Wayne on Wine travels to France and Luxembourg, Days 12-15, July 24-27, 2014

Vine maze at Domaine Filliatreau.
  Wayne Crawford
  Wayne Crawford

By Wayne Crawford
Photos by Wayne Crawford
We were on the road early to travel a short distance from Saumur to Domaine Filliatreau “La Grande Vignolle,” on the road of the kings, parallel to the Loire River in the Saumur-Champigny wine region.

Paul Filliatreau started vineyard operations in 1967 on eight acres. Today, sharing the winery operations with his son Fredrik, he sustains 98 acres within the region. This winery practices biodiversity; no herbicides are used and other plants are grown in the vineyard to balance the environment.

On this morning, we were escorted to the Grande Vignolle by Fredrik to taste their wines, while overlooking their vine maze.

Fredrik, an engaging personality with significant wine experience, has worked with his father since 1990. He was eager to share eight estate wines with us and discuss winegrowing in the region.

The grapes grown at Domaine Filliatreau are the traditional grapes for the Loire Valley: chenin blanc for white wines and cabernet franc for red. We enjoyed the Saumur Imago 2012, 100 percent chenin blanc. A full-bodied, dry wine, it is fresh, crisp and luscious with a lingering finish. The fly fishing lure on the label reflects the passion of the winemaker.

  Domaine Filliatreau: Fredrik Filliatreau and Lenny Oddo, behind the counter, and Parks Redwine in front.

We also enjoyed a bold rose wine with rich pink-red colors, crisp on the palate.

Our next wines included three reds, all 100 percent cabernet franc and manually harvested. Our first was Saumur Castle Fouquet 2012, another wine with red fruit aromas and flavors. Domaine Filliatreau Saumur-Champigny Vieilles Vignes 2011 and 2003 both were rich and powerful wines. The 2003 had a wonderful mouthfeel and soft tannins, reinforcing the value of aging fine wines. Fredrik was a delightful host and we were sorry to depart after only a few hours.

Our next stop was Chahaignes to visit Domaine de la Raderie and the winemaker Christophe Croisand. The AOC is Jasnieres at Coteaux du Loir. The primary grapes include chenin blanc, pineau d’Aunis, camay and cot, better known as malbec.

  Domaine de La Raderie and Christophe Croisand, winemaker.

Christophe is a fourth generation winemaker; the family uses chestnut barrels for aging wines. He was pleased to offer us his wines to taste and we enjoyed a cross section of white, rose and red.

Unique to this tour was a Coteaux du Loir Rose Pineau d’Aunis (also the name of the red grape). It has a medium-pink color and strawberry and peach aromas and flavors. It gives a nice mouthfeel with acidity. The skins remain in contact for 12 hours to provide the color. Once again, sharing wine with a winemaker is a special event and brings us much closer to the land and challenges of Mother Nature.

A short distance from Chahaignes, we arrived at Domaine de Cezin in Marcon, France, in the Jasnieres de Coteaux du Loir wine region. The winery produces 70,000 bottles each year and is family-owned by four generations of the Fresneau family.

We were fortunate to have as our guide Amandine, the daughter. This is an old winery dating to 1925, and the tour of the cellar showcased not only current productions but also many older bottles. The grapes were chenin blanc, pineau d’Aunis, gamy, cabernet franc and cot.

  Domaine de Cezin and Amandine Fresneau, winemaker.

Amandine began the tasting with the sparkling Domaine de Cezin Methode Traditional Brut, a pleasing acclamation wine. We transitioned to still, white wines: Coteaux du Loir Blanc and Jasnieres, both chenin blanc 2013 wines.

The first wine had a very light straw color and was fresh and crisp with apple and tropical fruit aromas. It offered nice acidity and was balanced, fresh and light-bodied—an easy-to-drink wine. The Jasnieres was a pale straw color with apple and white pepper aromas and flavors, good acidity, astringency, good mouthfeel, light body and a medium finish. Our fourth wine was a red Coteaux du Loir Aunis, 100 percent pineau D’Aunis grapes from 2013. It was a very clear ruby color with aromas of pepper and cinnamon and woody notes.

Winery owners take great pride in their work, and Amandine, who not only shares ownership in the vines but also—with her brother and father—makes the wines, was proud of their success. Several of their wines are shipped to the United States. Upon careful examination, the purchaser will find the winemaker names on the front label.

Wines at Domaine De Cezin.

Having spent a wonderful day visiting family-owned wineries, we made one last stop, traveling 50 miles to Savennieres to visit Tessa Laroche at Domaine aux Moins. We later enjoyed dinner with Tessa at Une IIes Restaurant in Angiers, a one-star Michelin restaurant.
Tessa is making exceptional wines from a wonderful, walled estate. The winery was founded in 1981. Tessa took over the winery operations from her mother, Monique.

  Winemaker Tessa Laroche T Domaine Aux Moins.

This winery is on the western edge of the Anjou wine region in the Loire Valley. Chenin blanc grapes are handpicked and fermented using indigenous yeasts and then aged in 220- and 400-liter casks.

Walking the grounds was like traveling back in history. The high doors on the working building must have facilitated horseback riders entering the stables. The grounds around the chateau were covered with distinct flowers, arranged to complement the ambiance of the site.

We tasted a few wines from the barrel and departed to Angiers for dinner. Tessa graciously had delivered the wines to the chef several days in advance of the dinner, which allowed some wonderful food pairings.

The Domaine Aux Moines offers single, dry, vintage wines made with 100 percent chenin grapes grown on clay and shale terroir. The domaine maintains a large number of vintage wines. We were fortunate to enjoy a 2012 as an aperitif wine and, later, during this superb meal, a 1992 and 1999 Savennieres-Roche aux Moines. This is a wine that complements steamed asparagus, pork and warm goat cheese. Following dinner, we returned to Saumur.

1999 wine from Domaine Aux Moins.

Friday July 25, Day 13
We left Saumur and the Saint Pierre Hotel for Cour-Cheverny to visit with Nicole and Michel Daminen at Domaine le Portail.

The estate has a former monastery next door, 600 meters from the famous Cheverny Chateau. Nicole and Michel bought the estate, about 80 acres, in 1978. In addition to their own vineyard plantings, they share additional acres with 10 growers.

Nicole is a fourth generation wine-family member, and her son, Damien, a trained viticulture and oenology graduate, guided us on our tour of the wine production facility. The winery produces chenin blanc, sauvignon blanc, gamay, pinot noir and a rare Romarantin, a light-skinned grape grown in France on 120 acres of land in Cour-Cheverny.

Vineyards dominate the grounds around the winery, and the production facilities are modern and well maintained. Nicole joined us for the winetasting, which included several white wines and a blended red.

The wines at Cour-Cheverny.

Our first wine was a Cheverny White 2013, 80 percent sauvignon blanc and 20 percent chardonnay, with a light straw color, crisp, light-bodied, and a nice mouthfeel.

The second white wine was Cour-Cheverny made with Romorantin, a favorite wine in France in the 15th century. This wine has a nice structure with a long finish and has a light straw color with aromas of lemon, pear, cassis, honey and similar flavors on the palate.

Drinking a rare grape varietal with the winemaker is a rewarding experience and happens infrequently. In addition to these wines, we shared a Cremant de Loire Brut and the Cheverny Red 2011 Earl Cadoux, Val de Loire, a blend of gamay and pinot noir, fruit-forward, fresh with a lingering finish. This was a delightful tour and tasting.

We departed for lunch at La Cote des Monts Damnes Restaurant, Chavignol, with Jean-Marie Bourgeois of Domaine Henri Bourgeois. Jean-Marie, one of three brothers running this large winery, is an old friend of Parks Redwine, making lunch an engaging information exchange and delightful tasting of local foods.

Domaine Henri Bourgeois is in the Sancerre region and sauvignon blanc is the dominant grape. Crottin de Chavignol, a round goat cheese, is well known in the region and pairs with Sancerre. The domaine has 214 acres of sauvignon blanc and 49 acres of pinot noir spread around Sancerre.

More significantly, the domaine has substantial sauvignon blanc vineyards in New Zealand. Today, they produce 1 million bottles of wine in France and 350,000 bottles in New Zealand. These are two unique growing environments that produce different sauvignon wines; take the opportunity to drink both a Sancerre and New Zealand and enjoy two distinct wines— it’s worth the wine education.

We enjoyed several wines at lunch, including Haute Victorie Quincy 2013 Sauvignon Blanc and Le Prieure des Aublats Menetou-Salon 2012 Sauvignon Blanc—light, crisp wines that complemented our meal.

Next, we headed to Caves des Vins, a cooperative in Chateaumeillant near the geographical center of France. This cooperative began in 1964 and represents 22 winegrowers combining the seven parishes in nearby Chateaumeillant. Production varies year-to-year and the grapes include pinot noir, gamay and pinot gris.

After touring the cooperative facilities, we sampled three wines. Oppidum 2012 Vin de Pay du Vol de Loire is a light, fresh, crisp pinot gris. Our second wine was a rose—Reflect Des Sept Fonts 2012, a soft pink-salmon color. Our third wine was a blend of gamay and pinot noir – Clos La Goutte Noire 2012. This wine has a rustic ruby-red color, with cherry, cranberry and hints of raspberry and strawberry on the nose and palate. It is a medium-body wine; drink it young. Most of these wines are sold locally with few reaching the Americas.

Having enjoyed a wide selection of Loire wines, we completed our day at the Hotel Le Bourbon in Bourges, a four-star hotel with a wonderful staff. We enjoyed a wonderful dinner at its restaurant, St. Ambroix, where the staff was most accommodating, allowing us to bring a wide collection of wines accumulated during our travels to dinner. We shared wines with the staff and selected several of their wines to complement our meal. The spacious dining room radiated an old church ambiance, with large windows, tapestry-covered walls and massive chandeliers.

  WoW 5.10 France trip DSC 0247-001ediy
  Domaine Valerie Doneufbourg: Valerie, right, Larry Taylor and Valerie’s husband.

Saturday, July 26, Day 14
We departed Bourges for Domaine Valerie Doneufbourg in Clery-Saint-Andre. The vineyards, southwest of Orleans, are an AOC formed in 2006. Valerie and her husband maintain a small tasting room and wine production facility; she is one of a few women producers in this region, making 3,300 cases of wine annually on 30 acres.

Valerie is an engaging personality and we delighted in tasting a selection of her wines, including cabernet franc, pinot noir, pinot meunier and chardonnay.

Our first wine was a Rencontres Encounters Chardonnay 2011, a pale-yellow color with an engaging fruit aroma, balanced, with a smooth mouthfeel, full body and medium finish.
Our second wine was a 2013 Rencontres Encounters Rose Pinot Meunier, 90 percent pinot meunier and 10 percent pinot noir. It has a light-pink color, is fruit-forward, fresh, crispy, medium-bodied, with a light finish.

Rencontres Red 2011 is 80 percent pinot meunier and 20 percent pinot noir. It has aromas of cherry and black fruit, on the palate blackberries, spice and cherry, with a full body and long finish.

Our fourth wine was a Rencontres Encounters Black, 100 percent cabernet franc. It is a garnet-red color with black fruit and raspberry aroma on the palate, full-bodied with a long finish.

Domaine Valerie Doneufbourg wines.

We were asked to share a very rare 100 percent cabernet franc from 100-year-old vines never touched by the phylloxera outbreak in the latter half of the 19th century. The grapes were not grown on from American rootstock. This wine has yet to be named or labeled but was drawn from a vineyard in the region. Deep-red color with black fruit and smoke aromas on the palate, raspberry dominates in a luscious mouthfeel that is well structured. It is balanced with soft tannins, full-bodied and gives a long, lingering finish. It was a wonderful cabernet franc; only 500 were bottled.

This was the last winery on our two-week trip; we had stopped at 39 wineries and tasted 200-plus wines, many of them unique varietals that will be difficult to duplicate.

Having travelled 3,500 kilometers safely via road, we departed for the Chartres Cathedral to end our long journey on a historical note. The cathedral, also known as Cathedral Basilica of Our Lady of Chartres, is 80 kilometers south of Paris and is designated a UNESCO World Heritage site. Built in 1220, it stands 371 feet high with Gothic architecture It may best be known as having the most famous and exceptional stained glass windows.

Cathedral Basilica of Our Lady of Chartres.

Our team then pushed on to Charles De Gaulle Airport and prepared for flights home.

Lessons to share
Each day was well planned by Parks Redwine and his support staff. Traveling with an importer opens doors to winery operations and presents a remarkable opportunity to taste great wines. Our hosts were engaging, deeply committed to winegrowing and quality wine production, and graciously shared their passion with our travelling team. The opportunity to share a lunch or dinner with a winemaker or owner proved invaluable, and many wineries opened their libraries to share exceptional wines, even on a Sunday.

Travel in France and Luxembourg
We rented two cars with manual transmissions and traveled three or four per car. Fuel and tolls are a challenge. It was easier to refuel in small towns, since you could pump gas and pay inside. On the motorways, the automated systems were inconsistent in what credit cards they would accept. In one case, we paid cash to a couple from Belgium, so we could use their express card to refuel both cars.

In Europe, all credit cards need a chip, and most need a passcode. We were aware of this requirement prior to departure and asked for new chip cards before departing. Unfortunately, it did not work everywhere we traveled.

Motorways are expensive, so have cash available; again, no consistent charge card program is evident, so we often were poring through our pockets to get coins for the toll.

If you have an option to get a car with a GPS, it is worth the investment. Having said this, most Europeans want options to travel without using the motorways. This often means a straight-line, cross-country route that increases time but improves the scenery.
Exchange dollars for Euros, but don’t do this at airports. Get your working cash prior to departure from America and track the exchange rate to get the best deal prior to travel.
Hotels in Europe vary greatly in service. For instance, there are few rooms with ironing boards or irons, so look into a travel steamer. If you send clothes out to wash, often you get back clean, un-pressed clothes delivered in a bag.

We had little need for converters but the right travel plugs for northern Europe are needed. Check your equipment; most electronics are set to charge on 110 and 220 with 50 or 60 megahertz AC current. If you are planning to use a cell phone or iPad, coordinate with your provider in advance and set up a plan to support your needs.

Meals in France at lunch or dinner are not fast food; they care about what they are serving, so plan on 60-90 minutes, particularly if you order multiple courses and wine. Late in our travels, we realized if you stop in small towns and go to a bakery shop, they will make fresh sandwiches and provide drinks, a quick alternative for lunch. However, be prepared to include some wonderful baked delights with the meal. The French certainly enjoy their baked culinary delights.

We managed our trip without a fluent French speaker. We were blessed that many winery owners and winemakers spoke English. However, Rick Steves’ French phrasebook and dictionary was a valuable resource.

WoW 5.13 France trip 208
Collection of French wines collected during the trip.

Our journey across the French and Luxembourg countryside, interacting with hardworking, proud winemakers and winery owners, was an engaging experience. Our contact with these dedicated growers was rewarding and informative. Once they knew we were wine aficionados, they embraced our team in a convivial manner that radiated what we hope will be a lasting friendship.

This journey to examine the lesser wine regions served us well, enriching our wine knowledge, and will remain a notable experience.

See the complete series of five articles ...

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