Wine list road trip
For the last few years my dad, brother, brother-in-law and I have been talking about doing a wine trip together. But life has got in the way. Work and family commitments and, more recently, Covid have all thrown their respective spanners in the works and we continued our wine journeys individually.
So when the planets aligned and presented us with an opportunity to escape for a few days last week, we tried to squeeze as much in as possible.
The aim was simple; to try as many wines as possible from as many different areas as possible and bring back as much as we're now allowed to post-Brexit.
France was the destination as we were driving and only had a few days and we planned a loop taking in The Loire Valley, Burgundy and Champagne.
-We were overambitious as you could spend weeks in all of these wonderful destinations and still not feel like you've properly done them. But my dad, who sparked my interest in wine, had some contacts with a number of growers, so we managed to get a real sense of the areas.
I'll update this blog with a bit more detail about each specific region in subsequent posts, so this is just a bit of a general overview with some important dos and don'ts if you're planning your own trip.
We drove down from Caen to Saumur, taking in some amazing medieval towns along the way. The first do is 'Do take the scenic route' as you'll get to see some amazing sights that the autoroutes don't take in. But that goes hand in hand with the first don't. 'Don't stop at every castle or walled town along the way' as you'll never get to where you want to go. Each little village and town seemed to have a picture postcard square or town hall. Each seemed to be worth a stop, but they just got better and better. After a long day and a stop in Angers and the obligatory roadside picnic of bread, rillettes and a drop of local wine we arrived in Saumur and had a tasting of some brilliant sparking crémants at one of the big houses - Bouvet Ladubay.
We arrived a bit late to tour their miles of cellars, but we were shown some really refreshing Chenin Blanc based sparking wines typical of the region. Dinner that night was in the incredible Le Cellier restaurant, which was recommended by our host. 'Do listen to the local recommendations and don't just look on review sites.' We tasted some brilliant wines and dined like kings.
The next day we stopped for a tasting at Chateau De Parnay, just outside Saumur and tried some brilliant red and white wines. The whites were typical Chenin Blanc wines, which really showed the softness of the soil. The reds were Cabernet Franc and the Clos de Chateau was brilliantly balanced with real complexity.
We continued up the valley via some fairytale castles. 'Do go to Chenonceau' - it should be on everyone's bucket-list We then travelled to places my dad had been before and tasted wines in the Touraine region at Oisly and then Menetou-Salon, before arriving at the spectacular hilltop village of Sancerre - where we ate at another incredible restaurant - L'Auberge de la Pomme D'Or, where we were once again over indulged on incredible foods and wine.
We had roadside picnics each day, which is a great time and money saver if you're travelling long distances. 'Do get some bread and meat each morning for the journey and keep some local wine in the car.' You could learn this from experience but take my word for it 'Don't keep garlic sausage in the vehicle for four days!' You'll thank me for this tip - trust me.
From Sancerre we made our way to Beaune - the heart of Burgundy. We arrived and took in some vineyards, where the other members of our group indulged the wine geek in me and let me jump out every five minutes to take photos of some of the most exclusive plots in the world. None of us had deep enough pockets for the top wines, but we had an amazing dinner and wines at a steak house and a lovely stroll through a drizzly town centre the next morning.
Off to the Champagne region the next day (with lots more jumping out at places like Nuits St Georges and Vosne-Romanée to drool over wine shops and vineyards) before arriving near Épernay for a brilliant tasting at J. Charpentier, where we've been buying wine as a family for almost 30 years. Dinner that night was obviously accompanied by some bubbles and finished back at our flat with some of the spoils from our journey; cheese, wine and brandy.
We did the obligatory walk down the Avenue de Champagne to marvel at the opulence that Champagne had brought the region and I had to stop to say hello to the Dom.
We then raided the nearest supermarket to complete our wine buying allowances before the slog to Calais and the tunnel home. Post-Brexit you're allowed 24 bottles of still wine and 12 sparkling each, without paying duty. This might sound a lot, but when you're used to filling a car to the gunwales with wines - you can soon reach that limit, if your suspension and family allow it. So 'Do watch what you buy' so you don't fill up your allowance before the end of your trip.
As I've said above, I'll post a bit more about each region separately, but I've had the most amazing week with brilliant people, eating delicious food, drinking fantastic wines in a wonderful country. It felt like years since I'd last done that (probably because it has been), so I'll finish with my two last dos and don'ts.
'Do explore wine regions yourself and don't just go to your supermarket favourites.' It really does add enjoyment to drinking wine and you'll make some brilliant memories and contacts.
'Don't leave garlic sausage in your car for four days.' I know I've already said this, but the smell is haunting and plastic tubs don't make one bit of difference.