05 April 2009

Tasting the wines, smelling the flowers

Yesterday we went over to Jean-Noël and Chantal Guerriers' place to taste and buy some wine. It's April now and wines of the 2008 vintage are just getting ready for tasting and bottling.

When we got there, Chantal came out and greeted us. She sent us up into the courtyard (more like a barnyard) of the house that Jean-Noël grew up in and where his 87-year-old father still lives. The older Mr Guerrier came out and greeted us to. Jean-Noël was in one of the outbuildings pumping wine into what we call "cubitainers" for another customer.

Callie in the vineyard under a plum tree

The wine was a 2008 Sauvignon Blanc, and Chantal soon brought a couple of glasses for us. Jean-Noël tasted it along with us. The glasses were small, but they were filled almost to the brim. J-N said the Sauvignon was ready to be put in bottles. We bought 10 liters — that's 13.33 bottles — which J-N pumped out of the vat into one of our plastic jugs.

The other customer paid for his wine and departed. The next two wines J-N wanted us to taste were in tanks under a shelter on the other side of the barnyard. "Walk this way," he said. By the way, there are chickens and a rooster in a pen in the barnyard, and there are even a pair of pheasants in a separate cage. We admired the colorful birds. It is definitely a rustic scene.

The next wine we tasted was a late-harvest Chenin Blanc. It's a dessert wine and would also be good with foie gras, for example, or as an apéritif. The much-drier Sauvignon Blanc would be good with oysters. The Chenin is not yet ready for bottling, but it's getting close. J-N said he wouldn't sell it in bulk, but only in bottles. I plan to buy some when it's ready.

The third wine was a rosé made from Pineau d'Aunis grapes, a local specialty. The rosé is very dry and has a definite peppery taste. It's not ready to be bottled yet either.

As we were tasting the rosé, ad car pulled up into the courtyard and two men got out. "It's a car from the 37, so it might be serious customers," Chantal said — the 37 département is the one just west of ours, and it's capital is Tours, the big city of the region.

The two men were indeed serious customers. One seemed to have his own wine business, and he was looking for new stock for his shop or shops. The other is in the charcuterie and goat cheese business, and he has a boutique where you can sample his products. To go with the sausages and cheeses, you of course also need a little glass of wine.

At this point, we moved on to the wine cellar, which is a vaulted room under the old house. All the walls are covered in black, powdery mold or fungus because of the evaporating wine and alcohol. There are bare light bulbs hanging on wires off the ceiling. There are quite a few bottles of wine on racks along the sides of the cave, there's bottling machine, and there are several big fiberglass vats full of various new wines.

The first one we tasted was a 2007 Côt. Known as Côt in the Loire Valley, this varietal is called Malbec in much of the rest of the wine world. It's the grape grown a lot in Argentina, and by the name of Auxerrois it's the grape grown in Cahors, in SW France, to make what has been called « vin noir », "black wine." Côt'/Malbec/Auxerrois makes a dark, luscious red wine.

Walt and I had tasted the 2007 Côt last fall and bought some, so we knew we liked it. The two other customers (they were from small towns near Loches and we plan to visit their shops and tasting rooms the next time we get over that way) liked the 2007, but they weren't that enthusiastic. We then tasted the 2008 Côt, but it paled in comparison to the 2007. It's still a little too young.

One of them said what he really liked was a wine often called
« Tradition » around here, which is made from a blend or assemblage of three grapes: Côt, Cabernet Franc, and Gamay. Jean-Noël said the only assemblage he had on hand was a 2004 wine made with Côt and Cabernet Franc.

As I said, Côt is used to make the "black wine of Cahors, and Cabernet Franc is the grape used to make two of the Loire Valley's best known and most appreciated red wines, Chinon and Bourgueil. Both of these wine towns are on the other side of the city of Tours from us, to the west, and they sort of face each other across the Loire River.

When we tasted the dark, dry 2004 assemblage, the man who buys and sells wine was obviously pleased and interested. A 2004 is a very old vintage for most Loire Valley wines. He immediately wanted to know how many bottles of this wine J-N still had to sell. He implied that he would buy the whole stock.

We went on to taste some Gamay, but the guys from Loches were not impressed. Walt and I really like Gamay, and we bought 10 liters of the 2008 Gamay along with 10 liters of the 2007 Côt. Gamay makes a very light, drinkable red wine that we like. A lot of people think it's too thin. They like the heavier, "structured" wines made with grapes like Côt and Cabernet.

My impression is that if you like Gamay, that means you probably like all dry red wines. I know I do. Gamay is easy to drink, even when the weather is warm. It goes really well with foods of all kinds, to my taste. It complements and accompanies rather than overpowering the food. Gamay isn't the point — the food is — and Gamay's taste stays in the background, kind of the way a pretty blue sky highlights rather than dominates a nice landscape.

By the time we paid for our wine (30 liters, which is 40 bottles, for 40 euros!) we were slightly tipsy and past ready to eat lunch. Jean-Noël and his two new customers from Loches (it's ironic that that word is pronounced "lush" in French) were feeling no pain either.

Walt and I just had about a mile to drive up the paved road into the vineyard and then a mile on the gravel road through the vines (the one where we walk Callie) to get home. We didn't pass a single other car along the way. So we lived to tell the story.

I didn't take any pictures during the wine tasting so I'm dressing up this post with some recent pictures of flowers.


  1. Loches is pronounced like 'lush'?! As in with a vowel sound like in 'crust', 'must', 'gush'? I thought the vowel sound was pronounced as in 'cosh', 'dosh', 'posh' (which I think is the closed 'o' sound in French, like in 'bonne'). Am I completely off track? (Wouldn't surprise me!)

  2. Susan, Loches sounds like "lush", and "bonne" sounds like "bun" but with a stronger N sound. Yes, this is very close to the vowel sound in crust, must, and gush.

  3. Des coucous rouges! First time I've seen them. In my days they were all yellow.

    Here, in Virginia, all the fruit trees are in flower. Some dramatic change from the California desert!

    Interesting pronunciation of Loches. I think Ken's pronunciation is probably the way the locals do. My pronunciation in Parisian French would be closer to Susan's "cosh" or "posh." Like "roche" et "moche" with a circonflex accent on the O. But, of course, I pronounce English with a heavy French accent!

    "In medio stat virtus" and "In vino veritas." After a few drinks of the local vintage your pronunciation will be perfect!

  4. Thanks for sharing your wine tasting/buying experience.

    When I drove through Loches last year, I wondered how it was pronounced. Thanks for that too!


  5. Fascinating...and so inexpensive!

  6. you guys got it made - what a nice way to taste and buy wine and quite inexpensively!!! I don't know if my liver would take it however!! nice report!

  7. Well, the flower pictures are also loches (heh heh:))!

    For what it's worth, I would pronounce Loches like "lush", not like the American pronunciation of "cosh, dosh, posh". Ken, what is the phonetic description of that o sound?

    CHM, may I ask what your language background is? Are you un Français expat in the U.S. (that's what I've kind of discerned from your posts)? I know that you've mentioned having relatives in France, and I think you've referred to living in France-- I hope I'm not being too personal! I've wondered about this when I read your posts :)) Now, I would not pronounce moche or roche like cosh, posh-- I'd pronounce moche and roche like Loches! :)) So, CHM, maybe your cosh and posh don't sound like Ken's cosh and posh!

    As for the wine post, Ken, you really made this wine post interesting for me. I am not a drinker-- I'll have half a glass of a dry red or a Pinot Grigio now and then-- so I can't really usually appreciate the excitement about different kinds of wine. I used to work at a posh restaurant (right after Paris year)--I was the only person who could pronounce the food and wine correctly, but I didn't know much about any of it! I learned alot about food there, but all I could do for the wine was recite what was in the stock descriptions in our little "book". All of this to say that I get lost in wine talk... but your post was very interesting. If I ever come to France and visit (which I will!!) I'd like to taste the Gamay vs the Côt'/Malbec/Auxerrois, to see if I can discern the difference. The description of "dark, luscious red wine" and vin noir is very intriguing to me.

    Do you think that I could find the Côt'/Malbec/Auxerrois around here? It's ironic that you mentioned wines from Argentina, because I just saw a travel show yesterday where they were visiting vineyards in Argentina. Do you know if how I would ask for Malbec or Auxerrois if I were shopping in the Argentine wine aisle here? Would they use one of those names, even though it's grown in Argentina? I'm thinking of bringing this for Easter.

    Great post, Ken. I loved hearing about the folks from "the 37" coming to Jean Noël's vineyard to stock up!


  8. These red coucous are not wild. Pretty though!
    Aren't you supposed to spit the wine you taste?
    You've got a good bargain. Thank you for sharing another great french experience.

  9. Ken
    Great post. My husband and I drink only French and Italian wines. While we like the California my husband has a terrible allergic reaction to them. I think it's the sulfites. I just bought a Sancerre at Whole Foods yesterday and it was $25. Too much to pay for this wine but I have a source that I think I can get a case of it cheaper. It's very difficult to get good french/italian wines here in the St. Louis area as most of the good wines go to Chicago. I have had Malbec but I didn't know it was known as a vin noire. My favorite is Cotes du Rhone bottled by JL Chavre. I also love the Bordeaux but only with food and it is EXPENSIVE here. I too am jealous you have such great access to what sounds like some pretty good french wines.

    While we are at pronunciations how is your town's name pronounced.

    Judy, Randalls liquor off 44 has a great selection of french wines at good prices. Whole Foods is decent enough in it's selections but too stupid expensive for what they are. Also World Market has some decent selections. I have a private source that supplies french and italian wines for me but since he supplies restaurants he not supposed to be selling to me. I buy by the case but I would be willing to sell you a few bottles if you are interested. You can email me at lindah0816@gmail.com if you are interested.

    I love this blog!

  10. Judy, Susan, and all, I just found this web site:

    Acapela where you can hear the pronunciation of words in English, French, and other languages. Choose a language and a speaker, and then enter the word you want to hear: Loches, for example. CHM has a point: the French vowel is never exactly the same as the English vowel, but there are definitely similarities that can't be ignored. To my ear, anyway, the vowel of Loches is much closer to the vowel in lush (American English) than to the vowel in posh, gosh, or Oshkosh. It is important to distinguish between lâche and Loches.

  11. Linda, if you mean how is Saint-Aignan pronounced, that's a hard question. Not because it's hard to pronounce, it's just hard to transcribe in English. It's something like:


    The last sound is the French nasal [ã]. We don't have that sound in English.

    The village where Jean-Noël and Chantal have their wine business is Mareuil-sur-Cher. That's also hard to transcribe into anything resembling English sounds:


    Judy, you know you are invited and welcome anytime you want to come see us. It would be fun, and we could taste all those wines as well as goat cheese and rillettes and rillons etc.

  12. Judy, if there is a shop where you can get Cahors wine, that would be the Côt/Malbec/Auxerrois grape. It might not be that hard to find. But Gamay -- I'm not sure how easy that would be. You'll just have to come to Saint-Aignan to try it. K.

  13. Ken, what a fabulous post! Your details about wine tasting and the customers are extraordinary as are the photos.

    I kept thinking to myself, "What a great life!" You do pay for it on the dreary winter days, but when you can get out and taste the wine and see the flowers and soak in the rural setting with chickens and goats and various critters ... well it's hard to top that!

  14. Hello Nadège, I don't know about those coucous/cowslips being wild. They are growing pretty far out in the vineyard, not near anybody's yard. But then hybrids can travel.

    How would you say Loches?

  15. Hi Cheryl, just awaiting your next visit for a long wine tasting with Jean-Noël and Chantal. They would be ravis to meet you and to get you tipsy! K.

  16. Judy, the labels on any wine from Argentina should tell you if the grape is Malbec.

    Nadège, I think spitting out the wine you taste is a fancy thing, and not something many people do in places like Saint-Aignan.

  17. I did wonder if it was a case of our various English accents confusing the issue. How would you pronounce 'lâche' then, because I would pronounce it 'lush' :-))

    I've played around with Acapela, and compared American voices saying 'lush' with French voices saying 'Loches' and I can see where you are coming from, but it was a bit weird realising just how differently 'lush' can be pronounced and still be recognisably the same word. Trouble is, my English accent is Australian, and I would write what the French person saying 'Loches' sounds like as 'losh'. (Likewise, the town of la Roche Posay sounds like 'luh Rosh Pozzeh' to me). The French person saying 'lâche' sounds like 'lush' to me.

    The good news is that I am presumably not too far off track with my pronunciation.

  18. Thanks Ken for the pronunciation. Actually I speak french quite fluently. My mother was french, I lived in France and I studied french in high school and university. I was curious of the local pronunciation. My mother would speak to me in her local patois and it was a complete difference from Parisian french. I was pretty sure about my pronunciation and you verified it for me. I don't have much of a chance to speak french in my area since my mother passed away and that is why I love the french blogs.

  19. I would pronounce Loches with an O as in Oshkosh. Maybe they pronounce it differently in your area as the oeuf (Loeuches). It isn't the O as in "eau" but a softer O as in poche, moche, roche. Lache is with the A of an apple.
    I just love those red coucous. I will inquire about that new color when I go to France. They probably could come up with the same colors as the "primeveres'.

  20. Wonderful post, thanks.

    What is the flamboyant red flower, fourth from the bottom?

  21. Emm, those red flowers that are getting ready to open are on a prunus tree in our garden. It produces many pink flowers -- photos to come as it blooms -- but no fruit.

  22. Quand je m'approche de Loches avec une brioche dans ma poche, j'entends ses cloches.

    All those words should rhyme, no?

  23. Hmmmm. A charcuterie and goat cheese place in a small town near Loches? Can you tell us the name of the shop or at least of the town?

    Autolycus's method sounds the best--diagrams--because everyone has a regional accent, so to say "a as in apple" is going to cause confusion among speakers from Chicago, Georgia, or New York. PA has a lot of regional accents, many of which sound odd to residents of the other areas. Phila itself has neighborhood-based accents.

    It's funny that everybody but me has an accent.

    Recently I switched from listening to France Bleue Basse-Normandie to FB Touraine and I can understand the Touraine accent much better.


What's on your mind? Qu'avez-vous à me dire ?