Wine buying on the Loire

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Oct 3rd, 2018, 05:37 AM
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Wine buying on the Loire

As those who read many of my threads may well know I travel every year to the continent of Europe from the UK to buy wine. After a series of holidays that have included Puglian wine while also getting married, Champagne, Alsace, Bordeaux, Rioja, Champagne and Mosel wine now it is the time to visit the Loire. For me the Loire has no chateaux, but it has over a thousand km of wines from some very interesting terroir and grapes from a very wide range of types which I will share with 10 friends and Daisy the dog who also has to come. It's September, the weather is lovely and you need to know that September is especially the time when Brits without kids at school head south as the place is generally empty of tourists.

Being based in Leeds in Yorkshire it means that most of my friends first have to get past a lot of England and London before heading off across France while crossing the channel is an extra frustration and occurs via a number of different ferries, Portsmouth to Ouistreham being a favorite along with the train under the channel but in Mrs Bilbo's and my case we used the Dover to Calais ferry. This meant we had to get around the M25 and the toll bridge that exists on east side of London. Famous for being a bottleneck it now uses number-plate recognition to collect the toll (and the use of an APP) but the shear load on a Saturday afternoon meant we still sat stationary for long periods waiting for others to get out of the way.

Arriving in Dover is odd as it is more and more just a small town stuck on the side of a massive ferry terminal. All very well organised and the tickets with DFDS allow you to catch the one before the booked one and the one after to compensate for variable road traffic flow. The ferry on this day was basically empty of car traffic though the truck load was still significant, you can see the Dover castle from the ferry, and this day we could see the French coast clearly from Dover harbour. Once on board the ferry we say in cafe style seating in splendid isolation and watched the sea go by.

We arrived in Calais at about 6pm (local time being an hour ahead) and an hour later turned up at the B&B Chambre d'Hôtes 19. to be greated by our hosts who I had texted all week in French and turned out to be southern English. “red or white” sometimes is a good start and for about E100 we had supper for two, a nights sleep and a good breakfast. Other customers included two French couples so we had the opportunity to kick-start our French at the communal dining table.
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Oct 4th, 2018, 08:38 AM
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oh dear, slightly rocky start, Bilbo [why did they let you carry on texting in French?] but glad that you are now arrived on French soil and had what sounds like a fun night. We once stayed in a B&B in Pampol with a communal table and were surprised [and in my case delighted, DS and DH not so much] that there were no english speakers amongst the 6 other guests who were all french, so I had plenty of opportunity not to make myself understood.

Do you have something against the Chateaux of the Loire? Given that there is a Michelin Guide devoted entirely to their delights, I think to say it has "no chateaux" is a little harsh. If nowhere else, Villandry should be lovely this time of year and who can resist the uber-romantic setting of Chenonceau? [apart from you, of course!]

It is a long time since I've been to Dover; I used to have to go there to sit on Social Security Tribunals the dire memory of which does not endear it to me - the best thing about it was leaving.

Looking forward to more!
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Oct 4th, 2018, 01:35 PM
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After living off and on in Loiret area for several years I was struck that even though a major wine district I did not see that many vineyards - but I went mostly to chateaux and the wine districts are elsewhere - Bourgueil is a vast see of vines and Chinon and Saumur areas too - but areas I biked or drove thru seemed to have few. Anyway on for the ride to learn more about Loire wines.
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Oct 6th, 2018, 01:42 AM
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Hi Ann, not harsh, just people (including me) tend not to see what doesn't interest them. Before the internet we always used to kick start languages at Table d'hotes and Chambres d'hotes.

Sunday: We stayed here to take advantage of a Grenier-Vide which occurred locally (use google to find your own) where people empty out their lofts and sell to visitors, normally full of tat occasionally you find real gems, but this day we got nothing. We then carefully turned our phone GPS to exclude motorways and headed to Nogent-le-rotrou. Weather was perfect 30C, blue sky and very few cars on the road as we headed south of Calais and west of Paris, crossing the Somme river, the Seine river and finding lots of small festivals, bike races and bring-and-buy markets along the way. After 5 hours we ended up in a small very cheap old coaching inn in Nogent. The town is famous for a medievel centre and a massive fortress designed to keep out the English but at 6pm was as dead as a doornail, the room was clean and of the four restaurants in town, two were closed, one was full and one was an Italian which proved to be very good. The town doubles as the place where firemen go to be trained so on Sunday night this is where the place was filling up with shaven haired young men carrying kit bags.
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Oct 6th, 2018, 02:13 AM
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Very interesting, bilbo. Looking forward to more.

Sunday evening is a tough time to find good restaurants, as you know, and Nogent isn't a town with a lot of restaurants anyway. Did the Italian place by any chance have pizza from a woodburning oven? I'm always on the lookout for that.

Nogent has one of the best wine stores in the area, at Margon. You probably were able to fill your car in the Loire, but if not you could top it up here with wines from all over France.

If you ever go through on Saturday morning, Nogent has one of the best markets in that area. And then you could drive south for an excellent lunch in La Ferte Bernard at Du Dauphin.
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Oct 6th, 2018, 02:51 AM
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It had both a wood burning oven and an ancient Italian nonna to run it.

Nogent certainly has the market space for it. Lunch, I'm afraid, is only a snack for me now adays
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Oct 6th, 2018, 02:59 AM
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actually it might not be wood burning, they had wood to burn in it, but it might have been gas with just wood to act as a "smoke screen" to be fair I was not focusing on it as I'm not a pizza fan.
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Oct 7th, 2018, 09:07 AM
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Monday: Another day's driving but on a working Monday it is a lot tougher. We stopped in Bourgeuil just to let us check out the wine centre in town, all very pretty and golden stone which radiated heat off it, we must have been 30C.

We arrived at Chinon and checked into the Ibis Style to the south of the town. The Style brand includes a small swimming pool, areas to exercise, breakfast included and free buns in the bar for much of the day. It all looks ok and our friends turn up in the next fews minutes. A dip in the pool and we are ready to eat. It is only a 10 minute walk into town and first real view of Chinon. Chinon has its own life but in the summer it gets very busy with lots of nationalities present (but mainly westerners).

We are pre-booked into At'table and it works well, 10 people 4 bottles of wine and some good french food. Many of us enjoyed a tomato (7 types of tomato) and goat cheese pyramid which was especially pleasant and (italian-philes please note) no balsamic vinegar was used. It is noticeble that when we leave the restaurant closes up and there were only a few guests ahead of us, so very much the quiet night. The walk back to hotel was enlivened by looking at the castle over the town, all lit up like a fairy tail which is a bit spoiled when all the lights go off at 11pm, I guess the money ran out. As well as ville-fleurie which indicates how pretty a town is, France also has a ville-etoile sign outside some towns which indicates how easy it is to see the stars and how welcoming the town is to wild animals at night, Chinon is not a ville-etoile.
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Oct 8th, 2018, 08:16 AM
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Tuesday: starts bright and warm with a trip to Vouvray, famous for every type of white wine (fizz, dry and sweet) this small town stretches along the Loire with some very wealthy producers and some small guys.

We start at Brunet, which used to be run by George but has been taken over by his son Nicholas, the business only supports 2 to 3 families and the cave is hollowed out (by hand by the family) under the vinyards and maintains the developing wines at a consistent temperature. Nicholas did a short tour, showed us the fossils he found in the cave and gave us a tasting of 6 wines, both those made by him and those by his father. The father had a range of fantastic sweet wines while son is a bit more focused on the dry but the whole company is still selling wines from 1990 up to date. This place is still one of the nicest small wineries we've ever found. 12 wines plus a few specials for chez bilbo, while the others buy similar quantities

After picking up a sandwich in town we withdrew to a small public garden up by the town church to see the view and to wait out the lunchtime period. At 2pm we arrive at Vouvray Coop (200+members) which has a large methode champenoise production line they like to show off. No need to tour here (though a tour is easy to arrange and costs only a few euros). Here we are talking to employees who charge us 2 or 3 Euros for 10 tastes of 6 wines, the red fizz is especially nice but their attempts at sweet wine is a bit stretched. Coops are great for value but you often find they lack the drive to attempt wines at the top edge of quality. Still they lend us a trolley to take our wine away across the baking hot tarmac to where Daisy sits in the shade (she did come around the shop and into the Brunet cave but sometimes a dog just has to find somewhere to sit out the sun. 24 bottles load up our car and we drive home to the hotel.

Daisy manages a swim in the river while the rest of us find the pool. Each to their own I guess.

That night; "l'Entrepotes", this meal is in the walled garden of the restaurant. The steak is not so great but luckily I didn't have steak, while the surroundings are perfect. 7 wines for 10 people is probably a mistake, as the choser went for value over quality and a lot of wine is left. Tricky stuff chosing for a wine group, which is why we share around the responsability.
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Oct 8th, 2018, 10:17 PM
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Following this with interest as we are presently in the Loire staying in Amboise. My DH is jealous of your ability to drive from the UK and load up your car with wines.
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Oct 9th, 2018, 12:02 AM
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Thanks Cape

Wednesday: another hot day and off to Saumur to Longlois, the smell in the car park is from a muck spreader which I intially put down to horse poo from the cavalry regiment based in Saumur, but no it's your basic cow muck.

Michel bans Daisy from the visit (the only time she is not allowed in to a wine making facility) and leads us through the differences between Chinon and Coteaux de Chinon, how all the wines grown down near the river tend towards the fruity while that on top of the Tuffeau cliffs has to work harder and so gives more complex wines. The family behind Longlois have married well and so own parcels of vines all along the Loire. As a result they offer wines from Muscadet to SancerreAfter a tour of the cave and tasting we go shopping for more wine and we get a group photo in their large courtyard.

A quick drive into Saumur and we park next to the river and the Opera house. Naturally car parks are free from 12 until 2 so that you can get lunch and we find a tea shop for ours before a wander around.

Then on to Gratien et Meyer. Another producer using employees to sell their wine, we avoided the cave tour and just did a 6 bottle tasting focusing on fizz.

Then it is time to get off to Bourgeuil and their cave-de-vin. This sells up to 150 of the local wines at the same price you pay at the farm-gate. Which all sounds good but they only have 10 wines open at a time (shucks), you never know what wines will “up” on the day or the age and we strike lucky with some 10 year old wines at great prices (old sweet chenin is a blast). Another 24 join the lower cellar in the car.

That night l'Ardoise. L'Ardoise has a Russian waitress and no wine list, the nice thing about the waitress is that she brought her baby to work (quiet all night) the bad thing is that to choose the wine you have to go and look at the bottles in their racks, white at one end of the room and red at the other. Still, it sort of works.
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Oct 9th, 2018, 12:33 AM
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I was confused by the French word "Ardoise" until I came to the conclusion that it means "slate" and in restaurant terms is what is known in Britain as the "specials board". That is, hand written each day with the day's dishes, and the provisions of each formule.

So was your restaurant actually known as l'Ardoise, or did it have a board outsde with "ardoise" written on it.

Which reminds me of an old family joke about staying at the Hotel Eingang.
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Oct 9th, 2018, 03:39 AM
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It was its name. The type of soil has an affect on the wine grown so slate makes sense in a number of ways.
Note we also ate at Entrepotes (I'll let readers look it up)
I once asked if we could stop at a Town called Junction (turned out to be Junction 11 on the motorway)
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Oct 9th, 2018, 09:13 AM
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Thursday: an easy day final day and no car. We walk out of town west until we end up at the Cave Monplaisir on the edge of Chinon, this is the classic cave that many coaches visit but it is sells three different wineries and lets you wonder alone among the cellars to your hearts content. The sainted Jancis has recommended one of their wines which they will not let us taste, so we buy a bottle and open it for us and their staff to taste, not bad and probably much nicer in 10 years.

Another 12 wines (taken back to our hotel by friends) and we can walk back into town to carry out a proper visit to Chinon in daylight. You can access the castle by free lift but we leave the Euro 9 ancient castle to others and head down into the old town centre and the local market which is just winding down but we manage to buy lunch of a sort of French pasty.

After a gentle afternoon we dined at “au Chapeau Rouge”. The Chapeau looks a little posh for us and the staff try to maintain a certain distance but one of my friend's glasses loses a lens and madam has a glasses screw set and after lots of mucking about we are "tutuing" with the best of them. Nice wines, a little too much tin lid opening “tada” and reasonable food. Our hotel room is crowded with some 60 bottles of wine in boxes, all kinds of receipts and a few special bottles. All a bit sad as this holiday starts to end.
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Oct 9th, 2018, 12:31 PM
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Which reminds me of an old family joke about staying at the Hotel Eingang.>>

Which in turn reminds me, Chartley, of our old family story about seeing signs to the town of "Umleitung" all over Germany.

I too am sad that your trip is coming to an end, bilbo. How do you fit 60 bottles in your car?

<<Following this with interest as we are presently in the Loire staying in Amboise. My DH is jealous of your ability to drive from the UK and load up your car with wines.>>

AGM - we never did a trip quite like bilbo's but it is a luxury to be able to buy the off bottle or 6 as you travel around and not have to worry about how you're going to get them home. I wonder what we're going to do if we leave the EU, though I suppose that wine buying trips will be the least of our worries. I hope that the gang is enjoying Amboise. So near and yet so far!
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Oct 9th, 2018, 01:29 PM
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Lovely trip by your engaging report! Are there no consequences (taxes or duties) to bringing that amount of wine back to the UK?
In Canada there are very strict regulations for the amount of spirits/wine brought in from other countries.
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Oct 10th, 2018, 01:19 AM
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Within the EU, the rule is that you can bring in as much as you like for personal consumption. In Ireland (where I live) that is interpreted as 80l per adult, or about 100 bottles. Even that is arguable, but I have never tested the rules because 200 bottles is a big load for a standard car, In any case, I am always happy to make further trips and fetch more wine home.

I presume the rules for the UK are similar, if not identical. That may - I think probably will - change post-Brexit. There may be a sharp spike in wine cruises before the rupture.
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Oct 10th, 2018, 02:21 AM
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For American readers - there is a difference between the rupture and the rapture.

Some British consumers make a point of visiting France to buy Champagne before a wedding, and I have never heard of them expeiencing any problems. It's the same with beer and tobacco. The rule is that it has to be for personal consumption, so a carload would certainly be OK. It gets a bit more iffy if people use a van, and perhaps are seen making several trips in succession. There are warehouses near Calais which specialise in selling in bulk to UK consumers. The varieties they sell are those which are popular in Britain, rather than those the French buy.

People like Bilbo prefer to purchase wines which are local to a particular area, perhaps produced in small quantities, and not often found in Britain. And a special wine may remind you of an enjoyable holiday.
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Oct 10th, 2018, 03:37 AM
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No tax no stops nothing. After Brexit who knows, no one I know.

We have a "Captur" which I annoyed the renault salesman by pronouncing it "captur" rather than "capture". Below the baggage level (handy for normal shopping) is another level (the basement) which holds around 48 bottles in half cases perfectly and the final 12 pop into the backseat passanger foot wells. The French engineer thinks of everything. If I moved the rear seats forward I could get all 60 in the basement.... but life is too short. Once we start on the way back we will only use one bag for clothes and one for computers the latter will not be left in the car at a car park.

I tour each year and buy between 84 and 60 wines which last me most of the year, though Chenin and Riesling give me a problem as they are long lived wines (10 to 20) years so I'll have to stop buying them soon ;-)

Next year either Austria or Chablis/Auxerre.
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Oct 10th, 2018, 08:28 AM
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I tour each year and buy between 84 and 60 wines which last me most of the year, though Chenin and Riesling give me a problem as they are long lived wines (10 to 20) years so I'll have to stop buying them soon ;-)>>

We used to buy young wine so it would mature but when Bill died, I realised that we had a lot of wine that needed drinking. These were mainly clarets that we'd bought over the years "en primeur' and were waiting to mature but somehow we hadn't drunk enough of them over the years, [how did that happen?] so they were all reaching their "drink by" date at the same time. So I am trying to sell two of the best cases and I'm drinking the rest. This means that I quite often find myself drinking a 20 year old Margaux with an omelette but who cares?

Bilbo we once stayed in the wonderfully named village of Gumpoldskirchen in the area between Vienna and Baden and loved it. They have numerous Heurige and you can get to Vienna on the train. The fact that we were there during their annual wine festival probably increases my enthusiasm for the place but it was both pretty and friendly. One to consider.
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