Lazing Along the Loire
Still hot, now it is raining and we have humidity like Iowa. When I am sitting on my motorcycle at a stop light, between the heat of the day and the heat coming off my engine, I feel as though I am cooking. While Austria and her wines offer a variety of great wines for cooling off, as we discussed they have some weird names. Where can we go to get some grapes we have heard of? How about Northern France, land of wine and food?
Emptying into the Atlantic Ocean and beginning almost 200 miles away, more than half way across France, the Loire Valley is home to over 50 different distinct wine regions. While wines from the vast majority of these regions are nearly impossible to find in the US, there are some very famous ones that are readily available. Muscadet-Sevre et Maine, Chinon, Vouvray, Sancerre, all very French names and famous amongst wine drinkers. The names may be very confusing, but the grapes for the most part, are not.
Starting on the Massif Central, the high plain in the center of France, the Loire first runs into the regions of Sancerre and Pouilly Fume. The white wines from this area, based on good old Sauvignon Blanc, are the bread and butter of these two appellations. While red Sancerre does exist, made from 100% Pinot Noir, the clean, mineral driven white made from Sauvignon Blanc with a gorgeous fresh grass nose is the perfect complement to asparagus. This vegetable is known amongst wine professionals as the killer of most wines, but Sancerre cozies up to it and tames its sulfurous compounds.
Following the lazy flow of the river towards the Atlantic we go past the city of Orleans, famously sieged by Joan of Arc, and around a big bend finally reaching Vouvray. This is the spiritual home of Chenin Blanc. As recently as 2006 there were 13,000 acres of this grape planted in the US where it is unfortunately relegated to sprucing up box wines due to its high yields and intense acidity. In South Africa this workhorse has been lovingly adopted by its southern-most outpost. Here it can make wonderfully crisp wines or insipidly flabby swill. In the Loire it creates poetry in a bottle whether it be bone dry, bubbly, medium sweet, or moelleux (Desert Sweet).
Just a little further and we hit Chinon and Bourgueil, home of Cabernet Franc. This is one of the parent grapes of Cabernet Sauvignon along with Sauvignon Blanc. Cab Franc adapts well to the cooler climate of the Loire Valley and creates fresh rosés, sparkling wines and medium bodied reds with beautiful raspberry notes and smooth tannins that lend structure without the bulk sometimes created by its more famous offspring.
The farthest eastern reaches of the Loire as it empties into the Atlantic is home to one of the least known grapes in this massive growing region, Muscadet. Also known as Melon de Bourgogne, Muscadet is the name of the grape, the wine and the delineated growing region. Makes things kind of easy as this is pretty much the only place in the world where this perfect pairing to oysters and other shellfish grows. The stunning, taut acidity resulting in an almost saline character in the wine acts as a perfect complement to lighter seafood.
The garden of France, the summer home of royalty for centuries, the Loire valley is more than this. Beyond the many chateaus that grace its shores, the Loire valley is home to more than 50 varieties of great value wines. With 5 important grape varieties spread across almost 200 miles of vineyards, this region of France is well worth exploring. Indulge yourself and experience the joys the Kings of France have known for years and take a leisurely trip down the Loire as we sample some of these great selections this Friday in our wine class. Be sure and register on our web site as these classes do fill up quickly. And if you can’t make it try some of these:
Chateau Moncontour, Cremant de Loire, NV, This beautiful cremant has youthful aromas of raspberry tart, strawberry/rhubarb pie, floral, and toast notes on it. Its creamy mousse and delightful aroma replays on the palate that refresh like a freshwater stream. Drink it as an aperitif or pair it with mussels. Only 14.99!!! Will be discounted at class.
Domaine de la Chauviniere Muscadet Sevre et Maine Sur Lie, Fashion moves in cycles and just now this 70's classic is making quite a comeback. Muscadet exports are on the up. This single-estate Muscadet has great ripeness to the fruit but remains deliciously crisp and dry. This is the perfect aperitif/fish wine. Only 10.99!!! Will be discounted at class.
Domaine des Buissonnes Sancerre, Trying to find a really good Sancerre under $20 a bottle is nearly impossible. Look no further, you cannot beat the value and quality of this wine. Aromas of lime zest and a hint of lemon jump out of the glass with a refreshing minerality keeping the fruit in balance. Equally lively on the palate, there is a rich core of cool ripe citrus and flinty finish from the chalky and silex soils. Only 19.99!!! Will be discounted at class.
Domaine Du Bel Aire, “Les Vingt Lieux Dits” Bourgueil, This wine reveals an intense and profound ruby hue. Scents of intense black fruit accompanied by slightly earthy notes gently fill the senses. The mouth is full and concentrated, not at all cumbersome with no bitterness. Everything here is pure, intense, fine fruit. The persistence of the finish causes an incomprehensible desire to return for more.Only 16.99!!! Will be discounted at class.
~ Randy Freeland ~
Prices good through 8/12/15.