Chablis or Burgundy. Rather, beaming guests will descend to enter the dining room and announce, just a little too loudly, "I believe we'll take the <dramatic pause> Pouilly-Fumé" or "shall we make that the <coughs, turns to onlooking tables> Sancerre?"
Loire Sauvignon was a statement of luxury, of taste, of class. This may have been the peak of fashionability for what was then the cutting edge of Sauvignon Blanc. Marlborough (NZ) was becoming known but was still small in Europe, even the UK. Pretenders elsewhere were small in number, volume and quality.
Since, so much has changed. New World Sauvignon is now largely its definition. The Old World (Rueda, northern Italy, say) is producing some star turns. France itself sees Sauvignon appearing from - and strengthening in - other quarters (not least of which, Bordeaux), and there is alas overall dilution in quality of Loire SB as more producers seek to use the big appellation names without the historic care that was their watchword (see also for this trend: Rioja, Cava, Chianti...).
But not all is bad. Far from it: the great producers of the 'Central Vineyards' of the Loire have largely maintained its quality and prestige. What is good is still very good. And, especially in Touraine, there is now mid-priced (£10-£15) Loire Sauvignon that is increasingly excellent.
Obviously, the Decanter review focuses on what is good. We've made sure we're offering one of the wines that is Outstanding. We'll get to that in just a second. But first, just a few 'primer' bullet points on the region and its wines ...
Loire Sauvignon - a starter for ten
photo courtesy of Christophe Mouton (www.christophemouton.com)
The Decanter review
The review used its time-honoured, panel-based, blind-tasted approach.
We offer one of the two Outstandings. We have 600 bottles waiting to leave to loving homes. Beyond those 600, we will struggle to source more. If you fancy this wine, it's probably best not to hang about.
That top-scorer is from from one of the greats of Sancerre (named by Jancis as one of its finest exponents). Lucien Crochet's Les Calcaires 2017 is drawn from a range of his plots near Bué, one of the key Sancerre villages. There's a heap more info on Crochet on the product page for Les Calcaires and on his/their website.
It drew, as you'd rather expect, great praise from the judging panel. We can italicise their quotes in bold, or just let you take a gander at the review below. Certainly, "brilliant energy and aromatics", "very clean and precise" and "massive focus and grip" are suitable statements ("sweaty," we really do not get...)
Some may spot:
a) the far drinking horizon of 2035. Leading to the question: can I drink it now? You certainly can. Its time in bottle and high fruit concentration already make this glass-ready ... and you have a superb wine in front of you. That's flexibility that is: no need to glug this by Christmas, no need to keep if for the grandchildren. But if you like the tones of ageing, this will do that beautifully. Take some to drink; save some for a few years' time. It's up to you. Whichever you choose, the Les Calcaires is an excellent partner.
b) the price: Decanter shows £19.18 while we're at £21.00. We'd love to be under £20, but we can't do that here, despite shaving our margin to the bone. But neither, actually, unless you're very quick and prepared to buy a lot, can the named party there. £21 is a very fine price for this wine; we have it ready to leave.
Demand, as ever, will be for the very top wine(s). We don't offer a vast array more, especially with reliable sourcing being a definite concern at the current time. For balance and variety, and from this review, we offer the oaked and delightful Les Calcis Pouilly-Fumé from Tabordet (2017, 90 points), Reverdy's Domaine de Villaudiere Sancerre (2018, 90 points) and Cherrier's Domaine de la Rossignole (2018, 91 points), all at UK-beating prices.
And also, on the subject of Loire SB...
Off the back of this Loire SB focus, we do have a great offer available, although we aren't claiming the following wines were themselves panel tested. Which is not to doubt their quality: one is an upper 'house' Loire SB at a very-well-known, 3-star Michelin restaurant (this is indeed their stranded stock) and the Menetou's 2019 vintage scores 91 in the panel. Perhaps the biggest statement is that these are from Joseph Mellot, another of the super-classic names of the upper Loire.
We've managed to secure a block of a Menetou, a Pouilly-Fumé and a Sancerre at great prices (£13.95, £15.50 and 16.95 resp). If you fancy a little stocking up for immediate/more everyday drinking that you might intend for the Crochet, here is a fine opportunity indeed. These wines are all £3-£5 lower in price than they really ought to be. And they present a chance, not only to find a rare Menetou (only 12% of all Menetou is exported), but also to compare and contrast these three classic appellations. But move quickly: there are not many of these to go round. Click the banner below.
Awarded 90 points and Highly Recommended status by Decanter (www.decanter.com) in their June 2020 edition panel tasting of Loire Sauvignon Blanc (see blue link below).
Run by Pascal and Marie-Laure together with their son Marius, Domaine Tabordet is a 19-hectare estate, including five hectares in Sancerre and 14 ha in Pouilly-Fumé. The domain is very much a family business, run in a traditional spirit, but using the latest winemaking technology. The vineyards are managed with the utmost respect for sustainability and biodiversity. The resulting wines are a true reflection of the diverse terroirs which make up their estate, showing characteristic flinty flavours, with good weight and a full body.
The winter was mild, with cold spells in January. Spring was marked by frost, which affected some vines. The summer warmed up and flowering took place under good weather conditions. The summer remained warm and was very dry; as a result the vines stared to get depleted of water. Thankfully a significant storm took place at the end of July, bringing beneficial rainwater. Harvest took place early, starting on 18th September, with grapes having reached good maturity levels and excellent quality.
The vineyard is situated in the heart of the Pouilly Fumé appellation on the right bank of the Loire River. The vines are trained according to the Guyot method. The vineyard is carefully cultivated throughout the year with debudding of the vines, tilling of the soil to reduce the need for herbicides; and certain parcels are left with grass cover to limit the vigour of the vines. Canopy management such as deleafing takes place at the end of June. The soil in the vineyard is made up of Kimmeridgian marl, which is a chalky clay; caillottes a local chalky limestone and silex, a clay with flint throughout. The harvest takes place between mid-September and mid-October when the grapes have reached optimal maturity.
The wine was made with as little intervention as possible, in order to express the characteristics of the grapes and the terroir. The grapes were carefully selected and gently pressed to avoid crushing. The must was transported by gravity into vats, where it was cooled to 10°C and clarified. Fermentation took place in old 600 litre barriques of two to five years. Once fermentation was complete, the wine was aged in the barriques for 10 to 12 months, imparting subtle oak characteristics and structure. The wine was gently filtered prior to being bottled.
Sauvignon Blanc 100%.
A barrel-fermented Pouilly Fumé with good fruit concentration, characteristic flinty notes and a subtle touch of vanilla. The textured palate is beautifully balanced and has a lovely mineral freshness on the long, persistent finish.
ABV = 13.0%.