29 June 2010

A wine day at Monmousseau in Montrichard

Yesterday started out to be a mushroom day, but it quickly turned into a wine day.

We drove over to Bourré, a village just downriver from Saint-Aignan, to visit the mushroom cellars there. We got there for the 11:00 tour, only to find out that the mushroom tour was at 10:00 and the 11:00 tour would take to a different feature on the site, an "underground village" carved into the walls of the limestone tunnels. We decided we preferred to see the mushrooms, so we have to go back today or tomorrow for that tour.

Monmousseau is large wine wholesaler and exporter
located in Montrichard.

Disappointed — or flexible and adaptable, if you will — we drove on down the road to the Caves Monmousseau (site in English and in French) on the edge of the little town of Montrichard. There was an 11:00 tour there that would take us into a different set of galeries — tunnels or cellars — carved into the limestone cliffs and bluffs on the north side of the Cher River Valley.

Monmousseau produces an extensive line of still
and sparkling Touraine wines.

Instead of growing mushrooms, Monmousseau uses the limestone tunnels as a place to store and age wine. The tunnels themselves have been carved into the soft limestone cliffs over the centuries and were greatly enlarged in the Renaissance when big blocks of limestone were quarried to be used as the building material for the monumental royal châteaus of the Loire Valley region.

There are 10 miles of tunnels lined with bottles of wine
at the Caves Monmousseau.

The Monmousseau wine cellars, for example, are 15 km/9 miles of tunnels carved into the cliffs, on three levels. When you are in the top level of the cellars, you still have a layer of about 75 feet of limestone over your head. Down in the cellars, the temperature is a constant 12ºC/55ºF year-round, and the humidity is about 90% all the time. Those are perfect conditions for storing and aging wine, or for growing mushrooms.

Touraine sparkling wines on the riddling racks

The guide at Monmousseau told us that there are four million bottles of wine in the cellars at the present time. I know that was the figure, because she said it in French and then again in English. The tour was bilingual because the tourists were international — there were six of us in all. We walked through a long, dark, narrow tunnel in the chilly temperatures, stopping at different points to see the sights in my pictures here.

And these are the "modern" mechanical equivalent
of the old-style riddling racks

What kinds of wines does Monmousseau make? Touraine wines of course, still and sparkling. Monmousseau is a négociant — a merchant or wholesaler — buying grapes all around the Loire Region and then making, bottling, and selling the wine under its own label. Monmousseau itself owns some vines, but mostly it negotiates with independent growers to buy their grapes and grape juice. The company exports a lot of Loire wines — I used to buy them in California, and you can probably find them where you live.

Disgorging the sediment from bottles of bubbly
on a sort of assembly line

What you see on the tour at Monmousseau is the production of sparkling wines made by the same method used to make Champagne wines, but using different grapes. A good portion of the sparkling Touraine wine is made with Chenin Blanc grapes grown in the Vouvray appellation. That's the only grape grown in the Vouvray and Montlouis areas, at least officially, and the sparkling wines from there can be called « Blancs de Blancs » — white wines made from "white" grapes.

The bottles are capped for aging and processing
before being re-opened and corked for sale to the public.

The equivalent wines made in the Champagne region are made using Chardonnay grapes. But most champagnes are made from a blend of red and white grapes and are not Blancs de Blancs. One type of sparkling wine is not inherently better than another. It's all a matter of taste. The fact is, though, that Vouvray and Touraine appellation sparkling wines are much less expensive than the famous champagnes, and can be just as fine.

« La Foire aux Vins » at Monmousseau yesterday.
Irresistible prices, fine wines.

At Monmousseau there was a big tub — a half barrel — of bottles of wine on sale yesterday. These were still wines, including some Vouvrays, some whites from nearby Montlouis, and some Touraine reds, including Gamays as well as reds made from blends of Gamay, Cabernet Franc, and Côt (Malbec) grapes. Many were vintages going back to 2002, 2003, or 2004 — even 1999 — and they were irresistible at 3.00 € a bottle.

We especially enjoyed this 2003 semi-sweet Vouvray.

We tasted — that's the polite term for "drank" — some of them yesterday afternoon, and one or two were really excellent. Those included a 2003 Vouvray demi-sec. We opened it late in the afternoon when our friends D. (British) and C. (Parisian) stopped by. The Frenchwoman, C., commented on the Vouvray — « ce vin est vraiment excellent », she said.

2003 was the year of the great European Heat Wave — La Grande Canicule — and the Touraine wines made that year were exceptional, especially the white dessert/apéritif wines. Today I need to go back to Monmousseau and buy some more before it's all sold out.


  1. So much to see and do in such a small area of France.

    Amazing really.

  2. Does the word "mousseux" come from Monmousseau? Very interesting post from you and Walt today. I don't blame you for going back and buying more bottles.

  3. 2003 was great except for the cabernet franc.

  4. If they had told me about an "underground village", I would have been really excited to see it.

  5. What Peter said;) I love a bargain and you found one yesterday! I can't imagine such a wine bargain in my neck of the woods.


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