The sun shone mercilessly upon us, as we walked towards the end of our guided “Vignes Vins Randos” wine tour and the temperature was climbing towards 30 ℃. Our trips down the troglodyte caves had lost its cooling effect and everyone in the group walked silently as they concentrated on walking in a straight line. We were all a bit tipsy from the sparkling drops, but the sun and heat relentlessly evaporated the alcohol and diminished the intoxication.
Three hours earlier we had found ourselves on the top a a hill with views to lush vineyards and the pale castle of Saumur throning over the great Loire river. We had enlisted on a guided tour through the wines of Saumur – on an guided tour in English, that is. Although I can comprehend some French – spoken by polite Frenchmen talking extra slow for the dim-witted tourist – I didn’t want to risk loosing vital information on the gorgeous drops, we were about to learn more about.
While the band played a mix of French classics and Reggae under some shading trees, we were handed out orange shoulder bags containing wineglasses that could be hung around the neck, apples and brochures about the wineries we were about to meet. With sunscreen applied, sunglasses mounted, reasonable footwear attached and a dry throat ready to be soothed, we began our tour along the green vineyards in a bi-lingual group with both a French speaking and an English speaking guide.
Quickly we arrived to our first destination to sample some of the Cremant de Loire which the region of Saumur is famous for. Cremant de Loire, just as Cremant d’Alsace is similar to Champagne, just not produced in the Champagne region. Good for you, because you can get exactly the same type and quality of wine like with Champagne, but for a fraction of the price, ranging in taste from doux (sweet), to demi-sec (semi-dry) and sec (dry) and brut (very dry) and even extra-brut (yep, you guessed it: extra dry).
The “Cuvée Elisabeth”, by Veuve Amiot served at Clos Elisabeth was fresh and mineral – perfect for a dry spot in the warm vineyards, where half the vineyard is planted with Chardonnay an the other half with Chenin Blanc for a perfect blend.
From here we walked down to the caves of the different wineries, that are actually located in former tufa stone quarries. Tufa stone is the typical stone of the region which – amongst other things – was used to build the castles and churches in the Loire valley. The tufa caves offer perfect conditions for storing a mercurial wine, that needs patience and peace to transcend from a sour white wine to a true Cremant de Loire.
Our first tour of the caves began at Bouvet Ladubay, where huge wine tanks all wait to be filled with the grape juice of this year’s harvest. And while this winery previously white-labelled their wine, and has a collection of over 5000 different labels for different barons, companies and other dignitaries, they are now in such demand, that this service can no longer be offered. A walk through the maze of the “Sunken Cathedral”, which a part of their troglodyte cave is called, ended a perfect visit.
The next winery – and cool troglodyte cave to cool down in – was Veuve Amiot, which wines we had tasted in the vineyard. The cellars of the company, dating back to 1871, run along 5 Km and are covered with a 15-20 metres thick roof of tufa and earth. Thanks to this roof, a constant temperature of 12 °C ensure optimum ageing for the wines and a cool spot for this sizzling group of wine enthusiasts.
Langlois Château gave us the fascinating story about once manual and dangerous task of “disgorging” (removing the sediments) and “dressing” (inserting the cork and wrapping in tin foil) of the bottles and a look at the modern way to do things, where 1/3 of the bottle’s content is NOT lost!
Ackerman was the last cave we visited, before we headed back to the starting point. Ackerman is “where it all began”, as their slogan proclaims. They were the first to settle in the region and producing the sparkling white wine that was as popular in 1838 (where a tasting committee deemed it possible to produce wines around Saumur that were as elegant as those from Champagne and awarded the wines a gold medal) it is now. The only difference is, that now we are a greater number of people, that can afford this animated ambrosia. We walk through the troglodyte caves and admire the amazing art and sculptures, that celebrate the versatile grape.
After a long and hot walk, where the alcohol slowly evaporated, we arrived back at the Vignes Vins Rando (VVR) where we could sample two other sparkling wines, the “Cuvée Premium” from Gratien & Meyer and the “Cuvée Corial Rosé” from Caves de Grenelle. Two dry (sec) wines that concluded this informative wine tour.
As we rested under the shady trees and small-talked with the some of the participants, the (same as before!) band mellowed their tunes and got ready to call it a day. Us too. We bought a bottle from one of the wineries, which were all present at the VVR spot, to enjoy when we got back to our little gîte and thus ended a great wine experience. Cheers!
Vignes Vins Randos is a once-a-year event i September, where different wine producers of Loire Valley get together for a weekend of guided tours through their vineyards. The tours are different from region to region (muscadet wine tours in the Sèvre-et-Maine appellation near Nantes, red wine tours at Angers, sparkling wines in Saumur and white wines from Vouvray. The walks are usually 6 km long and visit 5 vineyards or wineries to taste their contribution to the Appellation. The majority of the different tours offer one english speakng tour.
- www.vvrvaldeloire.com – for information about the event
- www.vinsvaldeloire.fr/en – for info on the wines of Loire region
If you want to learn more about the wines – as we did – check out #vendages – our day as grape pickers at the wine harvest, a Crash Course in Burgundian wine, an introduction to the crisp bubbles of Alsace or the dark reds from Châteauneuf – the papal wine.