France: Loire & Sancerre
The magnificent 2009 vintage left its gilt-edged fingerprints all over this year’s Loire submissions, with spectacular, seductive reds and vibrant Chenin Blancs in particular

One of the few categories with a genuine chance of delivering Golds across red, white and rosé, the Loire has, in the past, often been something of a let-down. Not this year. There were high-class wines across the colour spectrum, as a good spread of Golds and Silvers demonstrates. It’s just that they didn’t necessarily come from where you might expect.
Sancerre, for instance, picked up Golds for a red and a rosé (listed in Rosé in the Essentials section), but nothing beyond Silver for its whites. The Chenins outperformed the Sauvignons, and the second most expensive wine was a vin de pays – Mister L Sauvignon Blanc picking up its second consecutive Gold.

If this looks somewhat confusing, then the Alice-in-Wonderland nature of the results is probably explicable by the fact that many of the wines were 2009s. And while the glorious, sun-filled vintage was fantastic for reds and Chenin, it gave many of the Sauvignon Blancs
a rather atypical ripeness that was not universally popular with the tasters.

‘When I taste Loire Sauvignon I am looking for freshness and for moreish acidity that brings me back to the wine wanting more,’ grumbled Mikaël Hannequin.

Even the Mister L was described as ‘not necessarily classic Loire Valley, but still very,
very good,’ by Philippe Moranges, Hakkasan.

There was a lot less controversy in the Chenins, however. Described as ‘a superb flight’ by one taster, the only caveat was the fact that the wines would probably be a hand-sell. But the intensity, complexity and backbone of acidity – especially at the top end – meant our tasters were happy to overlook that for Chenin's food-pairing possibilities. The La Cabriole Blanc, for instance, was earmarked not just because of its great value for money but also for its food-friendliness, and picked up a By The Glass Award for its performance with white fish. ‘It’s all those things that you would like Chenin Blanc to be,’ said Sarah Jane Evans MW.
The Savennières Chamboureau, from the more restrained 2008 vintage, was spotted as
a fine, elegant wine but was simply too young and tight to go on a list at the moment.

It was a similar story with the reds, where the 2009 vintage underpinned most medals, providing clear, lifted Cab Franc aromatics, freshness, ripeness and firm but fine tannins.

‘There was a good variety of wines here, with a lot of clear Cabernet Franc character – violet aromas and red fruit, ripeness and ripe tannins. Wines that would pair well with rich foods such as confit de canard or even a truffle omelette,’ said China Tang’s Xavier Chapelou.

“Many of the Chenin Blancs were seductive and enjoyable, with floral, peachy and honeyed notes. All had the typical acidity of Chenin, and the value was very good. ” Mikaël Hannequin, Searcys


Cave de Saumur Blanc La Cabriole 2009, Loire, France
£6.22 @ Enotria
  Seductive, sweet, cooked pear with floral hints on the nose. The acidity and minerality are well balanced, with fresh fruit on the palate and a lovely finish. ‘Lively and long, with a clean, pure, youthful citrus tang. Great for "by the glass",’ said Team Leader Sarah Jane Evans MW. ‘Good value,’ noted Natasha Hughes.

De Ladoucette Vouvray 2008, Vouvray, France
£9.29 @ John E Fells & Sons
SWA 2011 Gold List Honeyed pears with some white flowers on the nose, the judges loved the complexity of the palate. Good high acidity, baked apple, dried quince and honey, it was all there. ‘Intense, long, crisp – delightful,’ said Team Leader Natasha Hughes. ‘Good food wine,’ said Hakkasan's Roberto Loppi, while Philippe Moranges liked the zippy minerality.

Levin Wines Mister L Sauvignon Blanc 2009, Loire, France
£18 @ Levin Wines
SWA 2011 Gold List Without doubt a head-turner, this full-bodied Sauvignon does not fit in the ‘classic’ Loire mould. Vanilla oak combines with gooseberries, nettles and herbs on an intense nose, while the palate has good acidity. ‘The use of oak is rounded and creamy to perfection. Very food friendly,’ said Mikaël Hannequin. ‘Unusual style,’ said Philippe Moranges.

La Barbotaine Sancerre Rouge 2009, Sancerre, France
£9.39 @ Amathus Drinks
SWA 2011 Gold List Pleasantly perfumed with notes of wild raspberries and violets, this has great freshness and nicely balanced tannins. Roberto della Pietra of Gauthier Soho, found ‘little baked cherries on the palate'. ‘Gamey notes – really edgy with an ironstone minerality,’ said Team Leader Angela Reddin. ‘Terrific length.’


Domaine Vacheron Sancerre Blanc 2010, Sancerre, France
£13.30 @ Stevens Garnier
Crisp and refreshing, this ripples with zingy acidity, green apple, lime and lemon citrus fruit. Mikaël Hannequin appreciated the ‘deep, quite flinty, mineral nose', while Roberto Loppi found it ‘complex and very persistent’, and Sarah Jane Evans MW liked the ‘fine mineral texture’.

Cave de Saumur Reserve des Vignerons 2009, Saumur-Champigny, France
£8.29 @ Bottle Green
A zappy wine with bright red and purple berry, currant and juicy cherry fruit,  mint, spice and hints of coffee on the base. Slightly grippy tannins. ‘Youthful yet already impressive,’ said Angela Reddin.

Domaine Vacheron Belle Dame Sancerre Rouge 2007, Sancerre, France
£14.23 @ Stevens Garnier
This split the panel, with its fans praising its complexity. ‘Blackcurrant, strawberry, cedar, cloves and kirsch on the nose, leading to strawberry, blackcurrant, mint and cedar on the palate, ripe tannins and a long finish,’ said Peter Csizmadia-Honigh, Institute of Masters of Wine.


Les Coteaux Tufiers Demi-Sec 2008, Vouvray, Loire, France £5.34 @ Boutinot
Sweet, overripe, tropical fruit nose on this demi-sec Vouvray, with lots of floral tones plus honey, camomile and acacia, and proper acidity on the palate. ‘A great representative of Loire Chenin at a very good price,’ said Bistro du Vin's Sergio Benito. ‘So seductive,’ said Mikaël Hannequin. ‘A delight.’

Clos de Nouys Sec 2009, Vouvray, Loire, France
£8.34 @ Boutinot
With minerality coming through nicely, all regarded this as a classic Chenin Blanc. ‘Good fresh chalk coming through a very complex, fruit-driven nose, said Mikaël Hannequin. ‘A proper glass
of white wine.’

Le Chenin Anjou Blanc 2008, Loire, France
£11.08 @ Liberty Wines
Complex yet restrained and elegant, this wine is dry and Bramley apple crisp. It has ‘a fine minerality that stands out and balances well with the acidity', said Sergio Benito. ‘Great value,’ added Natasha Hughes.

Domaine de la Voltonnerie Les Valles 2010, Sancerre, France
£11.66 @ Sommelier’s Friend
Packing an intense flavour punch, this impressed with its energy, but divided on whether its
vim and vigour was too much for food. ‘Expressive lime and gooseberry notes – almost like the New World. Incisive, nice and crisp,’ was Mikaël Hannequin’s view.

Chamboureau Savennieres 2008, Loire, France
£17.72 @ Liberty Wines
Well-integrated oak along with honey, quince and beeswax, this is layered but incredibly long. ‘The palate is multi-dimensional, still fresh and very mineral,’ observed Mikaël Hannequin. ‘I’d buy this.’

Domaine Vacheron Les Romains Sancerre Blanc 2009, Sancerre, France
£20.52 @ Stevens Garnier
An intense yet delicate wine with freshness and great length. Sarah Jane Evans MW liked
the ‘floral, herbal, country nose', and the ‘mineral, pebbly notes', but unfortunately the price
did not appeal to the judges.

Editorial feature from Imbibe Magazine – May/June 2011

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