Guide to the Loire regions

Val du Loir

The Vineyards of Jasnières, Coteaux du Loir and the Vendômois

Recent and Notable Vintages

Notes on the vintages post 2000 come primarily from my visits to Eric Nicolas of Domaine de Bellivière in the Coteaux du Loir and incorporate some of his own thoughts.

After 2003, this is the second earliest harvest since records began. The official date for the ban de vendange was on the 4th October, but Eric Nicolas received permission to start picking on the 24th September (and even then 'Les Rosiers' was harvested at over 14% potential alcohol). A strategic decision by Eric Nicolas to produce drier styled wines ensured that there is very little sweet wine here. This has the potential to become a very good vintage indeed. 

This was a full harvest with an overall average of 13.5% potential alcohol. Summer was good although there was a little rain in early September which saw the growers working hard to reduce any risk of botrytis. For Eric Nicolas, the harvest started with the Pineau d'Aunis on the 1st October and continued at a leisurely pace through to the end of the month. Even with 25 pickers (working over 50 separate parcels) there was no rush to bring the crop in. The wines are distinguished by their freshness, even if many carry much more residual sugar than in 2008. A very good vintage.  

Coteaux du Vendômois: A vintage without extremes. A good quality yet small year, down by around 15 – 20% on average. The cool conditions at the start of the season ensured that early budding varieties such as Chardonnay, Sauvignon and Pinot Noir all suffered from blocked maturity. Both Pineau d’Aunis and Chenin performed well, but there were problems at flowering with the Cabernet Franc and the effects of a poor summer ensured that there was little crop to be had. The harvest started around the 26th September, with the grapes coming in over the following three weeks. 

Coteaux du Loir: A growing season quite similar in some ways to that of 2007, although the start of the cycle, in April, was much, much colder. Summer was cold but there was less rain than in 2007 and this was more spread out. September again helped save the vintage, and although the majority of growers were very happy in the end, it went down to the wire. Eric Nicolas started harvesting on the 2nd October and is one of the few growers in the Loire this year to have harvested anything approaching a normal crop.

This was a year full of surprises. April was cold during budding and the summer was cold and humid. Conditions for the vines were not looking good and by the end of August they needed heat and sun badly. Thankfully, in September and October they received the conditions they required to allow grapes to reach full maturity and the vintage was saved, even thoutgh the berries were tiny with very little juice resulting in a small vintage. The wines are very well balanced with good fruit and freshness with the whites having lots of malic acidity offering very good potential for ageing.

The summer months suggested a vintage as fine as 2005 was on the cards, but the lead up to the harvest was much more traumatic with a need to make severe grape selections in both the vineyard and again at the cellar. The harvest in the Coteaux du Loir started on the 29th September but was followed by two days of unpredicted heavy rain, and the resulting humidity ensured a spontaneous outbreak of grey rot. Those who chose to pick early probably came out best, certainly in terms of eventual yields. Fortunately, the grapes were in a very healthy condition before the weather turned, so a natural level of alcohol of between 13-13.5% was achieved. As a result, the wines give the impression of coming from a very ripe year. For Eric Nicolas a normal vintage will produce around 40,000 bottles; in 2006 however, he elected to wait and he suffered as a consequence. The year yielded just 25,000; at an average of 25hl/ha, the same as the original maximum yield for the two appellations from the 1930s and 1940s.  

The best year in the Loir since 1997 for the production of sweet wines, although one needs to go back to the late 1980s to find a comparable vintage for drier styles. There were no extremes this year and when it needed to rain, it did. The grapes were harvested in perfect conditions. Like most places in the Loire , it is very successful vintage, and the best producers are worth searching out.

This is a good, classical vintage that also delivered a healthy crop. There were no issues during the growing season and the harvest started in the Coteaux du Loir on the 6th October and finished on the 3rd November although there were many stops in between. There were less of the issues here with the Chenin than those that affected the southern appellations of Touraine, particularly Vouvray. Delayed by rain, it was necessary to wait and allow the berries to re-concentrate. The best and ripest grapes were picked on the left bank of the Loir. Both dry and liquoreux wines were produced, including some noble rot affected bunches in Jasnières. The Pineau d’Aunis came in with perfect, homogenously ripe berries in conditions similar to those of 2002.

The year of the canicule and the earliest vintage since records began in the Sarthe, with the harvest commencing on September 8th. If 2002 was a year without excesses, 2003 is the complete opposite with both heat and drought playing a part, and spring frosts on 10th April had already effectively halved the eventual crop. There was a little rain in June, around 50mm in July and a further 15mm in August, but this didn’t help the vines that were now suffering from both water and heat stress. The vintage for Eric Nicolas started 15th and was finished by 30th September. There was no specific order to picking with both the Chenin and Pineau d’Aunis ripening at the same time, and due to the health of the grapes and the speed with which everything ripened it was neither practical nor necessary to conduct a triage. There was a very small crop of Chenin due to some grillé. The potential alcohols were around 17% and despite the heat there was some noble rot. The acidity in this vintage is a little ‘soft’, although this needs to be seen in the context of what is usual in this extreme region. At harvest, the Pineau d’Aunis showed potential alcohol levels of between 14% and 15% and there were problems with phenolic ripeness, although the grapes were sugar ripe. The thick skins made it difficult to extract the soft tannins needed and to avoid over extracting and masking the delicacy of the aromatic complexity of this variety. It was a challenging year to say the least. It’s not a personal favourite, and as a general observation, the red wines are more successful than the whites.

This was a dream year, without chaos or excess and the grapes having all the constituents to suggest great vins de garde were possible. There is a greater degree of natural acidity, but this is balanced by ripeness and extract. The conditions by October were set for healthy and ripe grapes with between 13 and 15.7% potential alcohol with good acidity to ensure freshness. The phenolic maturity, as evidenced by the Pineau d’Aunis this vintage, is rarely achieved. Harvest started on 7th October and was finished at the end of the month. This is a classic vintage for both whites and red wines. The best whites should last for decades.

Without question the worst vintage so far this decade. It was a long, cold growing season and very wet immediately before the vintage. The harvest started in pleasant conditions, but it was necessary to pick over a six week period in order to achieve total maturity and avoid chaptalisation. The harvest finished on 20th November with the same favourable temperatures as at the start of the harvest. The wines (as in Savennières) have very deep orange/bronze, seemingly advanced colour and a particular flavour profile. Despite their appearance, the acidity is high and will act as a preservative, but in reality this is a year that won’t win many friends, and is for Chenin aficionados only.

Conditions were difficult throughout the year, although good regular rainfall helped, keeping the grapes on a tight lead until they ripened. In the end, the Chenin needed to be harvested at lower than idea ripeness of between 11 and 12.4% potential alcohol, but the decision to pick needed to be made whilst the bunches were still in a healthy condition.

Another vintage full of contrasts. It rained every day for the three weeks prior to the 13th September and it was necessary to wait for the berries to re-concentrate and harvest later.

This is a good to average year with no surprises. Whites should now be mature and are worth seeking out. 

A great vintage for sweet wines produced from both botrytis and passerillage affected berries. It also happens to be Joël Gigou’s favourite year since he created the domaine in 1974.

A long and dry season which ensured the harvest started in perfect conditions in early October. This was a small but concentrated vintage overall, but easily the best year since 1990.

After four consecutive write off vintages, 1995 came as a welcome relief. It is still possible to find a few examples in some growers’ cellars and they are worth seeking out.

This was the second year in this decade to be decimated by frost. Not as catastrophic as in 1991, but Joël Gigou lost 80% his crop and Eric Nicolas, who has just arrived in the region this year managed only 15% of a normal harvest.

A pretty ordinary year throughout the whole region, although the occasional bottle turns up in a grower’s cellar and surprises us all.

A huge crop as the vines compensated for their shortfall in 1991. It rained all through the vintage and the wines were always beset by traces of rot.

The devastating late frost of 20th April wiped out the majority of the crop this season. I’ve tasted some interesting Chenins from Touraine and Anjou , but never anything from Jasnières. For Joël Gigou, this was a pretty forgettable vintage both in terms of quality and quantity.

It is as good a vintage in the Coteaux du Loir as anywhere else in France. Growers had never seen such ripeness. Examples can still be readily found for sale in cellars around the region and are worth seeking out.

The first of a pair of great vintages although both different in style.

Older Vintages:

Anyone for the 1893…?

Exceptional years: 1811 (l’Année de l’Empereur’), 1870, 1893, 1921, 1933, 1934, 1945 (despite the severe frost on May 1st that saw temperatures plummeting to –7˚c), 1947, 1949, 1959, 1969, 1976 (a very dry, drought affected year), 1982, 1983.

Good years: 1960, 1961, 1964, 1970, 1971, 1973, 1975, 1978, 1985, 1986, 1988.

Average and poor years: 1954 (the latest harvest on record, starting on the 11th November. It is a year remembered for its copious rains. The final ‘wines’ produced just 5% of alcohol),1962, 1963, 1965, 1966, 1967, 1968, 1972, 1974, 1977, 1979, 1980, 1981, 1984, 1987.


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