Thursday, October 30, 2008

Wines from the Loire Valley

Wednesday evening I had the privilege to attend a wine seminar held by the good folks at Wine Merchant's Gourmet. The topic was one of my favorite regions, the Loire.

Also known for its historic castles and rustic landscape, the Loire is also home to France's 3rd largest AOC (appellation d'origine contrôlée) wine region. The primary grapes grown in the Loire region include Muscadet, Chenin Blanc, Sauvignon Blanc, Cabernet Franc and to a lesser extent, Pinot Noir.

The region is easily split into three regions:

The western Loire, around Nantes, is the home of Muscadet. This is an area of low, sandy hills and the climate is cool.

In the middle Loire things heat up a little, and the climate is mild with moderate rainfall. The west of this area has a tendency towards the noble rot, and is capable of making some great sweet wines.

The upper Loire is to the extreme northeast of the valley. A more continental climate, summers are hot but short. The soil is a mixture of limestone, sand and chalk, known as "Tufa".

Whew, okay. Now that you know about the Loire, we tried the following wines:

Flight One

Domaine de la Fruitiere Muscadet Petit M 2007 $12.99
Domaine de la Fruitiere Chardonnay 2007 $12.99
Domaine des Huards Cheverny Blanc 2005 $15.99

Flight Two

La Craie Vouvray 2006 $15.99
Viking Vouvray Sec Tendre 2004 $22.99
Laureau Savennieres "Les Genets" 2004 $27.99

Flight Three

Domaine Vacheron Sancerre 2007 $29.99
Le Paradou Blanc Viognier 2007 $11.99
Le Paradou Rouge 2007 $11.99

Flight Four

Clos Delorme Valencay Rouge 2006 $18.99
Noblaie Chinon "Les Chiens-Chiens" 2005 $17.99
Domaine des Roches Neuves Saumur-Champigny 2006 $22.99

Flight Five

Louis De Grenelle Brut Saumur Rose NV $19.99

I should point out, these wines were produced on small family estates, and were not treated with synthetic chemicals. I looked forward to the event because Sauvignon Blanc and Cabernet Franc are some of my favorite varietals. I was intruiged; however, to try the other varietals that the Loire is known for. At the end of the day, it was not the stalwarts of my palate but the newcomers that stole the show. I particularly enjoyed the Domaine de Huards Cheverny Blanc, whose crips vegetal nose threw me for a Sancerre. Better yet, because the Sancerre rolled in at $29.99. Yikes! If you have not had a Sauvignon Blanc from New Zealand or another cool climate region, I highly recommend it. The crisp vegetal flavors of the varietal make it a great food wine.

Next up, I must admit I was rather ignorant of Vouvray up to this point. While not my ideal choice for wine, the high acid/high sugar content is a fun and exciting style. Especially paired with your favorite offal and rich meats and cheeses. My personal fav of the three: Viking Vouvray Sec Tendre 2004. The acid attacked my tongue straight out, there was an obvious balance of sweet and acid in this wine. Pair this one with your favorite sweetbreads...and I ain't talkin' about cake. :)

The Le Paradou Blanc Viognier 2007 was one of the better Viogniers I have tasted. Complex with flavors of white pepper and mint, these grapes are nestled at higher altitudes keeping the body lean and allowing flavors to develop. There was a slight grassy finish. Probably my 2nd favorite white after the Cheverny Blanc.

One thing I was not expecting from this tasting was disappointment from the reds. While there were a few that I enjoyed. Overall, I have to admit the selections of the evening were lackluster. The first, Le Paradou Rouge, was a Grenache/Syrah blend. Oddly it was the first red we tasted and these varietals were missing their trademark weight.

Next up, the Clos Delorme Valencay Rouge 2006. Another new wine experience. A blend of Pinot Noir, Cab Franc, Malbec and Gamay. I liked the texture and flavor of this wine, but the first sniff and each thereafter reaked of sulfur, making it tough to get past.

I did enjoy the Noblaie Chinon "Les Chiens-Chiens", but outside of being a 2005 (a perfect vintage) this wine had nothing to make it stand out from the rest.

Finally, the Louis De Grenelle Brut Saumur Rose NV was a refreshing take on Cabernet Franc. A crisp bubbly, it made a nice finish. Light rose in color, bright red fruit flavors and light toast. This might sound weird, but the "toasty" flavor came through like the smell of a hot curling iron. I enjoyed it.

In all, I was glad to attend and learn more about the Loire. Although my experience with the wines was not outstanding, I will; however, check out more whites from this region.


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