Candes Saint-Martin, my favourite spot in La Touraine.

Sunday, 28 June 2009

Golden nectar

One of the best known white Loire Valley wines is probably the Vouvray. Outside of France, and especially in Belgium, the name Vouvray is often only associated with the ‘moelleux’ or sweet variety and the ‘méthode traditionnelle’ or bubbly. Few people know, however, that the winegrowers in the AOC area of Vouvray also make excellent ‘sec’ or dry white wines.

One day during our 2004 stay, after a long afternoon of ‘château’ hopping, we stopped in the quiet little village of Vernou-sur-Brenne, east of Vouvray. Opposite the church and the village square is a typical French bar called ‘le Vers Nous’ (which is a clever play of words as it means ‘towards us’ – Can you think of a more inviting name for a bar?)

We started chatting with some of the other patrons about the weather and the winegrowers in the area. None of the men or women present could tell us exactly how many winegrowers there are as the 2.000 hectares AOC Vouvray area spreads out over the commune of Vouvray and the neighbouring villages of Chançay, Noizay, Reugny, Rochecorbon, Sainte-Radegonde-en-Touraine, Vernou-sur-Brenne, and part of Parçay-Meslay.

Jean-Charles Cathelineau’ winery in Chançay.
As we were interested in tasting and buying some white wine, we asked whether someone could give us the name and address of a ‘vigneron’ in the neighbourhood. The landlady of the bar, who overheard our conversation, immediately produced the leaflet of one of her customers, M. Cathelineau who lives in Chançay. She even proposed to give him a call to ask whether he had the time to see us that afternoon. We accepted her offer, and 10 minutes later she came back, saying that Jean-Charles was expecting us. She drew a little map on the paper napkin, showing us the way to his winery.

Getting to Chançay we found the winery deserted. We waited around for a little while and finally decided to ring at the door of the house opposite the ‘cave’. A woman appeared from behind the house, saying that Jean-Charles was working in the vineyard, but that he was on his way: “Il arrive!” (He’ll be here presently).

Only 5 minutes later M. Cathelineau arrived on his tractor. He opened the door to the winery and took us on a guided tour. The particularity of his ‘cave’ is a little museum. Over the years he, and his father and grandfather before him, have been digging deeper and deeper into the rock to expand the cellar. Incrusted in the limestone they have found numerous fossils of prehistoric insects, amphibians, plants, etc. He has put them on display along the walls of the tunnel that runs several hundreds of meters into the rock.

Another charming feature is the row of small alcoves in the walls. When asked what they were, J.-C. told us that the wine in the niches had been bought by people at the occasion of the birth of their child(ren). At the parents' request Jean-Charles is stocking these bottles for them in the best conditions. The aim is to drink the wine, which has been produced in the child’s year of birth, on his or her wedding day. Although this tradition is apparently very frequent in the Loire Valley and other grape growing regions of France, I’ve only seen these individual alcoves in Cathelineau’s winery.
At the end of the tour we got to taste Jean-Charles wines:

Still wines
• Sec/Dry: goes well with fish and shellfish.
• Demi-sec/Half dry: to accompany charcuteries and fish dishes in a cream sauce.
• Moelleux/Sweet: to enjoy as an aperitif or to accompany a foie gras

Méthode traditionnelle (fine bubbles)
Brut/Dry and Demi-Sec/Half dry: a festive bubbly that requires no special occasion.

We left the winery after buying 12 bottles of Jean-Charles’ excellent dry white Vouvray … the perfect ending of another perfect day.

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