“Pineau d’Aunis” is not “Pinot d’Aunis”. Homonyms ain't what they used to be. I no longer confuse “new” with “knew”, but in accepting Richard Kelley MW’s invitation to taste Pineau d’Aunis, I muddled-up the novel with the familiar. Pinot d’Aunis sounded much more interesting.
“No! Pineau. P-I-N-E-A-U. Red chenin; it’s blended with Arbois to make a Rosé…in Cheverny; and they make a red wine out of it near Jasnières: Coteaux du Vendômois”
As Richard spoke, the river I thought I knew spilled free of its mapped basin, adding tributaries and vineyards as it surged. I had always thought that Robin Yapp had done a meticulous Victorian job cataloguing and collecting the complete genus of Loire chenin, but Richard’s obsession seemed as boundless as the new river he was describing.
Pineau d’Aunis has the flavour and bitterness of chicory, I soon learnt; and not much “red” colour. It could easily be one of those wartime proxies; an ersatz “cabernet franc” to wash down the lard “butter” and margarine “chocolate”. One of the wines we tasted was bio, which seemed a pointless hardship for the producer as it was the worst of the lot. Everything had been tried, but nothing so far seemed to be working. Pineau d’Aunis is a hateful glass of wine; that’s really all there is to say.
Richard may not have identified the source of the Loire for me, but in Vendômois he had brought me to its nadir, the place where this giant vignoble finally bottoms-out. French wine production has a broad base, there is viticultural life below Muscadet and gros plant, it’s just we don’t very often get to taste it, unless you get lost south of Le Mans. Being at the foot of the pyramid is tough, but in France you either fit in or ship-out. If you find yourself at the bottom of life’s pile, La Répubique will normally find a way of aggrandising your useless job into a pensionable profession; whilst the reward for not planting pinot noir in the Vendômois was Appellation d’Origine Contrôlée status, granted in 2001. Authenticating the bad can sometimes accentuate the good.
“Travelling” through life facing backwards” is a Chinese maxim, but it might equally well apply to France, where “the past” and “tradition” always seem to be plonked down squarely in front of you, so it’s a relief to come across wines from ambitious growers “who are challenging conventions and perceptions”; which is how the Muscadet of Domaine de la Quilla was introduced to me. The wine underlined the fact that Muscadet and Chardonnay are genetic twins whose personalities occasionally overlap. A long lunch had left me feeling like I'd been shoved into my lounge suit, a snugness duplicated by the la Quilla, which packed a lot of wine into the glass. Tasted blind, I would have guessed Chablis; it was voluminous, and lacking in that abrasive sea-air tang that ordinarily singles Muscadet out.
The second wine I tried was Sauvignon de Tourraine “le Petiot” 2011, from Domaine Ricard. I’ve always drunk Sancerre and Pouilly-Fume, but as a single variety, sauvignon had to register success in the Southern Hemisphere before I began to appreciate wines from closer to home. On a rainy day “le Petiot” gave my mood a lift: a chlorophyll-loaded draught of spring that chased away the gloom. It had power, too, its character pressing out from within, as is the way with all the better wines from this latitude. Back in New Zealand, sauvignon’s simple pleasures are being increasingly overlooked, lost beneath the hubris of research and analysis; a postmodern wine blight, if you will. All these people troubling themselves with what I want, when all I really care about is having a choice. The same might be said for la Quilla’s wine too. Isn’t Muscadet supposed to be an austere wine that needs the support of local shellfish and the Vendéen sunshine to show at its best? Versatility comes at a cost, starting with a loss of identity.
The last of Vinetrail’s Loire whites was the Montlouis-sur-Loire “Premier Rendez-Vous” 2010, from Lise and Betrand Jousset. I had drunk this wine before, at L’Enclume, with their eight course tasting menu. L’Enclume’s food is consistently beautiful. Each plate is like a still life. There are elements of draughtsmanship in the presentation, neat rhomboids of fish and meat that you don’t really want to demolish. It is a treat for the senses, but perilous territory for wine. Jousset’s Montlouis was perfect; to the rich dishes it brought texture and a firm acidity, while its flavours of quince and barley didn’t overwhelm the Morecambe Bay cockles. If a course ever wanted for seasoning, there is a lick of saltiness from all the underlying limestone, though Simon Rogan’s food really needs no amendment.
I neglect the Loire, perhaps because my point of entry for most regions is through their red wines. Huge volumes of Loire cabernet franc sluice though Parisian wine bars, but I find the wines a little back-to-front, just like that Chinese maxim: the flavours I want in the background are in the foreground, and all those tight tannins can cause the wines to finish before they ever get started. Pineau d’Aunis did nothing to change my opinion of Loire reds, but I have decided to buy a TomTom, just in case I find myself lost near Vendômois, on the way to Montlouis-sur-Loire .