When it comes to food and wine pairing, none get it better than Vincent Naudinet, head sommelier at Domaine de la Tortinière in Veigné, near Tours in the Loire Valley. This is my favourite hotel in this part of the world, surrounded as it is by the wonderful wine appellations of Vouvray, Montlouis, Chinon, Bourgueil and many others. Domaine de la Tortinière is a four star, nineteenth century chateau hotel, set in a glorious park, complete with eighteenth century cedar trees, overlooking the river Indre, a tributary of the Loire itself. Its history dates back to at least the sixteenth century and at one time it possessed its own vineyards and winery.
Its present day connection to wine is through its gourmet restaurant, with Vincent in charge of wine selection and advising customers on their best choices. The chateau has a tremendous cellar stretching under the car park, carefully controlled by Vincent with its 150 plus wines. Many of these are selected from the local area of the Touraine, and complement the exquisite dishes designed by the two chefs. In fact, at least half the extensive restaurant wine list is composed of wines from the Loire valley.
“With food and wine pairing, it is more about the sauce than the food itself,” comments Vincent. “I try to choose wines which will magnify the flavours in the sauce and lead to a more enjoyable tasting experience”, he continued. Every day, he spends time in the kitchens with the chefs Damien Piochon and Jean-Baptiste Dreyblum, tasting the sauces of the different dishes on the menus, so as to be able to decide exactly which wines will be perfect with each dish.
In a good restaurant, the services of a well trained and experienced Sommelier are paramount to achieving the ultimate dining experience. Having trained at the Sommelier school of Albert Bayet in Tours, Vincent takes food and wine pairing to another level. Not content with pairing a local red Chinon wine with a dish, he will have a range of different styles of Chinon in the cellar, each of which will pair differently with different dishes. “Some Chinon wines are soft and fruity, whilst others are more full-bodied with greater tannins, and it is important to know these differences in order to correctly pair the wine with the dish”, says Vincent.
My meal at Domaine de la Tortinière was accompanied by a different glass of wine with each dish, a speciality of the restaurant. With the expert advice of the sommelier, my starter of smoked mackerel on a bed of beetroot purée was accompanied by a dry Vouvray from Vigneau Chevreau, a far better choice than the Sauvignon Blanc I was about to choose. The main course of pan-fried sea-bream fillets, was perfect with a tremendous Chardonnay Domaine Ampelidae, from the Poitou region, with enough body to complement the strong flavours of the dish. The wine choice for the raspberry based dessert was a revelation - a sweet white from Gaillac in South-west France, again a far better choice than the more local, and lighter, Coteaux du Layon I would have chosen.
So if you are thinking of visiting the wine regions of Touraine, a stop at Domaine de la Tortinière could get you into the spirit of things in an interesting way. You will also join the ranks of such other illustrious guests as Audrey Hepburn, Gerard Dépardieu, Georges Pompidou and Valery Giscard d’Estaing.