Riding the TGV from Paris to Loire viewing mustard fields at two hundred miles an hour is exhilarating, and I find exhilaration extremely pleasurable. To anyone who is reading this, whether young or old, living your life to its full potential includes discovering all the pleasure you can. I’ve spent a lifetime facilitating that folly, for myself and others; now, six decades later I still have no regrets. This excursion will leave satisfaction in your soul and an indelible impression on your heart and mind.
Accelerating to blistering speeds, the train is deceivingly smooth and there’s an odd serenity and calmness as the excitement builds. Being able to scratch two items from my bucket list, riding the TVG and drinking Cabernet Franc in the Loire brought its own moment of satisfactory pleasure. Rolling through the vast expanse of farmland between Massey and Saint-Pierre-des-Corps, it is an odd vista of serenity at two hundred miles an hour, and then the serenity is instantly dissolved when another train approaching in the opposite direction blasts past you, also at two hundred miles an hour and just for a moment, the tranquility becomes a bit unsettling. Realizing these massive machines maneuver past each other at death defying speeds, with only an arms-length of separation, makes one ponder the extreme feats of engineering it took to make it all operational.
Pulling into the station at Saint-Pierre-des-Corps, it finally set into my soul that I was actually in the Loire. In that rare moment, when my mind and body coalesced the energy and oneness in the universe, time stood still, and a lifetime of experiences revealed itself in an epiphany of gratitude and bewilderment. If there was ever a perfect time to have a glass of wine, I would say that was the perfect moment! In fact I may have had more than one, but who’s counting.
Another year, another castle. On my trip to France last year, I had the great fortune of staying at the Castle of Carcassonne, a medieval citadel located in the French city of Carcassonne situated in the Languedoc region. This year my base of operations while visiting wine producers of the Loire would be the Royal Abbey of Fontevraud, a regal accommodation if there ever was one. After all it was the former home of Eleanor of Aquitaine and her husband King Henry 2nd and of their son King Richard the Lionheart.
As we are heading into the Happy Hallow Thanksmas season, I paused to ponder the many roles the Royal Abbey of Fontevraud has filled during its nine hundred years of existence. Beginning as a socially experimental place of worship for Robert of Arbrissel whose beliefs harkened back to the ancient ascetic practice called Syneisaktism “spiritual marriage,” where the men and women lived together in the same house, but under rules of chastity. That practice was widely condemned by church authorities and under pressure, the community soon segregated according to gender, with the monks living in small priories where they lived in community in service to the nuns and under their rule. At the time of Robert’s death in 1117, there were about 3,000 nuns in the community. The Royal Abbey of Fontevraud would go on to shelter many people from all walks of life. Not only did it provide the final resting place for Kings and other royalty, it also provided housing for inmates’ from1804-1963. You could spend weeks and even months and barely scrape the surface of all the history that has taken place on these grounds. Needless to say there might also be a spirit or two lingering there and I’m not talking about the kind I usually write about. There are literally dozens upon dozens of castles in the Loire and all have a story to tell.
Take for instance Chateau de Brissac (the tallest castle in Loire) where I met and toured the home of the Marquis of Brissac, Sir Charles-André de Cossé-Brissac. For a guy who owns a castle and is royalty, he is about as down to earth as you get and hearing him tell the history of the place was a very special treat. This castle has its own special spirit, the green lady also known as la Dame Verte. But enough of the hobgoblin, halloween, hilarity. We came to learn about wines of Loire and the fine folks at InterLoire made sure to facilitate that folly to the utmost of their ability.
The Abbey has a serenity to it that enhances the ability to focus and apply otherwise seriously, studious attributes that limit distractions when assessing the individual qualities of a specific wine. I certainly appreciated that factor because too often tastings of this magnitude take place in less than idyllic circumstances. Getting a good meal in before you take on the volumes of wines to be tasted is paramount and Chef Thibaut Ruggeri left nothing to chance whether it was breakfast, lunch or dinner.
Every meal we had was memorable and I would expect nothing less from a chef whose mentor is none other than Chef Alain Soliveres of Taillevent in Paris. The rooms of the hotel are luxurious in a minimalist style of contemporary Chateau, I would describe as comfort without clutter.
Wine styles of the Loire are broader than most people would realize without producing huge, high alcohol, fruit bombs. Sauvignon blanc from Mentou-Salon, Pouilly Fume, Sancerre, Savennieres and Quincy are quite applicable as aperitifs. The red wines from Sancerre, Bourgeuil, and Chinon (Cabernet Franc and Pinot noir) are usually light and elegant; they are also workhorses when it comes to culinary pairings. Chenin blanc is probably the Loire’s’ most notable offering with dry, medium and sweet wines coming from Vouvray and Coteaux du Layon. Sparkling wines from Loire are delightful, including the wines of Crémant de Loire, Saumur and Vouvray. On the second night of our Loire Millésime excursion we dined at the caves of Ackerman. An evening in the caves of the troglodytes was quite the dining experience; I highly recommend a visit to Ackerman for a thorough sampling of the Fine Bulles de Loire.
The Loire Valley is only a couple of hours outside of Paris by either car or train and if you take the time to visit you will be rewarded in so many ways it would seem silly not to have gone. The historical value is immense with the troglodyte caves, the castles and the river itself. With more than 50 appellations, denominations and IGP’s (Indication Géographique Protégée) the wine scene is advanced for a region that does not garner the same recognition as Bordeaux or Burgundy. Chefs and Sommeliers alike have long extolled the vast virtues of the viniferous offerings from this region, and if you take your personal wine journey seriously, you too will find your way to the vineyards of Loire.