APRIL 2011: A Taste through the Loire Valley
In an effort to break out of my California-centric wine rut, I've been seeking out tasting events that would allow me to explore other regions I've lost touch with or have never experienced. The Loire Valley is definitely on my wine "bucket list", so this tasting was right up my alley. Of course, I would have preferred to be tasting these wines in their natural habitat along the Loire River in between visits to centuries-old Chateaux, but a regular Wednesday in LA would have to do.
This region is one of the largest in France with 300 miles of vineyards streatching from the Atlantic into the French countryside, which creates 5 distinct regions that are broken down into 65 appellaations. This diversity of soil and climate allows the vinters in the Loire to create wines from both red and white grapes, from sparklking to sweet and every permutation in between. That said, like all French regions, there are rules about what grapes they can use and how to grow them. Though they have their share of red wines, it's the whites that garner the most acclaim. The main varietals and their appellations are: Sauvignon Blanc (Sancerre, Pouilly-Fumé, Quincy, Reuilly, Cheverny), Chenin Blanc (Vouvray, Anjou, Jasnières, Saumur, Savennières, Touraine, Coteaux du Layon, Bonnezeauz) and Melon de Bourgogne (Muscadet Sevre et Maine). For reds Cabernet Franc is king (Chinon, Anjou, Bourgueil, Saumur, St. Nicholas de Bourgueil, Touraine) with a bit of Pinot Noir (Sancerre, Reuilly, Menetou-Salon) found here and there. They also grow Chardonnay, Pinot Gris, Cabernet Sauvignon, Gamay and Malbec, but not in large quantities and mostly for blending.
Since I love white wine – I really do – I decided to focus my day, firstly, on my under-the-radar love, Sauvignon Blanc, and secondly, on a wine that's generally failed to impress me, Muscadet. The former comes from the most interior region, the Centre Loire, around the town Bourges, the other from the seaside region of the Pays Nantais. I haven't had much experience with Muscadet – it's supposed to pair perfectly with oysters, something I don't eat – but I figured there was no better place to really try to get a handle on why wine people love it so much.
Plus, 2009 was a great vintage in the Loire, a little warmer than usual, so the Muscadet is a bit more flavorful and less briny and acidic, the SB's a bit more aromatic and fruity. They are restricted to keeping alcohol levels in check, so they will still be far from the lusher versions found in the New World. The great thing about both these wines is that high quality versions can be found for around $20-25 for the Sancerres and around $12-$15 for the Muscadets. After spending three hours, trying over 50 wines, I was quite impressed and wished I could have taken several of them home.
While I wasn't surprised by how truly lovely Pascal Jolivet's wines were at every price level – he's one of the regions' most renowned producers – I am sure glad I had the opportunity to taste them. He's taking Sauvignon Blanc to a whole other level. If you have the chance to try one of his wines, especially from the 09 vintage, take it. I know I will be. I did find a lot of other wines to love, and even quite a few Muscadets I really enjoyed. Of course, I'm still not sure, outside of this vintage, that it will become a regular on my table, but I will certainly be more open-minded in the future. The Sancerres, as a whole, were truly lovely with great aromatics and lush fruit, yet with still perfectly balanced, refreshing acidity. These wines are just coming onto the market and they are well-worth their $20-$25 price tag. I like my wines a bit on the fruitier side, so this vintage may not be for you if you prefer more flinty, grassy characteristics. They were still present, just not as in-your-face as a cooler vintage would deliver. In any case, if you love Sauvignon Blanc, you will be hard-pressed to find this level of quality from any other region. I will be stocking up.
My Favorite wines of the tasting:
2009 Alain Gueneau La Guiberte Sancerre Blanc $22
2009 Alain Gueneau La Guiberte Sancerre Rouge $25
2008 Guy Saget Pouilly-Fumé $30
2009 Guy Saget Domaine de la Perriere Sancerre $22
2009 Guy Saget Les Clissages d'Or Muscadet Sèvre et Maine $14
2009 Domaine de la Quilla Muscadet Sèvre et Maine sur Lie $12
2009 Domaine Thomas & Fils Sancerre Clos de la Crèle $24
2009 Domaine Hauts de Sanziers Saumur L'Ardoise $16
2009 Chateau de la Ragotiere Muscadet Sèvre et Maine sur Lie Black Label $14
2009 Patient Cottat Sauvignon Blanc $12
2009 Vincent Delaporte Chavignol Sancerre $28
2009 Vincent Delaporte Cuvee Maxime VV Sancerre $28
2009 Domaine des Quatre Routes Muscadet Sèvre et Maine Les Terrasses $12
2009 Domaine Paul Thomas Sancerre Chavignol Les Comtesses $22
2009 Pascal Jolivet Sancerre $27
2009 Pascal Jolivet Pouilly-Fumé $30
2009 Pascal Jolivet Sancerre Clos Du Roy $35
2009 Domaine de Buissonnes Sancerre $24
2009 Phillippe Raimbault Apud Sariacum Sancerre $24
2009 Domaine de Corbillières Touraine Sauvignon $16
2009 Sauvion Muscadet Sèvre et Maine sur Lie Chateau du Cleray $10
To learn more about the Loire Valley and their wines, visit their website or follow them on Twitter @LoireValleyWine.