Charles Sydney sends us his usual upbeat assessment of the Loire's prospects in 2015, written on 9 October.
At last a morning off from tasting grapes as the growers pick across the Loire! It's pretty well all in, and time to let you know how things are going.
After a hot, dry summer, with drought blocking vegetation in some places, we finally got some rain in September, at last softening skins and letting the grapes really ripen.
The only hiccup is that quantities are down pretty well everywhere, in part a result of the drought, part too a result of a few cold days at the end of the flowering, especially for Sauvignons from Touraine through to Sancerre and Pouilly.
Some growers grumble about lowish acidities, but everywhere we tasted, the juice had that tang of freshness behind the concentration. Some people are never happy!
Given the great summer, it was not surprising to see picking start early – but it was a first to see some growers in Sancerre finish just as others in Muscadet were starting. Normally we kick off with Muscadet then things head east, with the Touraine a week later and Sancerre a week after that. This year saw growers picking in the Touraine on 1 September, the Sancerre ban de vendanges on 9 September – while on 10 September we still had Muscadet producers (Fruitière, Choblet, Sauvion) wondering how much longer they could wait.
Overall, quality looks exceptional.
Muscadet yields are okay-ish, averaging just under 50 hectolitres per hectare, which for them is good but still about 10% down on what we'd have liked. The harvest was smart, a little rot towards the end as expected, but loads of lovely grapes and liquid gold juice reflecting the sunny growing period. Ripeness is good, with a smart balance of freshness. The rain mid-September dropped average degrees a touch, so some growers had to chaptalise a bit. That's fine by me – 2015 looks to be a lovely vintage.
Touraine quality looks exceptional across the region – lovely healthy grapes, nice degrees, balanced acidity and super-concentrated juice. The big bugbear is yields that were zapped by coulure post flowering, leaving an average yield of around 40 hectolitres per hectare for the Sauvignons. The 2015s are going to be brilliant, but if you still have reserves of 2014s, don't let go of them!
Sancerre and Pouilly 2015 looks hard to beat for quality – with an interesting comparison with 2006, a vintage the local Sicavac oenologists rated 'somewhere between 2005 and 1989 in quality.' Again, the drawback is quantity. At an average 50-55 hectolitres per hectare, it's around 10-15% below normal, at a time when stocks are at an all-time low.
Reds There are two theoretical approaches to picking, depending on whether the grower wants to pick fruit frais (fresh fruit) or fruit mûr (ripe fruit). Some growers seem happy at having an excuse to pick early (we see unripe plots being picked first) while we know the potential that can be achieved with great vineyard management techniques. In our opinion, the real stars have only just started picking – and there the quality should be extraordinary.
If you look at the photo below, you'll see bunches where the stalks – have turned red. That's one sign. Another is the ripeness and colour of the pips, a third the softness of the skins. There are lot of super producers out here!
Pinots are looking fab too – maybe even better than last year! We all know the handful of guys who push the limits in Sancerre, but it's wonderful to see Sylvain Miniot down at the co-operative in St Pourçain pushing his growers to get full ripeness. He's still the one to watch.
Finally, Chenin Blanc...
Vouvray and Montlouis potential is lovely, so it's still a shame to see over 66% of the crop going to make sparkling wine. The guys who concentrate on making 'real' wines are on a high – look at the photo below and see the gold Chenin crinkling as it starts to concentrate and then going brown and raisiny. There should be some smart moelleux this year.
Anjou and the Layon Here the saga is just starting. Late last week saw the great growers starting to pick the dry whites – and doing a first clean-up tri to get the rest of the crop ready to concentrate in ideal conditions. We have never seen such beautifully-run vineyards as René and Christophe Papin's Les Rouannières plot. They're clearly going even further than the great Daddy Claude Papin.
There's a photo of a mustimètre showing around 22° potential alcohol – hard to be sure as it stops marking at 18°. And that's just a clean-up picking. If the weather holds, we could be in for a truly great vintage of this style of wine. (There are still one or two tickets available for our tasting of 25 year-old examples plus Michelin-starred lunch at Portland restaurant in London on 31 October. See details here – JR)