A Winelover’s Tour de France (3)

He found Tours to be a very agreeable city, with broad, tree-lined
avenues, pavement cafés and smart-looking restaurants, as well as
museums and elegant shops. Tours, the capital of Touraine, has two
main centres of interest: the cathedral of St Gatien and the medieval
quarter around the Place Plumereau. The cathedral is a very beautiful
church, with a charming, mouse-coloured complexion and a pair of
slender towers. There is a commodious little square in front of it, from
which one may look up at its very ornamental face. The cathedral has
an effect on the observer of delicacy and grace.
Bede also visited the Musée des Vins de Touraine, which is housed in
cellars under the very interesting old church of St Julien. The Musée
contains a rich assortment of things to do with wine, including the
cultivation of grapes, wine-making processes, legends, archaeology
and social customs. At the end of a full and interesting day, he spent a
most agreeable night at the Hôtel Majestic.
In continuing his journey westward he visited yet another château, at
Azay-le-Rideau. A little avenue leads to the château, making a pretty
vista as one approaches the sculptured doorway. Like Chenonceau, it
is a watery place, though it is more meagrely moated than the château
on the Cher. It consists of a large square corps de logis, with a round
tower at each angle, rising out of a somewhat slumberous pond. The
waters of the Indre river surrounds it, but it is only on one side that it
bathes its feet in the moat. He took a particular fancy to the roof: high,
steep, old, with its slope of bluish slate, and the way the weather-worn
chimneys seemed to grow out of it.
He proceeded through a warm and blustery day towards the town of
Chinon. All around him the vineyards looked lush in the clear light.
Cultivation was everywhere, but everywhere it seemed to be easy. He
found Chinon to be an absolute delight, set as it is beside the broad,
lazy waters of the Vienne river. The town is renowned for its excellent
red wines, and Bede was able to taste a number of them at a local
‘cave’ (cellar), operated by the vigneron and négociant Couly-Duthiel.
The red wines of Chinon are made from the Cabernet Franc grape,
known locally as le Breton. The best vineyards are at Chinon itself.
He was informed that a good Chinon should have an entrancing ruby
colour, a pronounced aroma of crushed flowers (violets) and an
impression of soft fruit with a refreshing finish: where the terroir
embraces and gives expression to the elegant smoothness of the
Cabernet Franc fruit.
The town of Chinon is built on a hill, the top of which is ringed by the
remains of ramparts and fortifications. The Château de Chinon, whose
imposing remains stretch along the steep promontory that dominates
the town, consists of three fortresses, separated by deep moats. The
château affords fine views of the town and the Vienne. The old part of
the town dates from the 15th century and the streets are lined with
lovely old timbered and gabled houses. It is very picturesque.
Bede stayed overnight at Chinon before setting out the next day,
headed for Saumur. It was a crisp spring morning, and on both sides
of the road stretched a green expanse of countryside. He loved the
vines – the ordered regularity of them against the open sprawl. He
followed the signs that indicated where he could buy direct from the
men who made the wine. They were, without exception, hospitable
and proud of their skills. At the village of St Nicolas-de-Bourgueil he
visited the chais of Jean Paul Mabileau for degustation ( tasting ) and
to talk wine with Jean Paul himself. Bede came away with a bottle of
well-made 1986 Cuvée les Graviers, produced from 100% Cabernet
Franc fruit. The particular cépage ( variety ) was not shown on the
label, nor the percentage alcohol-by-volume details. He was to find
this with other wines in France.
Lunch was taken at the old town of Saumur on the right bank of the
Loire in splendid sunshine. He had ridden well that morning and had
worked up a good thirst and appetite. He chose a setting among the
shady trees near the river and enjoyed a picnic of fresh bread, cheese
and fruit, all washed down with part of the bottle of Cuvée les
Saumur is the site of yet another spectacular château, perched high
above the blue-grey slate roofs of the houses. The Château de Saumur
dates from the 14th century and now houses two interesting museums:
one for decorative arts, tapestries and furniture, and the other devoted
to the horse. Bede took a short visit before leaving Saumur in the
early afternoon. The rest of the day was taken up with completing a
long ride to get to the city of Angers. This had been yet another 100-
kilometre day on the road.

Angers is the old capital of Anjou. It is a city of artistic interest with
several important museums, churches and historic buildings. The
main place of interest to Bede was the maison du vin in the cellar of
the old St Jean granaries. He spent a very comfortable night at yet
another logis hotel in the old part of the city. His room had a window
on to a typically haphazard French square – all shutters, cars, awnings
and sunshine. He ate out at a small café. It took ages to get to sleep
that night due to the reverberating quality of French streets and the
exuberance of the local car engines.


Barry Johns     ( aka Le Vigneron )