An Australian in the Loire

Tim Schwilk Manager of our Tastings & Events team, Tim Schwilk

Manager of our Tastings & Events team Tim Schwilk gives his first impressions of accompanying a Wine Society buyer on buying trip and owns up to not being a fan (at first) of all things Loire!

Whilst preparing for my job interview for my current role as manager of the Tastings and Events team, I came across this Travels in Wine section of the website. It struck me that should I be successful, a work trip to a beautiful wine producing region with guides of the calibre of The Wine Society buyers could be a beneficial educational opportunity (otherwise known as a pretty good little perk!).

Fast forward a couple of months and I was on the Eurostar heading to Angers to meet up with Jo Locke MW to join her on her annual buying trip to the Loire. Some things are just meant to be.

A region of diversity

Many reading this will know that the Loire Valley is one large region with a number of appellations that vary in size and recognition and include famous names such as Muscadet, Vouvray, Sancerre and Chinon.

Likewise many will already know that the main grape varieties grown in these various regions are melon de Bourgogne, chenin blanc and sauvignon blanc for whites and cabernet franc, pinot noir and côt (the local name for malbec) for the reds.

I wanted to get to know the Loire better

I knew all of this through my wine studies, both in the book and in the glass and thought I had a fair understanding of the region, not least because I had spent three days in the Loire exactly 12 months prior to this trip. But whilst I had a basic understanding of the region and knew early February may not be the most popular time of the year to visit the 'Garden of France', I jumped at the opportunity to join Jo on this particular trip.

Not only did I wish to learn from her, but the Loire was a region I was particularly keen to return to for as much as I had loved the scenery, food and spectacular châteaux of the region, I was still to be convinced by the wines made along France's most important river.

Five days and over 350 wines later and I'm officially a convert, being amazed not just by the relative value of, but of the true quality that exists in so many of the wines.

Nicolas Bougrier with his father Noel – the fifth generation at the helm of this family firm Nicolas Bougrier with his father Noel – the fifth generation at the helm of this family firm

Pinks – a perfect place to start

Our first visit was to Maison Bougrier a successful family owned négociant now run by the fifth generation of Bougriers. The visit started with a presentation running through the sales figures of the past 12 months and forecasting for the future. This provided an interesting insight into the commercial side of the business and highlighted the way in which The Wine Society works with suppliers to build beneficial long-term relationships. We then went into the tasting room where Nicolas Bougrier led us through a range of wines that had just been bottled along with a number of tank samples.

Bougrier are renowned for their range of Rosé d'Anjou wines and it was a pleasure to taste through a number of samples based on the grolleau grape, a variety I had not previously tried outside of a WSET (Wine & Spirit Education Trust) exam! The wines were fresh, dangerously drinkable (especially as it was not yet 10am) and importantly for rosé, very pretty with a lovely pale pink colour.

The various tank samples were tasted before Jo indicated her preference for blending and the final selection to make up the 2017 Rosé d'Anjou, Famille Bougrier was decided. It is one that will be featuring on my balcony throughout the summer if and when summer ever arrives. [Hang on in there, Tim! – Ed]

Further discussions were had about Jo's preference for design and presentation for The Wine Society's wines with the Bougriers eager to show off their rectangular-shaped bottle. It's good to see some innovation on the packaging front – it's not something that the wine industry is renowned for!

Where to go next?

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