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A wine tasting of Loire wines made me dream of the past, but a glass of Coteaux du Layon inspired me to look forward to a sweet future. 

I’ve talked about the Proust effect on this blog before, but as I was reminded of this neuroscientific phenomena at a wine tasting organised by Loire Merchant Charles Sydney last week, I make no excuse for re-examining it.

The Proust Effect is a vivid involuntary memory triggered by an aroma. It is so dubbed in honour of Marcel Proust’s description of eating Madeleines in Remembrance of Things Past. I love the idea because it effectively allows me to be in two places at once and to wander about professional wine tastings looking vague. (I’m still working on an excuse for looking vague the rest of the time.)

Harvesting Cabernet Franc grapes.

Harvesting Cabernet Franc grapes

 At the Charles Sydney wine tasting I had a number of pleasing Proustian bi-polar moments. This is probably because I have an incredible soft spot for the Loire Valley in France, mainly because have enjoyed so many happy days there. If I drink a glass of Muscadet I remember sitting in front of a huge shellfish plateau in a restaurant in Nantes on the point of breaking open a spider crab with my bare hands; taste a Sancerre and I’m dancing at a harvest party to gypsy guitars; a Chinon and I’m crouched in front of a vine laden with perfectly ripe fruit, the morning sun just starting to burn off the early morning mist and a day of harvesting and laughter in front of me. Clearly these experiences make me predisposed to like Loire wines, so do these sentimental reveries prevent me from making any sort of impartial judgement? Absolutely not, because history re-written is an almost impossible challenge to beat. Lets start with the Muscadet.

Muscadet is still blighted by the curse of 1970s crimplene tanktop, it’s hard to assess anything popular in that decade without feeling you’ve wandered into an Abba revival. But Charles Sydney’s two Muscadet producers are so much more than a Mama Mia pastiche. These are serious wines which deserve to be savoured in the here and now.

Domaine de la Chauvinière 2008 has a hard-core Muscadet lovers iodine edge to it backed up with good lemony notes which make this a real blast of sea wind and a treat for anyone who loves salt. (Yeah, yeah, to health fanatics. Is salt the contemporary love that dare not speak its name?) www.everywine.co.uk sell this wine for £4.33 (not including VAT) which strikes me as being a bargain.

For a more mellow style Muscadet I enjoyed Le Fief Guerin, made by Jérôme Choblet of Domaine des Herbauges. This is richer than the above with a round sultana fruit note and a cleansing mineral/limestone on the finish which places its flavour profile firmly within the Muscadet family. The 2007 is available at Waitrose for £5.69 which again makes it good value.

As always things get a little more expensive when you head to the Central Vineyards. Sancerre and Pouilly Fumé producer Florian Mollet demonstrates why his wines have a natural the gun-powder aroma by bashing together a pair of flint stones then telling me to stick my head in a glass. It’s an effective trick which really shows-off the glorious mineral notes in his Sancerre, Roc de l’Abbaye 2008. This is a great glass of wine but the 2007 costs £12.49 a bottle at Oddbins. Bearing in mind I’m as skint as the next person with a fixed rate mortgage at the moment then I won’t be buying it especially if there are Muscadets as good as the above mentioned sitting next to it on the shop shelf.

Picking Sauvignon Blanc

Picking Sauvignon Blanc

Luckily there were also some reds to ease the recession pain and this being the Loire there were some great Cabernet Franc wines. My favourite Chinon was Les Blancs Manteaux, Vieilles Vignes 2006 from Domaine de la Noblaie. It was delicious with intense and dark smoky fruit and a chewy, yet supple, tannic finish.

Cabernet Franc also makes a showing at Jacky Blot’s well known winery, Domaine de la Butte. While the flagship wines from the top ‘La Haut de la Butte 2007’ and the mid-point ‘Mi-Pente 2007’ of the Bourgueil slope impressed me as always, the lower priced La Pied de la Butte 2008 really appealed because of fresh, clean and juicy fruit and a typically quirky Cabernet Franc touch of pencil shavings which add a really savoury note.

No Loire tasting would be complete without a look at some Chenin Blanc wines. The apogee here was a triplet of pudding wines from Coteaux du Layon made by Domaine Philippe Cady. The River Layon, one of the River Loire tributaries, is one of the few Loire vineyard regions that I haven’t visited, but tasting these wines made me want to pack my bags and head off immediately.

The trio were all from the Coteaux du Layon sub-region St Aubin with two single vineyard wines from Les Varennes and Volupté. All were from 2007 vintage. They all had a delicious and distinctive linseed oil perfume with a heady honey and orange palate. However they got progressively sweeter: the St Aubin had a still fresh 110g of residual sugar, Les Varennes had a concentrated and very naughty 170g but the Volupté had a teeth-jarring 220g which for me pushed it over the top.

Winemaker Alexandre Cady then produced a Volupté from the 1997 vintage. Turning back a decade this wine was made in a very different style. This was mature Chenin Blanc with a cinder toffee aroma, complex waxy, hazel nut and dry honey flavours with a very fresh clean finish. It wasn’t just the maturity which differentiated this wine though, the residual sugar was back down to 170g. Cady explained that at the time ‘people wanted less concentration’ but it begs the question how will the 2007 Volupté be in a decade. Or  to re-phrase the question is it worth buying some of this wine and squirreling it away? I suspect yes. The extra concentration will knit together and really show off the flavours.

At the end of a wine tasting which had inspired so much ‘Proust Effect’ retrospection it was good to be thinking of the future and wondering how these wines will evolve and where I’ll be when I try then next. It was good to turn away from the past and look forward and lose myself in future Loire travel plans and bottles of wines,  after all these are the things that memories are made of. 


Fellow Loire wine enthusiast Jim Budd was also at this tasting, inevitably he had a different take on events. To view his blog visit: