Highlights from the Loire Valley

Charles and Philippa Sydney have specialised in the wines of the Loire Valley for over ten years and their annual tasting of the most recent vintages is always an excellent way to assess some of the new wines from the longest river of France. Charles enthuses about the wines from 2003 – the earliest since 1893 – with adjectives such as magnificent, while his growers proffer similar superlatives – une année top, exceptionnelle.

True, there was a heat wave, but in the Loire Valley that seems to have benefited the grapes, so that they were absolutely ripe, without a trace of grey rot. As for the sweet wines, those grapes are beautifully passerillé (dried on the vines), making for rich but elegant wines, without the uncertainties of noble rot. Here are some of my highlights:

Loire white wines

2003 St. Pourçain Réserve Spéciale, Les Vignerons de St. Pourçain
Crisp, fresh stony fruit on nose and palate. Waitrose – £4.55

2003 Muscadet de Sèvre et Maine sur lie, Château de la Placelière
Closed mineral nose. Rounded fruit; not a lot of acidity, but good body and mouth feel, especially for a Muscadet. Handfords – £4.99

2003 Sainsburys Classic Selection, Muscadet Sèvre et Maine sur lie
Good stony nose, with good acidity, and fresh stony fruit. £4.99

2001 M de la Fruitière, Muscadet Sèvre et Maine
This is Jean’s Douillard’s cru, demonstrating what can be done with old vines and an 18 months élevage on the lees, resulting in a wonderful concentration and real character. Handfords – £6.75

2003 Vincent Pinard Sancerre Cuvée Florès
Lovely aromatic mineral nose; elegant smokey fruit, rounded with a certain weight and mouth feel. Justerini & Brooks, Great Western Wines, Handfords, James Nicholson – £11.95

2003 Vincent Pinard Sancerre Cuveé Clémence
An interesting contrast with Cuvée Florès. More perfumed and elegant, with attractive smokey fruit. Not yet available

2002 Château Gaudrelle
Attractive leafy herbal fruit, with hints of orange. Quite dense fruit on the palate, with good acidity and a lemony finish. Berry Bros, Lay & Wheeler, Laytons, James Nicholson, Tanners – £8.25

2003 Château Gaudrelle
Richer than the 2002, with elegantly honeyed fruit, balanced by acidity. Not yet available

2002 Château Gaudrelle Le Sec de la Gaudrelle
Herbal notes on the nose, and dry honeyed fruit, with very good concentration of flavour. Lay & Wheeler – £8.95

2003 Château Gaudrelle Vouvray Réserve Spéciale
Dried apricots on the nose, with a wonderful concentration of fruit on the palate, and beautiful rich honeyed flavours. Waitrose – 50 cl bottles – £12.99.

1990 Château Gaudrelle Vouvray Réserve Spéciale
Alexandre then produced the 1990 – to show just how well the 2003 will age. There were yet more apricots on the palate, but always with a refreshing acidity, and a deliciously rich and unctuous palate.

2003 Domaine de la Taille aux Loups Montlouis Sec, Les Dix Arpents
Quite a firm dry honeyed nose, with similar honeyed notes on the palate, with elegance and an intriguing finish. Justerini & Brooks – £8.95

2003 Domaine de la Taille aux Loups Montlouis moelleux
Still very young and not yet quite knit together, but none the less showing great potential with layers of fruit and honey, balanced with refreshing acidity.

2001 Bonnezeaux, Château des Fesles, 50cl
Youthful nose; quite solid and concentrated, with a rich dry honeyed palate. Still very young, with potential to develop. Oddbins – £24.99

2003 Coteaux du Layon Chaume, Château de la Roulerie, les Aunis, 50cl
Wonderfully perfumed palate, rich hand honeyed, with elegant finish. Should develop well. Not yet available.

2002 Château d’Eternes (Bernard Pelé) Saumur blanc
Still in wood at the time of taste. A very rich nose, oaky and biscuity, with firm acidity and hints of orange on the palate. Quite intriguing, with mouth feel and body. How will it develop?

Loire red wines

2002 Vincent Pinard Sancerre Rouge Charlouise
Medium colour. Some vegetal Pinot Noir notes on the nose, with nicely structured fruit on the palate, with layers of flavour and length. Very elegant and stylish. Great Western Wines – £16.50

2000 Château d’Eternes (Bernard Pelé) Saumur rouge
Nicely rounded fruit on nose and palate, benefiting from eight months in wood, making for an attractive suppleness and elegance. Not yet available.

2003 Chinon les Petites Roches, Charles Joguet
One of the leading producers of Chinon. Deep colour with a firm nose, Structured tight-knit youthful fruit on the palate, with firm tannins. Still very young, with plenty of ageing potential. (Waitrose have 2002 vintage – £6.99)