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A Wine Lover's Diary, part 329 (February 7, 2011)

Saturday, January 29: I am booked on the Paris flight after all. Air Canada. I'm seated in row 14C and my seat does not recline. Ate some ravioli in the lounge so declined dinner and tried to sleep – with a mask and earplugs. Not successful, so I watched The Social Network. Arrived in Paris at 10 am; got my luggage at 11 am and stopped for a salami sandwich and a bottle of water in the train station.

I'm taking the TGV to Angers St. Laud in the Loire Valley at 1:16 pm. A two-and-a-half-hour trip. Staying at the Mercure Central Foch hotel in Angers – which mercifully has WiFi. The city seems to be full of real estate agencies and shops that sell print cartridges.

Wine writers Leslie Gevirtz and Tyler Colman

Wine writers Laurie Forster and Tina Danze

Met members of our group at 6:30 pm for a drink and dinner: Ross Wasserman from Benson Marketing, American journalists Elizabeth Downer, Leslie Gevirtz, Laurie Forster, Tina Danze and Tyler Colman. We all crowded into a tiny wine bar called Le Cercle Rouge on rue des Deux Haies where we had a bottle of Vincent Carême Sparkling Vouvray Brut 2008 (pear and quince flavour with a touch of honey, very flavourful (90)) with a plate of charcuterie. Then we proceeded down to Le Théâtre, a brasserie at 7 place du Ralliement, where we demolished two Muscadets, Joseph Landron Amphibolite Nature Muscadet 2009 (89) and Guy Brossard Domaine de l'Ecu Expression de Geiss 2008 (88) with Breton oysters. Apparently, there is a disease decimating the French oyster population and prices have soared; there is a real danger of them actually disappearing. As a main dish I ordered scallops in a cream sauce with andouille, and Ross ordered a bottle of Château de Villeneuve Saumur 2009 (deliciously crisp (90)). By 10 pm I was beginning to fade and left the party at the restaurant for bed.

My buddy Jim Budd

Marie with Pueri Solis Muscadet 2005

Sunday, January 30: A good night's sleep. Feeling refreshed and ready for a full day's tasting at the Salon des Vins de Loire. After breakfast we walk to the station and take a shuttle bus to the hall, which is a twenty minute ride away. Hoping to meet my old friend from London days, Jim Budd, who is a Loire specialist. Jim has a mutton-chop moustache and always wears Hawaiian shirts. I spot him immediately at 200 paces.

Our group begins by tasting five 2010 Muscadet wines of Domaine Herbauges (the best is Clos de la Fine 2010). Then at the same booth five wines from Domaine FL (top score to Roches aux Moines Savennières 2007). Then on to the Sauvion booth, where we tasted Château de Cléray Muscadet 2010 (89) and Cardinal Richard Muscadet 2009 (88). Next stop, Pierre Luneau Papin's booth where we tasted a range of 14 wines. These are really fine wines and gave me a new respect for Muscadet, scoring 90s across the board. Of particular interest is Le "L" d'Or Pierre Luneau in vintages staring at 2009 and working back to 2005, 2003, 1999 and 1997. Then to the Semper Excelsior Muscadet in three vintages – 2007, 2006 and 2005 (the best of the three). We ended this tasting with Pueri Solis Muscadet Sèvre et Maine 2005, which had spent 42 months on its lees! The wine was fresh and minerally with a rich peachy and citrus flavour and lovely mouth feel (92).

We lunched in the press room – a buffet. I had lamb tagine with curried chicken salad, pasta salad and camembert, with a glass of Domaine de la Seignenrie des Tourelles Saumur 2009. After lunch our group headed to the Huet booth, where we commenced our tasting with Huet 2005 Sparkling. Then followed 12 Vouvrays in dry, semi-dry and sweet styles from three different vineyards, Le Haut Lieu, Le Mont and Clos du Bourg. Top marks to Huet Clos du Bourg Vouvray Sec 2010, Clos du Bourg Vouvray Demi-Sec 2010 and Huet Vouvray Moelleux 1985. But my highest mark of the day went to Huet Cuvée Constance 2009 (a sweet wine in 500 mL bottle made from the best grapes selected from the three vineyards). I gave it 94 for its perfect balance, great acidity and lovely honeyed pineapple flavour.

Then on to Charles Joguet to taste 15 Chinon reds. Top scores to Charles Joguet Clos du Chêne Vert Chinon 2008, Charles Joguet Clos de la Dioterie Chinon 1998 and Charles Joguet Clos de la Dioterie Chinon 1988. Finally, a tasting of six wines by Couly-Dutheil, beginning with their Brut de Franc, a sparkling wine in white and rosé made from Cabernet Franc grapes. Then four Chinons. The best wines were the oak-aged Couly-Dutheil Clos de L'Echo Crescendo Chinon 2006 (90) and the impressive Couly-Dutheil Clos de L'Olive 1989 (mature, soy, leather and sweet fruit on the nose with a tarry, sweet and savoury flavour (91)).

Then the shuttle bus back to the hotel. Tonight we are invited to Château des Vaults, the home of Evelyne de Pontbriand, the proprietor and winemaker of Domaine du Closel in the town of Savenniêres. A manic minibus driver delivers us here having difficulty locating the place because of myriad one-way streets. When we eventually arrive there is a group of American distributors already there drinking a wine called Eau de Pluie 2009, made from Verdelho (what's that doing in Savenniêres?). Our buffet meal is being prepared by Eyelyne's daughter, Isaure. Two delicious soups, Jerusalem artichoke and carrot, platters of crayfish, shrimps, salad, followed by breast of chicken in a cream sauce with morels and veal in a cream sauce. A range of Domaine de Closel is displayed on a sideboard for us to pour ourselves: Clos du Papillon Savenniêres 2009, La Jalousie Savenniêres 2009, Les Cailleadiêres 2005, 2004 and a series of Cabernet Franc, Une Emotion Cabernet Franc 2009 and Domaine du Closel Anjou Villages 2005 for the cheeses. For dessert, three galettes des rois cakes. I nearly broke a tooth on the tiny porcelain statue of a king (having found it I was the king for the night, apparently.)

Monday, January 31: Another day of tasting at the Salon des Vins. The weather has turned cold and there's snow in the air. Started tasting at the booth of Domaine de la Pépiêre with Marc Olivier's Muscadet Sêvre et Maine 2010, followed by Clos de Briords Vieilles Vignes 2010, Domaine de la Pépiêre 2009, Le Gras Mouton 2009, Château Thébaud Muscadet Sêvre et Maine 2009 and (the best of the flight) Gaute de Clisson Muscadet Sêvre et Maine 2009 (89), which had spent two years on the lees.

Then on to Langlois-Château for three sparkling wines: Crémant Brut (a blend of Chenin Blanc, Chardonnay and Cabernet Franc- 87), Rosé Brut (89) and their top wine, Quadrille Crémant Extra Dry (with Cabernet Sauvignon added to the blend – 88).Next stop, Domaine Baumard, which I had visited in May 2007. Florent Baumard told us that his family has been making wine in the Loire since 1634. A great tasting here of 14 wines:

  • La Calêche 2006 (with 20% Chardonnay – 86)
  • Vert de l'Or 2004 (a play on the varietal Verdelho – 87)
  • Clos de Saint Yves Savennières 2006 (86)
  • Clos de Saint Yves Savennières 2006 (Florent shares the vineyard with Evelyne de Pontbriand – 90)
  • Clos de Saint Yves Savennières 2007 (89)
  • Clos de Saint Yves Savennières 2007 (91)
  • Trie Spécial Savennières 2007 (89+)
  • Trie Spécial Savennières 2003 (91)
  • Vert de l'Or 2007/2008 Demi-Sec (89)
  • Coteaux du Layon Carte d'Or 2009 (90)
  • Coteaux du Layon Carte d'Or 2004 (90)
  • Clos de Sainte Catherine Coteaux du Layon 2008 (90)
  • Quarts de Chaume 2008 (92)
  • Quarts de Chaume 2007 (93)

Evelyne de Pontbriand

A great tasting. Lunch in the press room – oysters, salad, quenelles, scrambled egg and mushrooms duxelles, cheeses. Then back to tasting at Evelyne de Pontbriand's booth – Domaine du Closel La Jalousie Savennières 2009 (88). She told us an interesting story about the wine. She originally named it Les Coulées. An American journalist published a review that called the wine La Coulée. Nicolas Joli threatened legal action against her if she didn't change the name because it was too close to his Coulée de Serrant. Researching the history of the vineyard she found that its original name was La Jalousie. This was followed by Les Caillardières Savennières 2005 (89), Clos du Papillon Savennières 2007 (89), Clos du Papillon 2006 (87) and Clos du Papillon 2005 (88). Next stop, Yannick Amirault for four Bourgeuil and a rosé: Yannick Amirault La Coudraye Bourgueil 2009 (88), St. Nicolas de Bourgueil La Mine 2009 (89), Les Quartiers Bourgueil 2008 (88), Le Grand Clos Bourgueil 2008 (89) and Rosé d'Equinoxe 2009 (87).

The final tasting of the afternoon, Chinon at the stand of Bernard Baudry. Les Granges Chinon 2009 (90), Domaine Bernard Baudry Chinon 2009 (90), Les Grezeaux Chinon 2009 (oak-aged – 89), Le Clos Guillot Chinon 2009 (12 months in oak – 88) and Les Grezeaux Chinon 2010 (89).

Back to the hotel and an hour-long nap before dinner for the international journalists visiting the Salon des Vins, held at a restaurant across the river called Fave d'Anne. We're 19 at table. We start with a glass of Domaine St. Just Crémant Rosé 2009. First course, seared scallops with caviar and a pink pepper sorbet, with Joseph Landron Amphibolite Muscadet Nature 2009. Main course, braised beef, mash potatoes, truffle-oiled mushrooms and a sorbet of vegetable jus, with Domaine de Grosbois Chinon 2007. A mint and chocolate trou normand before a dessert of apple tartin, caramel mousse in a sandwich of tuilles, served with Thomas Quarsin Coteaux du Layon 2009 (unfortunately mildly corked).

Taxied back to the hotel and Laurie Forster and I headed for Murphy's Irish Pub near the hotel. I saw a tube of Edradour Highland Single Malt in the show case but it turns out it was merely for decoration with no bottle inside, along with virtually every other whisky they had on display. I ordered a Guinness but they didn't have that either, so I settled for a pint of Murphy's Stout.

Tuesday, February 1: Our group's final day of tasting at the Salon des Vins. I started at the Benoit Gautier booth with his Vouvray de Gautier 2010 (89), moving on to Vouvray de Gautier Demi Sec 2010 (89) and Vouvray de Gautier 2009 (87), Clos La Lanterne 2009 (87), Vouvray de Gautier 2009 (89), Clos La Lanterne Moelleux 2008 (87), Vouvray de Gautier Cuvée de Novembre 3 (89), Vouvray de Gautier Brut Antique (87) and Bulle's Kiss Vouvray Brut (88).

Next stop: Domaine Vacheron, a first-rate biodynamic producer of Sancerre. Domaine Vacheron Sancerre 2010 (89), Domaine Vacheron Sancerre "Les Paradis" 2009 (91), Domaine Vacheron Sancerre Les Grandes Champs 2009 (aged in Austrian oak – 88), Domaine Vacheron Sancerre Les Romains 2009 (92), Domaine Vacheron Sancerre Rosé 2010 (Pinot Noir – 89), Domaine Vacheron Sancerre Rouge 2008 (88) and Domaine Vacheron Sancerre Rouge 2007 (89).

Next to Jacky Blot's La Butte Bourgueils: La Butte Bourgueils Perrières 2010 (89), Mi-Pente 2010 (90), Le Haut  de la Butte 2009 (87), Les Perrières 2009 (88), Mi-Pente 2009 (91).

My next stop was a large booth called Vini Be Good, featuring 23 producers from all across the Loire and other appellations who have come together in loose association to market their wines. I went there because I had never tasted a wine from the small Jasnières appellation. I found Domaine de Bellivière Les Rosiers (88) and was invited to taste their off-dry Coteaux du Loir Blanc L'Effraie 2009 (89) before being handed off to the next producer, Domaine Les Hautes Noëlles, a producer of Muscadet Côtes de Grandlieu: Domaine Les Hautes Noëlles Muscadet Côtes de Grandlieu sur lie 2010 (86), 2009 (87), Les Granges 2010 (87), 2009 (88), Côtes de Grandlieu Les Moineries sur lie 2009 (86) and Muscadet Les Hautes Noëlles 2005 (89).

Then I got passed to Domaine Martin – Pierre Martin is a Sancerre producer. Domaine Martin Sancerre Blanc Chavignol 2010 (89), Sancerre Blanc Les Monts Damnés 2010 (90), Sancerre Blanc Les Culs de Beaujeu 2009 (89), Sancerre Rosé 2010 (87), Sancerre Rouge Chavignol 2009 (89).

Next I was moved to Domaine Michel Bailly et fils, producers of Pouilly-Fumé: Les Vallons Pouilly-Fumé 2010 (90), Les Bines Pouilly-Fumé 2009 (87) and Les Terraces Pouilly-Fumé 2007 (87).

Next, Domaine Vincent Carême, a Vouvray producer: Vouvray Sec 2009 (87), Vouvray Brut (87), Vouvray Tendre 2009 (a designation between Sec and Demi-Sec – 87), Vouvray Sec Le Clos 2007 (aged for 24 months – 88), Vouvray Peu Morier 2008 (87), Vouvray Ancestrale (sparkling – 89), Vouvray Moelleux 2009 (88).

Finally I was corralled at Château de Coulaine, who produce Chinon, Touraine and Bourgueil wines. Château de Coulaine Les Pieds Rôtis, a naturally sparkling wine from Touraine (89), Touraine Blanc Les Pieds Rôtis 2009 (88), Chinon Blanc 2009 (88), Chinon Château de Coulaine Rouge 2010 (88), Clos de Turpenay Chinon 2009 (89), Chinon Les Picasses 2009 (87), Chinon La Diablesse 2009 (87).

The G spot label

At this point I made my excuses and left the booth, having tasted myself out. But I could not pass by a wine with a label that simply said G. Above it was a small black spot. Winemaker Emile Heredia explained that the G was for Gamay. He had drawn the label and left it on the dining room table overnight, not really satisfied with the design. His eleven-year-old son found it and a scribbled a black pencil dot on it. The wine is made from pre-phylloxera Gamay vines.

Headed for lunch in the press room – oysters again, chicken in a mushroom sauce and cheeses. Took a break from tasting in the afternoon and went shopping. Picked up at pair of earrings for Deborah at Galeries Lafayette and some fleur du sel sea salt at Monoprix.

Dinner at a one-star Michelin restaurant called Une Ile. We arrived 20 minutes late and the woman owner punished us by ignoring us for thirty minutes. But the wait was worth it. A bottle of Domaine de Laureau Savennières 2006 (92) (the second half of an opened magnum) with two amuse-bouches – smoked eel with buckwheat and beetroot puree and spider crab and tiny mussels in a cream sauce. This was followed by foie gras de canard grille et jus acidulé. Then St. Pierre (fish) au curry léger with Damien Laureau Le Bel Ouvrage Savennières 2003 (91) followed by Domaine Baumard Clos de St. Ives Savennières 1999 (92). Dessert, blood orange tart and gourmandise. I hadn't realized how well Savennières goes with food.

The Château de Brézé

The pigeon house at Chateau de Brézé

Wednesday, February 2: We leave the hotel this morning and drive to Chinon for a tasting at Château de Brézé, a 16th-century fortress with the deepest moat (18 meters) in Europe. The wine is made in the bowels of the château. An interesting feature is the pigeon house with niches for 3700 pigeons – which speaks to the size of the estate. By law the owners could only have as many pigeons that could be supported by a half hectare each (which meant the property owned close to 2000 hectares).

Winemaker Arnaud Lambert toured us around the château, showing us the room that had been built and decorated for Cardinal Richelieu, whose brother-in-law Urbain de Maillé owned the property. Richelieu is said never to have visited it. Small wonder, since the place is freezing. We saw the bakery, the room where they raised silk worms and the press room you reach by descending a steep pathway into the dungeon-like cellar.

Winemaker Arnaud Lambert in the cellar of Château de Brézé

We tasted Clos David Rouge from three different aged barrels – new, one year old and four years old. Amazing how different the same wine tasted. Then, with frozen feet,  we went upstairs to the shop to taste the bottled wines – Château de Brézé Clos David Blanc 2009 (90), Château de Brézé, Château de Brézé Saumur Rouge 2009 (89), Saint Just Montée des Roches Saumur-Champigny 2008 (a wine belonging to the Lambert family – 87) and a wonderful dessert wine, Château de Brézé Clos Brune Nouvelle 2009 (91).

We then drove into Saumur for lunch at Bistro de la Place, where they have 380 wines on the list and pour 40 by the glass. I ordered escargot vol-au-vent and pied de cochon with lentils. We drank a bottle of Domaine de Sanzay Saumur 1989 (91).

Winemaker Matthieu Baudry

Winemaker Paul Baudry in Chinon

Next stop: Bernard Baudry in Chinon, where Bernard's son Matthieu led us through a tasting of Baudry wines: Bernard Baudry Rosé 2010 (89), Bernard Baudry Les Granges Chinon 2009 (90), Domaine Bernard Beaudry Chinon 2009 (91), then the oak-aged versions, Bernard Baudry Les Grezeaux Chinon 2009 (89), Les Clos Guillot Chinon 2009 (tank sample), La Croix Boisée 2009 (90), Franc de Pied 2009 (made from ungrafted pre-phylloxera vines – 90). Then older vintages of Bernard Baudry Chinons: La Croix Boisée 2008 (90), Les Grezeaux 2000 (88), La Croix Boisée 1998 (89), La Croix Boisée 2004 (85) and La Croix Boisée 2003 (92).

The private cellar at Domaine Bernard Baudry

Tina Danze takes the chair in Le Grand Hotel, Tours

After the tasting we drove into Tours and checked in to Le grand Hotel kitty-corner to the train station. Dinner at La Deuvalière, 18 rue de la Monnaie. It was raining so we took a taxi. I had pâté de foie gras followed by guinea fowl and ice cream. The wine: Couly-Dutheil Chinon Blanc 2009 (89).

Thursday, February 3: The first good night's sleep since I arrived. After breakfast (having said goodbye to Laurie Forster and Tyler Colman) we drove to Domaine Chainier just outside Amboise. Pierre Chainier and his son Philippe had set up a tasting for us in their Château de la Roche. We were greeted by to two graceful whippets and I began to feel homesick for Pinot the Wonder Dog. In the dining room we tasted a series of Domaine Chainier's well priced wines, beginning with Clos de Nouys Brut (90), followed by Château de la Roche Sauvignon Blanc 2009 (88), Château de la Roche Sauvignon Blanc 2010 (bottled yesterday – 89), Domaine Roc de Châteauvieux Sauvignon Blanc Loire et Cher 2009 (87), Domaine Roc de Châteauvieux Sauvignon Blanc Loire et Cher 2010 (unfinished tank sample – 88), Clos de Nouys Vouvray Demi-Sec 2009 (89), L'Exceptionnel de Paul Buisse Chinon 2006 (an assemblage of some 30-odd small producers wines – 89), L'Exceptionnel de Paul Buisse Bourgueil 2005 (87), L'Exceptionnel de Paul Buisse Saumur-Champigny 2008 (88) and Clos du Gaimont Vouvray Moelleux 1989 (very Sauternes-like with great acidity – 93).

Château de la Roche, Amboise

Philippe Chainier displays the old and new labels of his Sauvignon Touraine

Lunch at Le 36, the restaurant in the hotel Le Choiseul on the river at Amboise. Cream of chestnut foam with a ravioli of duck and mushroom followed by sweetbreads and kidney in a cream sauce. The wine: Domaine du Gué d'Oger Savennières Les Fougeraies 2007 (90). At this point I am leaving the group. There is a taxi waiting to take me to Pierre des Corps station where I will catch the TGV to Paris. The sun has finally come out as I'm leaving the Loire. Checked in to the Sheraton at Charles de Gaulle airport. Couldn't face another big cream-sauced meal in a restaurant so I walked through the terminal until I found a place that sold sandwiches. Ate a salami roll in my room. I hate eating in restaurants alone. Caught up with emails before bed.

Elizabeth, Ross, Tina and Leslie lunching at Le Choiseul, Amboise

Sweetbreads and kidneys in mustard sauce (Le Choiseul)

Friday, February 4: Straight to the airport and took up residence in the Air Canada lounge. I have that privilege until February 28th, when my Elite status expires. Pity. Watched three movies on the flight and started Stuart Neville's The Ghosts of Belfast.




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