19 September 2009

The Domaine du Prieuré winery

We were walking around in Valaire at 11:30 a.m., waiting until noon so that we could go into the restaurant called L'Herbe Rouge for lunch. That's when we saw a woman opening up her wine-tasting room and putting out a sign on the sidewalk to attract customers. We realized we were customers and walked on into the tasting room.

The woman, blond and energetic, was cleaning house. We asked if she was open for business, and her reply, in French, was that she had just returned from her summer vacation down in Provence and was trying to sweep out all the spider webs that had appeared while she was away. "If you don't mind a few spiders, come on in," she said, still in French.

The Domaine du Prieuré's brochure and price list

Then she noticed that Walt, Bill, and I spoke English to each other, and she switched over to English too. It turns out that she is an Englishwoman, but has lived in Valaire for 15 years. Her husband is French and they grow grapes on 11 hectares/27 acres. She runs a wine-exporting business in England on the side. They are Amanda and Jean-Marc Gallou.

We thought visiting her tasting room would be a good way to have a pre-lunch apéritif, and I would of course buy some wine in return for the tasting. Wineries in the Loire Valley offer free dégustations, and it is only polite to buy at least a bottle or two. I always seem to buy more than that.

Pineau d'Aunis grapes are grown around Saint-Aignan
along the Cher River and around the town of Vendôme
along the Loir River (not the Loire, but a tributary!).

The Gallous' operation is called Domaine du Prieuré and the husband's family has been making wine here since 1720. The fact that Mme Gallou speaks English made it interesting for all of us. She also speaks fluent French.

We ended up tasting a very nice sweet white wine made from Arbois grapes, which are a rarity in the Loire Valley I think. The Arbois grape comes from the Jura region of eastern France, the northern edge of the Alps near Switzerland. The Gallous call their wine Nectar Blanc, and it is good as an apéritif or as a dessert wine. I'm not sure they make it every year.

Here's the label on the 2006 Touraine Nectar Blanc
from Domaine du Prieuré in Valaire.

Like most Touraine growers, the Gallous grow many grape varietals: Chardonnay, Arbois, and Sauvignon Blanc to make whites, and Gamay, Cabernet Franc, Côt (aka Malbec), and some Pinot Noir for reds. They also grow Pineau d'Aunis for rosés, Amanda Gallou told us. And they make a line of sparkling wines as well, using mostly Arbois and Chardonnay.

None of their wines are aged in wood barrels. "Our wines are totally unoaked," their brochure says, "and are bottled or packaged straight out of (stainless steel) vats to preserve the authentic flavors of the fruit and the soil."

I bought three bottles of the 2006 Nectar Blanc (@ 6 € each)

Besides three bottles of the 2006 Nectar Blanc, which is nearly sold out, I took advantage of our visit to stock up on a dry white Chardonnay. In Touraine, Chardonnay is not an AOC grape, so the wine is sold as « vin de pays » — local wine. The two AOC grapes here for vins blancs are Chenin and Sauvignon.

The brochure says the wines are bottled "or packaged" because in Touraine people often buy their wine in what are called "BIBs" — cardboard boxes. BIB stands for Bag In Box. The wine will keep for months in the BIB, even after you start emptying it, because inside the box is a plastic/foil bag that collapses as wine is drawn off through the tap. No air gets in to oxidize the wine.

A BIB of 10 liters is the equivalent of 13 bottles.
This BIB of Chardonnay sells for 20 €.

I usually buy wines in bulk — that is, the vintner fills up the 10-liter plastic barrels that I take with me to the winery. But then we have to bottle the wine, because it will oxidize in the barrel and turn to vinegar if it sits partially empty too long. Bulk wine costs less than wine in BIBs, because you don't have to pay for the packaging. And it definitely costs less than wine in bottles with labels, corks, and foil caps, all of which cost money. It's all basically the same wine, though some special blends and vintages are sold exclusively in bottles.

Here's the label that would go on bottles of
the Chardonnay if you bought it that way.

We'll go back to the Domaine du Prieuré when we're back in the Valaire area (it's a 45-minute drive). Amanda Gallou told us too that there is a very nice wine event in nearby Onzain right after Easter each year, and that we should participate so we'll get to get to know some of the wine producers up there, including several in the well-regarded Mesland area.

Getting to know the Domaine du Prieuré and the Gallous was a bonus, on a day when we also enjoyed lunch in the restaurant called L'Herbe Rouge in Valaire.


  1. My Arbois blood boils in my veins [not really] thinking about people in Touraine making fake vin jaune or vin de paille. MDR,LOL

    Word verification is fuggit. That's exactly right!

  2. CHM, you know that one of the joys of the Loire Valley wines is that all grapes are grown here, including Pinot Noir, Arbois, Chardonnay, Gamay Noir, Malbec, Cabernet Franc, Sauvignon Blanc, Chenin Blanc, Grolleau, Pineau d'Aunis, and on and on. Your kings wanted it that way. We are a microcosm of France, when it comes to wines.

  3. Sounds like a worthwhile winery to visit. And the Nectar Blanc is particularly interesting. I've never come across a Loire wine made with Arbois grapes. I hope that Bill managed to try everything, and can report back to us.

  4. Hi Ken, Those BIBs are great. We've bought them on several occasions and they really live up to their promise ... even two months after opening them, the wine still tastes great.

    P.S. I agree with chm. Arbois wines are part of the Jura ... where they belong. About ten year ago we had a 'Vin jaune' of 1979. It was the last bottle the restaurant had in stock and even the 'sommelier' was jealous when we drank it. As he's a good friend, we offered him a glass :))! Martine

  5. Of course, I was joking. You can make wine with any kind of grape almost wherever you want, but depending on many local factors, the final products are not exactly the same.

    I'd like very much to taste that White Nectar [Nectar blanc], it might be as good as "vin jaune" for that matter.

  6. Just a point on the Arbois. In the Loire Valley it is a grape variety, (cousin to the chenin grape variety) nothing to do with the Arbois in the Jura which is an "appellation". I think the grape variety they use in the Jura for the vin jaune is savagnin and/or chardonnay.


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