Wines confound expectations
Published:  27 August, 2008

The annual Salon des Vins de Loire is always a great opportunity to take the pulse of France's third largest wine region and the only one to hold an annual regional fair.

It is a chance to talk and taste in one place with producers from all of the Loire appellations without having to travel the 450 miles or so from Muscadet in the west to the Côtes de Forez deep in the heart of France near Saint-Etienne.

The overall mood of Loire producers was one of relief and optimism - relief that the 2007 vintage, which looked catastrophic towards the end of August, turned out much better than anyone expected.

After a wet June and July and a cold August with several days of torrential rain leading to severe mildew problems, it was saved by fine weather that started around Aug 25 and continued through September and into October.

Some producers, such as Guy Bossard in Muscadet-Sévre-et-Maine, lost almost their entire crop. "We were hit by a frost in March," said Bossard, "and lost 25 per cent. Then two virulent attacks of mildew t ook 25 per cent and 35 per cent respectively. We only made 9hl/ha."

Overall, the 2007 whites are more successful than the reds, with great purity of flavour and higher acidity than seen in the past two years.

Reds are lighter than in 2005 and 2006 and will probably be best drunk young.

Disease and a very low ratio of juice to grape skin means 2007 is a small vintage. This, allied to an increasing demand for Loire wines - especially Sauvignon Blanc - over the past couple of years, means prices are likely to rise, particularly at the cheaper end.

Jean-Yves Langlais, of Lacheteau - now part of Grands Chais de France - told Drinks International of the pressure on prices. "The £2.99 (US$5.82) retail bottle is no longer possible. We are now discussing with UK supermarkets whether the new price points will be £3.49, £3.59 or £3.69. When I look at my price list from the year 2000, I see they were nearly the same level as 2007. This cannot continue."

Further up the price scale, Langlais spoke of a big demand for Sancerre - a comment echoed by Olivier Mouraud, export director for Bougrier in St-Georges-sur-Cher.

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