Spring into The Loire
Last week saw the first day of Spring and this weekend the clocks go forward…I hate losing an hour at the weekend, especially the day after a wedding! But Spring is finally here and it’s got me thinking about what wines I should be drinking at this time of rejuvenation, renewal and regrowth…
There is one region that covers every base for Spring; that region is The Loire Valley.
Having spent an evening in Tours, a few days in Chinon and another few in Sancerre last Summer, it did occur to me that you could live a very satisfied wine life drinking only wines from this picturesque region; there really is something for every occasion. The Loire is rightly famous for its white wines but there are also plenty of delicious reds and rosés to choose from.
The Loire Valley’s wine map can be broken down into 4 sub-regions, and each is highly regarded for making wines using different grapes:
Muscadet may be one of the most underrated and misunderstood white wines anywhere in the wine world. For starters, most people think Muscadet is a grape or a place, when in actual fact it is neither! The name Muscadet apparently comes from a description of the wine; “vin qui a un goût musqu”–“wine with a musk-like taste”(it doesn’t!), it is produced in the areas surrounding Nantes and is made from the Melon de Borgogne grape variety.
It is no surprise that a wine made so close to the Atlantic Ocean has savoury, saline characteristics; this works wonderfully in these light, crisp and refreshing wines. For a touch more complexity look out for “sur lie”on the label; here the wine has been aged for a period time on its lees, affording yeasty aromas and flavours. And, last but not least, these wines are always great value.
Moving east we arrive in the exciting region of Anjou-Saumur. It is here that we start to find world-class whites made with Chenin Blanc, fragrant reds made with Cabernet Franc and off-dry rosés made with Grolleau.
The most famous Chenin appellation in the region is Savennieres, where yields are restricted to just 20 hectoliters per hectare to produce wines of enormous concentration and complexity; these wines will provide a huge amount of pleasure but come with a weighty price tag.
While I was in the area last summer I was simply blown away by the quality of the Chenin from Saumur –it was crisp, fresh with lots of fruit and a beautiful touch of honey –and it was so, so cheap…It’s just a shame the locals seems to keep it all for themselves! However, the red wines of Saumur are widely available and offer some of the best value drinking in France. While the wines from the very best producers can age for decades, the majority of the red output is light to medium bodied, with bright red fruit and just a touch of green herb character –very nice served chilled on a warm Spring afternoon.
And don’t forget about the rosés! Generally off-dry, these rosés are made predominantly from Grolleau with small percentages of Cabernet Franc, Cabernet Sauvignon, Gamay also allowed. Very easy drinking in style, perfect for the first BBQs of the season. I was also fortunate to try a red Grolleau on a recent visit to The Remedy wine bar just off Warren Street –a very individual wine that went perfectly with a plate of cured meats…In fact, that’s exactly how the wine tasted!
The Chenin Blanc and Cabernet Franc theme continues as we move in-land and we start to feel the presence of Sauvignon Blanc. I’ll probably get lynched for this but the wines of Chinon are very similar to those of Saumur; bright, crisp Chenins; light, fruity Cab Francs (again the best are made to last). This is another great region to go shopping for value and refreshment. And keep an eye out for the marvellous Cremant de Loire; I tasted some amazing sparklers made from both Chenin and Cab Franc –outstanding quality and spectacular value for money.
Then we reach one of my very favourite appellations; Vouvray. Dry, off-dry, sweet (moelleux), sparkling…there is nothing this place cannot do with Chenin Blanc. The winemakers of the region just seem to find myriad ways to balance the naturally high acidity of the Chenin Blanc grape. Apples, honey, nuts; there really is nothing not to like and I can’t think of anything better to bring a smile to my face on a Sunday Spring afternoon than a glass (bottle) of Vouvray Demi-Sec. Maybe my biggest wine regret is not being able to go along to a wine evening recently where a bottle of Domaine Huet Le Haut Lieu 1947 was opened and unanimously described by those present as the best wine they have ever tasted. Sulk.
In Touraine we also start to see plantings of Sauvignon Blanc, producing crisp and fresh wines at a very reasonable price. If you are a fan of Sauvignon Blanc then the white wines of Touraine may offer some of the best value on the supermarket shelves. Also keep an eye out for the wines of Cheverney, where up to 30% Chardonnay is added to the Sauv Blanc to provide a bit more weight.
To many consumers this is the region that represents the Loire; the home of Sauvignon Blanc. The region centres around the world famous towns of Sancerre on the western side of the river and Pouilly sur Loire on the east. It is here we taste and smell the delightful combinations of citrus and gooseberry; and detect the limestone of Sancerre and silex (flint) of Pouilly. My visit to Sancere last year reignited my love for Sauvignon Blanc, having been put off by the recent tropical fruit and green pepper assault on my tastebuds.
Not everything from Sancerre and Pouilly is fantastic –they have become brands in their own right and not everything that comes from the region is worthy of the name. So get to know a couple of producers you like and you’ll be very happy very often. Also look out for the lesser-known appellations of Menetou-Salon, Quincy and Reuill for some great value. Oh, and if like me you’re still craving a glass of Pinot Noir then they do that too…a couple of the Sancerre Rouges, made with Pinot Noir, I sampled in the Henri Bourgeois tasting room last year were very agreeable indeed.
So there we go; The Loire Valley –Spring in a bottle (or in many bottles anyway!)
Links to my Loire posts from Summer 2014: