“Crachez bien.” my professor said, giving us a side-long look. “Spit well. There are 150 wines to try.” My small class, once 40 students now reduced to 8, chortled quietly and fingered our orange passes, tucking them away for safe keeping until the following week. “Remember this isn’t a salon de grand public.”
Thus it was with this remark in mind that I walked into the Salon des Vins de la Loire, elbowing my colleague, reminding him to remind me to spit.
I’ve been to my fair share of wine tastings before. It seems like there’s always some festival de vins, salon des vins, or foire aux vins going on here in France. Not to mention the occasional forays my husband and I make to vineyards and wineries on days when we’re driving around with nothing to do.
Discovering a new wine is a great pleasure for me. I’m always on the look out for a vintage, an appellation, a region, or a grape I haven’t tried yet. My latest new love has been the pineau d’aunis, a peppery grape used in the Val de Loir and Centre regions of France. My husband has taking a liking to AOC Coteaux de Layon, made here in the Pays de la Loire from the chenin grape. One could say, wine is wine and one bottle is as good as another. But if you really take the time to learn about the incredible complexity of savors and odors, all the ways one grape can be fermented to make so many different wines, discovering a new wine can be as exciting as Christmas.
When you go to a wine tasting there are always plastic buckets placed without ceremony along side the bottles, taking up precious glass and elbow space. On top of said buckets, instead of lids, there are sink-like drains. There it is, the crachoir or the spit bucket, a little suspicious, a little forgotten, dare I say with a slightly unhygienic feeling?
I’ve never been a fan of spitting. I’m not graceful and have a fear that if I spit, I’m going to dribble wine down my chin and on my whatever I happen to be wearing. And there seems something wasteful, something sad about putting that wine in your mouth, letting the flavors soak in and then spitting it out. I like drinking my wine. I like finishing what’s in my glass with a toss of the head and a smile at the wine maker.
But there was no chance of that here. It was 9:30 in the morning. I clipped my pass to my shirt, got a good grip on my glass, and prayed my aim would be true.
The Salon des Vins de la Loire takes place the first week of February and hosts all of the appellations of the Loire region. However, it’s unlike the festivals and salons I’ve been to in the past that were open to the general public. Instead, this is a salon only open to wine distribution professionals (and the lucky students in the area), giving a different atmosphere far from the somewhat hectic, crowded and usually buzzed one that I’m used to. It was all business when we walked in. 500 different stands of wine producers and wine sellers were spread out over the huge Parc d’Exposition in Angers. Rugs softened our footsteps, negotiators and buyers were talking in hushed tones, and in one corner over 150 wines were laid out according to color and appellation with black plastic spit buckets and one liter bottles of water at strategic intervals.
I was there first with a colleague to research, the details of which I won’t bore you with. Once it was done, we hit the tasting tables, eager to see, to smell, and of course, to taste.
Never have I seen so much public spitting in one place, accepted as a matter of course. People leaning over buckets, people bringing buckets to their chins, people who spit with force, and others who spit in slow, concentrated streams. For me it was almost as interesting to watch than the wine itself.
While there were no mishaps on my part, I find that I qualify under the “spits with force” category, thereby creating a little bit of splash back that needs to be controlled. Thus bringing the bucket to the chin is recommended, but make sure you hold it at an angle so you don’t splash your face. There was also a moment where I almost knocked over a bottle of red Saumur-Champigny when lifting the bucket.
Despite all the spitting, some of the wine is bound to slip its way down the throat and into the stomach. Especially for an unpracticed spitter like me. And I swear, the alcohol got absorbed into my blood stream through my mouth and tongue. I wasn’t buzzed after all my tastings, but there was this sense on my palate of having had way too much to drink. A rather strange sensation that nevertheless left me feeling fuzzy headed and tired. And with a few new wines on my list to add to my future cave. Here are some of my selections:
- Domain de Rousseau Frères 2010 Malvoisie – pinot gris: this is exceptionally rare in the Loire as pinot gris is usually grown in Alsace
- Domain de Brochard Hubart AOC Pouilly-Fumé 2012 – very young, good to keep for a few years
- Domain Tessier Philippe, La Porte Dorée AOC Cour-Cheverny 2009 – this was an incredible wine with a very smooth aroma and taste, notes of forest greens, fruits, and a hint of oak in the mouth.
- Domain de Pelle Morogues, Vignes de Ratier AOC Menetou-Salon 2011
- Domain du Hureau Foudre AOC Saumur 2010
- Château de Passavant AOC Anjou Villages 2010
- Domain du Petit Clocher AOC Anjou Village 2010
- Domain de la Roche Bleu, la Guiguette AOC Sancerre Rouge 2011
- Domain Dubois Christelle, Automne AOC Saumur Champigny 2011
- Château de Targé AOC Saumur Champigny 2011
If your local wine shop happens to have a vast selection of French wines or you find yourself in the Valley de la Loire sometime soon, give these a try.
Happy spitting…er tasting!