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Our First Chateau and an Introduction to Wines of the Loire:
We spent long enough at the chateau to check the stunning tapestry of the apocalypse which is displayed in a purpose built gallery. The medieval French tapestry was commissioned by Louis I, Duke of Anjou, and produced between 1377 and 1382. It’s the oldest French medieval tapestry and considered on of the masterpieces of French cultural heritage. It is genuinely stunning, although the recorded guided tour with American voiceover punctuated by medieval chants and rather repetitive harp arpeggios was something of a distraction.
I loved the formal gardens and pretty but austere chapel and it was an excellent way to get a feel for the City that was to be our home for the next few days.
Literally a stone’s throw from the chapel is the Maison des Vins, an information centre about the wines of the area. Full of useful literature, the Maison des Vins also runs a wine tasting centre where groups can sample and learn more about the wines of the region.
So, a little about the Wines. The geography of the Loire is quite distinctive and highly influential on the wine. In a couple of days we only got a taste of the variety but, as a novice I was quite fascinated by how the individual geographies affected both the grapes that were best to cultivate and the taste of the wines themselves. So, a Chenin Blanc from one winemaker would be very different to the same vintage and grape variety wine made by another wine maker. As an example Anjou and its immediate surrounding is an area of slate, sandstone and carboniferous stone, while further west Saumur is an area of Tuffeau limestone. The Loire is also one of the more northerly wine regions in France and so climate has a significant impact on the wines with the skill of the winemakers in managing production being particularly important.
We started our tasting with a Cremant de Loire. This is a sparkling wine produced mainly on limestone soil from Chenin, Chardonnay and Cabernet Franc. Now, as a lover of champagne, I was interested to learn that this wine uses exactly the same production method as champagne itself, but retails at a much more affordable price.
Continuing by sampling a number of the other regional wines, I was amazed at the variety of grapes produced in the region. There was a strong movement toward organic and to a lesser extent biodynamic wines and the region is home to some fabulous sweet wine made from Chenin Blanc.
I have to admit to feeling just a little out of my depth in the Maison des Vins tasting centre. But, things became a lot clearer when we started to visit the vineyards the next day. Or is that simply my wine goggles?