Bicycling through the Loire, part 2
The next day we had an early start, catching the train to Saumur, a short 45 minute train ride away. The weather was not as nice in the morning but as the day went on it cleared up to be a sunny afternoon. Seriously, when you’re on a bicycle, you don’t want it to be TOO sunny now do you?
We headed through the vineyards of Saumur to our first stop of the day, Clos du Cristal. We had a wine tasting smack in the middle of the vineyards. An interesting note about Clos du Cristal is that their cabernet franc vines are planted against a wall with a hole about shoulder height.
A large section of the vineyard is a series of rows of these walls. Once the vines reach that height, the leaves and bunches of grapes all grow on the other side of the wall. The effect is that it looks like the vines are hiding from you on one side and the other side has grapes poking out of holes in the wall! This was done to keep the roots cool while still allowing the berries to get lots of sun. It seems to work as the cab franc was balanced with not too many vegetal notes coming through. Clos du Cristal is organic and they don’t use pesiticides as evidenced by the flocks of geese and chickens running around the vines.
We hopped on our bikes and headed to a restaurant carved out of the soft rocks, L’Helianthe. I forgot to mention earlier that the region is dotted by troglodyte caves. The caves were dug out of the rocks thousands of years ago and were later used (and still are) as caves for the wines. Nowadays, it has become fashionable to use the caves as second homes by the locals. Or, a restaurant in this case. Lunch was quite tasty and one of the highlights was a Coteaux du Layon.
Not far from the restaurant is Chateau de Targe. The chateau is in the Saumur Champigny region and they make both red and white wines. The winery and cellars are situated in the troglodyte caves as well as having an adjacent chateau. The wines were typical examples of Saumur, savoury, fresh and balanced with mineral notes coming through and soft, round tannins. The Cuvee Ferry 2009 made from old vines was concentrated and deep and dark with the tannins melting into the background. Another standout was the Quintessence 2010, a cracker of a wine, soft ripe red fruits, integrated oak and rounded tannins.
After that we headed to Langlois-Chateau winery. The winery actually gets its name from a marriage of two families, the Langlois’ and the Chateau’s. This was the most commercial of the wineries, owned by the Champagne house, Bollinger. Although they are owned by the French house, they still make their wine in their own style. The winery gives daily tours and is very well organized, one of the more organized outfits around. After the tour we had a tasting of their range, including their still wines as well as their sparklings. They make excellent cremant de Loire’s and retailing at around the £12 – £15 range, are good value here in the UK.
We bicycled back into town and checked into the Hotel Anne d’Anjou. A beautiful hotel at the foot of the turreted Chateau de Saumur. The hotel faces the river and the garden in the rear is overlooked by the towers of the Chateau. Dinner that evening was at the L’Orangeriea, a restaurant right next to the chateau with spectacular views of the river below. We sampled various cabernet francs at dinner all of which were quite savoury but balanced with good fruit showing in the wine.
It was full moon our last night in the Loire and what a lovely early summer’s night it was! As I was going to the train station the next day, Alex, our chaperone speculated that maybe the trip should have included one more day, I heartily agree. It was such a shame we had to go back to reality, I could have stayed another day or two in the lovely Loire Valley.
A big thanks to Vins de Loire for arranging the trip as well as the many generous wineries who opened their doors to us.