The first leg of the bike trip took me from the ferry at Roscoff down to Nantes - the major city at the Atlantic end of the Loire and capital of the Brittany region.
The area is well set up for bike touring so I was mostly cycling down greenways (an old railway line in this case), and then joined the Nantes-Brest canal about a third of the way down. Apparently the canal was built by Napoleon to counter the English blocade of Brest back in 1811. There were plenty of hills to keep me on my toes as well though.
Northern Brittany is more about apples than grapes so no wine was to be had for the most part, I did sample some excellent cidre though at a Breton get together on a farm outside Rohan. It came in unmarked bottles so I had no idea how strong it was, the barman seemed quite far gone though, so I advanced with caution.
The celtic traditions are alive and well here. See below for traditional Breton dancing. It's a bit like the Hokey Cokey but more dignified!
A few canal towns later I arrived in Nantes, the beginning of wine country. The vineyards around Nantes are dominated by Muscadet production. This dry white is made from Melon de Bourgogne and is traditionally a winner with oysters. It was hugely popular in the 1980s in France and the UK, but the boom led to over production, a loss in quality and then the inevitable image problem. This prompted a sudden fall from grace with exports halving in the 90s - a bit like the rise and fall of Pinot Grigio. Will Prosecco go the same way?
Place Royal, Nantes.
Muscadet should absolutely not be written off though. There is good reason why it became so popular in the first place and recent focus on quality, the rise of independent growers and the establishing of communes within the Muscadet AOC are all contributing to its re-emergence.
Having visited a number of exciting small producers in the last few days, I for one am completely sold.
There are a wealth of different styles thanks to the different terroirs within the region and the different styles of elevage, and although much is made for early drinking, it is clear that the better examples age extremely well, developing really impressive complexity over 5 or even 20 years. What's more, thanks to the boom and bust of the 80s, the prices are excellent.
I've lined up a handful of the best for next spring. Captain Good Lad Eric Chevalier is on the list (pictured below) as well as the excellent Domaine Michel Luneau et Fils.
I'm back on the bike tomorrow to head up stream towards Angers. Some more exciting prospects along the way in Muscadet country and then I'll be into Anjou and Coteaux du Layon.