Roadside signs encourage us to ‘visit the Troglodytes’. Troglodytes are cave dwellers and there are plenty along the Loire. Houses, shops restaurants, hotels and wineries have all burrowed into limestone cliffs. Often the caves were created by mining for stones to build the fairy-tale white castles the region is famous for. The Loire was where the rich came to construct holiday mansions and chateaus. And also the newly rich: a story here is of a Lord finding that the mansion created by his treasurer was grander than his own, and dispossessing the cheating functionary to give the building to a favoured mistress.
But enough of castles and cheats. Domaine Filliatreau is a troglodyte winery. Over millennia the Loire river carved its path through limestone, the river moved and shrunk leaving cliffs running along but some way away from the modern river. Caves in the cliffs have been occupied since stone-age times. More recently homes have been made with windows, rooms and stairways. And it is in one of these we found Domaine Filliatreau.
Domaine Fillatreau is near the town of Saumur. We have travelled down river and the grape varieties have changed. Here in a warmer climate, Cabernet Franc and Chenin Blanc thrive.
I like Filliatreau wines because they taste honest and flavoursome. Saumur Blanc 2010, which is 100% Chenin, is tangy and crisp, the Saumur-Champigny Rose 2010 is made from 100% Cabernet Franc and is no wimpy pink wine but rounded and rich with a crisp finish. But it is the reds that make me reach for my wallet. They have a vineyard named ‘Chateau Fouquet’ which they farm organically: the 2006 vintage, is smooth and elegant yet with ripe fruits showing through, a 2008 ‘vieilles vignes’ (old vines) Saumur-Champigny is delicious with cherry and violet flavours.
Wineries often claim their wines will age for many years – the implication is that if they’re good now they’ll be brilliant if you keep them and if you don’t like them now, you will in 25 years time. It is a claim that is easy to make and of which I am suspicious so I asked them to open an old bottle and prove it. A 1998 was like an ancient Pinot, smelling of rotten cabbage, but a 1993, although with a vegetal edge, had soft ripe fruit showing.
But I’ll be drinking the wines I bought in the next year. I prefer fresh fruity wines.
Peter F May is the author of Marilyn Merlot and the Naked Grape: Odd Wines from Around the World which features more than 100 wine labels and the stories behind them, and PINOTAGE: Behind the Legends of South Africa’s Own Wine which tells the story behind the Pinotage wine and grape, also available for the Kindle.
Disclosure: Peter F May travelled to the Loire at his own expense and paid full price for all his accommodation, meals, tastings and wines.