Looking Back at Angers

Last week I was on a rather lovely trip to the Loire Vally in France. Unusually though I didn’t just get to see vineyards and wineries, but a little bit of the surrounding area too – which could be seen as self indulgence, but I think that seeing the place, people and culture around a wine can often help with understanding what makes a wine region tick. Strolling around the French city of Angers in the middle of a working day felt like a lovely adventure – even a little naughty. It was as if it was stolen time that I should have spent doing something more productive – but what the heck.

The city feels quite small, which can be very attractive as you can see it all in a short time without having to cherry pick as you would in somewhere the size of London or Paris. The River Maine flows through the middle of the city and you get lovely glimpses of it from the ramparts of the astonishing Château d’Angers. Once home to Catherine de Medici, this is not your typical Loire Valley Château, but a huge mediaeval fortress whose harsh defensive exterior does not prepare you at all for the haven of peace inside. It is a delightful place for a stroll complete with rampart walk, gardens, orchards and even a small vineyard. Most famously though it houses the Apocalypse Tapestry – well worth a look as it really is one of the jewels of early French culture – strangely enough this castle was also the place where, as a young man the future Duke of Wellington received his military training.

Angers Castle

Wandering around foreign cities is something I greatly enjoy and a walk through the old town of Angers proved what an attractive place it was with narrow lanes and bustling squares. The city is actually easy to manage on foot, but there is also a rather swish looking tram system – in case you get ambitious and want to go further afield. I only had a short time to explore a small portion of Angers, but it seemed very promising and I stared longingly at every street café that I had to walk past on my way to the Maison du Vin. You can actually see this from the castle and if you find yourself in Angers and do not know much about the local wine, then I would recommend dropping in. You can taste a wide range of the local wines here and pick up masses of useful maps and brochures – they even sell wine and some extraordinarily good value Foie Gras.

Angers city centre

I was especially excited about this trip as my flight was from London City Airport and although I am a Londoner I had never flown from there before. I really like smaller airports as I find as everything happens so quickly and easily; I arrived, checked in and was through in no time at all. The trip was a celebration of the new British Airways flight to Angers, so centred on the attractions and wines of that area and to get me and my fellow scribes into the mood we were treated to a little tasting and nibble in the airport’s City Bar & Grill. This struck me as being rather a good airport restaurant and I thoroughly enjoyed it from the whacky Magritte-esque bowler hat lights to the rather lovely food presentation – I made a mental note to eat there next time I pass through.

The City Bar & Grill

Of course the trip was not all fun, I had to do some work at some point, but they broke us in gently with an excellent first dinner in a wonderfully relaxed little eatery called Mets et Vins Plaisirs there we had our introduction to the simple, but effective food of the region, much of which involves fish and shellfish – always good in a region that produces a lot of white wine. This lovely space is both a restaurant and wine shop and has no wine list, instead you browse the shelves and see what takes your fancy – what’s more they cover the whole country, not just Loire Valley wine.

We threw ourselves on their inside knowledge and our trust was rewarded with a superb pair of wines from a producer that none of us knew – Domaine de Saint Just. Their Crémant de Loire Brut made an elegant and poised aperitif – if more Crémant was like this the world would be a happier place – while their 2009 Clos Moloton Montée des Roches A.C. Samur-Champigny was one of the most supple, concentrated, elegant and attractive Cabernet Francs from the Loire that I have tried – it was perfect with the meat course and cheeses too. I understand this is made from a specific parcel – hence the long name – of 50 year old vines that are organically farmed and I wish it was available in the UK.

I shall write more about some specific wines in the coming weeks, but some other touristy highlights were the visit to the extraordinary Château de Brissac, which is is a sort of grand house, akin to the iconic Châteaux of the Loire, built inside the remains of a mediaeval castle. Rather wonderfully we were greeted by the current owner, the Marquis de Brissac. He is a charming man who treated us to refreshing drinks as it was so hot. I was amused to note the next day at Angers airport that the Marquis was subjected to the same severe search as the rest of us – it seems deference is dead and the republican spirit is alive and well in France.

La Crosette from the river bank

 
 
For lunch on the second day we experienced a traditional Guinguette, which is a casual riverside restaurant – often but not exclusively housed in a wooden building like a riverside beach bar. It was called La Crosette and was in Béhuard very near Savennières where we had just been for an exhaustive tasting of Savennières wines. La Crosette is on an island in the Loire and could not be a more peaceful place if it tried. Nothing modern interrupts your view here, gardens, the river and vineyards are all there is to feast on until the lovely food is put in front of you. I stuck to local specialities – however tempting the calamares looked – Rillettes de poisons (a wonderful fish pâté) followed by Sandre au beurre blanc Angevin (pike-perch in a buttery sauce) and a dessert of Crème aux grottoes – local cherries in a sort of custard and much better than it sounds. This splendid meal was washed down with some terrific local wines including one from Vignobles Branchereau. Their 2010 Domaine des Forges A.C. Savennières Roche aux Moines had a purity and intense minerality to the acidity while the soft apricot character stopped it from being austere. It was a perfect foil to the fish and its gently citrus sauce – and the view.

Sandre au beurre blanc Angevin

 

Believe it or not I often grumble about the way people who organise wine trips seem to think that the meals should be frequent and swanky. It often seems that no sooner is a stunning lunch over and hardly digested, than we are heading for dinner in yet another famous restaurant. Sounds ungrateful I know, but I really do think one formal meal a day is ample and even then I would prefer it in more simple places – I strongly believe that local traditional fare is usually the best thing with wine. This trip got it exactly right, the food was excellent, but never pretentious – sometimes the exact opposite, as with our last lunch.

 
 
For this finale we visited Domaine de la Tuffière, which is a lovely estate in rolling countryside very near Angers airport. In theory it is nothing special – it is not even in the Anjou-Villages zone – but it was a delightful visit and I discovered two new things: Anjou Fines Bulles – which is a sparkling wine from the Anjou A.C. area that I have never heard of before. Then as if that wasn’t enough I got to try their 2011 Grolleau Gris. This grape is a pink skinned mutation of the Grolleau or Grolleau Noir that is famously used to make Rosé d’Anjou and I had no idea that it even existed. None of us had any expectation of it at all, but actually it was a nice fresh dry white wine with more acidity and character than most Pinot Grigios – what’s more a 10 litre bag in box costs just €29. Our hosts also served their 2010 Anjou L’Automnale A.C. Anjou which was a very happy red wine made from Cabernet Franc, it was perfectly ripe with no green tinges, beautifully vibrant fruit and ripe tannins – if you are passing do try it.
 

The view from the picnic

What made this visit truly memorable though was that they treated us to a picnic lunch and what a lovely experience it was sitting there with my fellow scribes enjoying some good wines with locally produced rilletes, pâté and mousse de canard together with an array of salads and cheeses. Just opposite was a picture postcard Château while all around us were vines. This idyllic scene seemed to perfectly sum up the joys of rural France, while the fabulous basket of cherries they served as dessert was a stunning finale to this delightful visit.

the dessert

 
 

8 thoughts on “Looking Back at Angers

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