An extraordinary wine tasting under the stars at the magnificent Chateau of Chenonceau and a discovery of the French Appellation Trail in the Loire will have you falling under the spell of this most beautiful of regions and in love with its wine…
The French Appellation Trail is not a spelling mistake and neither am I suggesting a strenuous walk through the mountains in eastern USA. But rather, wine tasting in the beautiful Loire Valley. I am not the first, nor will I be the last to wax lyrical about this stunning region, but having read so much, I was delighted on my first visit to find it so utterly charming. The purpose of my voyage was to discover a new AOC and thus, an embarrassment of delicious Sauvignons Blancs (I believe this to be a suitable collective noun for wines).
For the uninitiated, an Appellation d’Origine Contrôlée (AOC) or Appellation d’Origine Protégée (AOP) as it is now known, is a complex set of rules to distinguish and protect particular types or tastes of wines or foods. They are all strictly controlled to maintain the high quality and distinctive characteristics of the Terroir. Terroir has no direct translation in English and could be taken as literally, the taste of the earth; more precisely it all the characteristics of the local geology, soil and micro-climate, peculiar to each territory that are passed into the wines, cheese and other products produced there.
There are 50 different Appellations under the banner of the Wines of the Loire, so where do you start?
Touraine Chenonceaux – wines from the Loire
For me, it was a discovery of a completely new Appellation called Touraine Chenonceux. It has taken over 20 years of determined work by local viticulteurs to get their own particular terroir recognised and they were rewarded with their own AOC in 2011. Forming a strong partnership with the well-known and stunningly beautiful Chateau Chenonceau, they are now launching a well-established range to the public.
The AOC of Touraine Chenonceau spans the river Cher in a peaceful union of winegrowers. This same river marked the division between Free France and the German Occupied territory during WWII.
The annual temperature of the local terroire can alter by just a degree or two in different parts of the valley, and thus the vines mature at different times. The terrain has a rock structure that collects the heat over the course of the day and distributes it to the vines during the night. The River Cher, in the heart of the Touraine gives life to the vines and their roots, several metres deep recuperate the minerals it has deposited. All of these individual elements combine to give the grapes their unique and complex flavour.
Wine tasting at the Chateau Chenonceau
But does this mean all the wines in each Appellation taste the same? Definitely not, as I learned to my delight at a wine tasting on a sultry, summer evening at the Chateau de Chenonceau. As a hot air balloon drifted over the turrets and dusk fell, candles were lit in the garden and music played as happens every night for evening promenades in July and August.
“Expect flavours and scents ranging from white flowers, peaches, pears to apricots and citrus, even exotic fruits like pineapple and mangoes” said my guide notes. Now, I am not an expert taster and I started off both cautiously and sceptically… my first taste was instantly recognisable as a refreshing Sauvignon Blanc but my untrained tongue could not distinguish the subtle blend of flavours. Feeling bolder, I tried a second and was delighted to note Ananas! A significant overtone of pineapple, whilst still maintaining the character of a Sauvignon Blanc.
Touraine Chenonceaux also includes a range of elegant reds and these could be tasted alongside the most incredible array of local cheeses presented by Rodolphe Le Meunier, an internationally renowned Master of Cheeses. This girl may never be able to eat her previously beloved English Cheddar again! The king of the cheese presented on this evening was a Tete de Moine; cut from the top of the cheese downwards, the Tete de Moine was first spread with a local honey, then shaved and presented in delicate flower forms, entrapping the honey in the centre. Words cannot describe the taste sensation and I pretty much floated back to my fabulous hotel Chateau de la Menaudiere close by.
A “Degustation sous les Etoiles” (A wine tasting under the stars) will be a new annual event at the stunningly, beautiful Chateau Chenonceau held on a Saturday each mid July. Get your diaries out and book for the evening when the public have a chance to join in. Stroll, glass in hand, through the magnificent illuminated gardens of the Chateau whilst the baroque music of Arcangelo Corelli (1653-1713) plays gently. This is a unique chance to discover and appreciate the sensational identity of these wines, presented by their individual Vignerons in a truly, majestic setting.
Tickets are available at the gate and you can find out more from the two websites below.
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