Loving Loire Valley Wines
by John Dunham
There were literally hundreds of wines being shown at the Spring to Loire tasting, and I would suspect over 30 or 40 Sancerre bottlings and we were only able to try a few in the limited time that we had available.
The Loire Valley in central France is one of the country’s most diverse wine regions. The region is probably best known for its crisp, dry white wines, including Chenin Blanc, which is produced almost exclusively in the region. However, the Loire also produces exceptional Muscadet varietals and Savignon Blanc (known as Sancerre). In addition, the region produces some exceptional reds, including some amazing Cabernet Franc. With so much to choose from, I asked the experts at the most recent Spring to Loire walk around tasting what the exceptional value was for 2016 and was pretty much assured that this year it is Sancerre.
Sancerre is a French wine Appellation in the eastern part of the Loire valley, known primarily for the Sauvignon Blanc varietal. The Appellation is situated on the left bank of the Loire at the eastern edge of the Loire Valley. The grapes are planted over a series of hillsides stretching through a range of soil types all of which ae dominated by chalk and limestone giving the wines the kind of minerality that makes them great for food pairings. Soils located closest to the city of Sancerre itself also include flint deposits that add to the minerality of the wines. Overall, about 5,436 acres are under vineyard producing Sauvignon Blanc, with more limited production of Pinot Noir in the area.
The wines are in general a straw yellow color with intense acid and minerality; however, Sancerre can also show citrusy notes as well as berries depending on the particular soil and slope where the grapes are grown. The wines’ acidity make them easy to pair, particularly with summertime favorites like vegetable salads, caprese salads, fish clams, oysters and particularly salmon. The wine also pairs well with cheeses including the types of goat milk based cheeses typical to the region including chèvre.
Domaine Bailly-Reverdy “Chavignol” (2014: $24) was clear straw yellow in color, with a light, almost undetectable nose. The wine had strong minerality, almost a saltiness, with some citrus notes. This is a wine to pair with food, particularly the traditional Sancerre pairings like goat cheese and oysters.
While the Chavignol strongly showed the minerality of Sancerre, the next with we tried Sauvion Sancerre (2015; $25) brought out the fruitiness that one can find in this particular wine. Also a clear straw yellow in color the nose on this wine was ripe with tropical fruits and pineapple. The wine was still extremely mineral with great acid as one would expect from the region, but the palate also featured the tropical fruits found in the nose. This gives the wine a bit more flexibility, both as a wine to simply drink out by the fire-pit, but also in terms of pairing. This wine would pair very well with salmon and fatty fishes, as well as with stronger foods like turkey, or white sauce pastas.
Remy Pannier Sancerre (2014: $22) was a clear crisp straw yellow in color with a mineral, salty nose. The palate featured the strong minerality and acid notes that one expects, along with some tropical and grapefruit. Again, this wine would pair excellently with salmon and fatty fishes, and would be a good picnic drinking wine.
We tried three different Sancerre wines from Pascal Jolivet, Sancerre (2014: $27), Les Caillottes (2014: $42) and Sauvage (2014: $70) in order to see how price, time and quality show in the Sauvignon Blanc grape. All three wines were similar in their clear pale yellow color though the Sancerre was a bit more on the green side. This wine was very crisp and mineral on the nose, and the palate was acidic and a bit tight, though there were some interesting forest notes that we did not taste on offerings from other producers. The Les Caillottes had some forest notes and a bit of rubber on the nose, though the palate was crisp, mineral, salty with a bit of citrus. The Sauvage, which is designed to age for up to 5 to 10 years was exceptional. The nose was floral and fruity, with hints of pear. On the palate, with wine was citrusy and crisp with good acid and minerality.
These three wines show that all Sancerre is not the same, and one should always spend some time getting to know a region and its wines in order to truly enjoy them.
Speaking of the region, the Loire is extremely versatile. In addition to Sancerre, the Pouilly Fume appellation also produces excellent Sauvignon Blanc wines. We tried Domaine Alain Cailbourdin Les Cris (2014: $23) which was similar in tone to the Sancerre wines but fruitier and a bit sweeter. Domaine Gilles Chollet Pouilly Fume (2014: $24) featured a lot of spice along with the mineral notes. Michele Redde La Moyerie (2012: $30) a single-vineyard Sauvignon Blanc while intensely mineral had notes of smoke and mushrooms on the palate.
Also predominant in the region are sparkling wines from Cremant de Loire. Cremant’s are an excellent French sparkling wine that is a less expensive substitute for Champagnes on celebratory occasions. One of the sparkling producers in the region is Ackerman which produces a yeasty, active and flavorful Cremant de Loire using Chenin Blanc, Chardonnay and Cabernet Franc (NV: $20). Another well known producer is Bouvey. The Bouvey Ladubay Excellence (NV: $17) sparkling Cabernet Franc, has a yeasty nose with a palate redolent with raspberries. This will surely make it to my cellar for next Thanksgiving as it will be a perfect pairing for turkey.
As this selection shows, the wines of the Loire Valley are incredibly diverse, easily drinkable and well priced. They should be included in every well rounded cellar, make excellent house gifts and should be considered as reasonable alternatives to other French varietals on every wine list.
For more information on the wines and on the region visit: http://loirevalleywine.com/