A Tour of the Loire
Free tasting | Saturday, March 2, 2019 | 4-6PM
Next time you’re in the shop, make it a point to check out our new Loire Valley wine section, which has over 25 new wines all from this incredible region of France. Grab a bottle of Chenin Blanc or Romorantin or Gamay and then head over to our goat cheese counter and all of a sudden these chilly days don’t seem so bad anymore! This Saturday we’re opening some of our favorite Loire wines – come taste, chill out, and get down with the Loire! Read on here for specific wine info and Loire Valley wine nerd info.
The Loire Valley, nicknamed “the Garden of France” is so stunning that royalty and the elite vacationed here throughout the centuries and built up fields of both wild and domesticated gardens. You’ll come to see the towering cliffs and Châteaux here but you’ll stay for the wine! The Loire Valley is about half of the size of Bordeaux and spans from the Atlantic Ocean and stretches halfway into France as well as a few random plots scattered near Beaujolais. Due to its vastness, it is typically split into three separate valleys: the Lower Loire, the Middle Loire, and the Upper Loire. The Loire River is what links most of this region together. It’s France’s longest river and passes through a whopping 65 appellations! This river was essential in making the Loire a sustainable wine region as it provided a transportation method for wine to Nantes or Paris before good ole trucks were invented.
When you think of the Loire your mind might automatically think ‘Chinon’ or ‘Sancerre’ but this region has so much more versatility in terms of grape varietals and styles. Thank the cool climate for the consistent characteristics of high acidity, structure, and smoothness in the wine. The temperature is actually borderline too chilly for grapes to first flower until June 1st(in comparison, grapes in Napa Valley first flower around mid-April), and in very cold and rainy years, this makes the ripening of grapes super difficult. Winemakers have continuously adapted and in chilly years will subsidize their grapes into the sparkling wines that the Loire is also famous for!
So, let’s travel to the region to the direct east of the Atlantic coast: Muscadet. First of all, if you see a wine labeled ‘Muscadet’ then you automatically know three things: 1. It’s white; 2. The grape is Melon de Bourgogne; 3. It’ll pair well with any seafood dish. Period. Grapes here are grown on a mixture of granite, gneiss, and schist soil. You’ll also sometimes see an elegant looking phrase on bottles: sur lie. This is a hallmark of Muscadet and refers to a winemaking process where yeast particles left over from fermentation are left in the bottle. While this may sound odd, this style adds layers of richness and opulence to a light-bodied white wine.
2015 Domaine de l’Ecu ‘Gneiss’ Muscadet (Loire Valley, France)
Who: Fred Niger
What: Melon de Bourgogne
How: The grapes are aged sur lie for 15-18 months.
Fun Fact: The grape in Muscadet, Melon de Bourgogne, originated in Bourgogne. In 1709 there was a disastrous fire that wiped out many vineyards and Burgundian monks traveled up North to help the winemakers replant their vineyards; they brought a white grape that thrived in cold temperatures with them called Melon. For a few centuries now Melon de Bourgogne has been extinct in Bourgogne but has thrived (over 12,100 hectares) in Muscadet!
What It Tastes Like: Rich, dry, saline, pear, and apple galore. Think jazz-hands.
Now edging into the Middle Loire, we’re arriving in Saumur-Champigny which is all about that Tuffe aka Tuffeau, a distinctive, soft-chalky limestone from the Cretaceous Period (that means this Tuffeau dates back 145.5-66 million years!!) which ultimately gives Saumur-Champigny wines an extra edginess and cool-factor. If you’re skeptic, you’re just going to have to try the Tuffe below!
2016 Château du Hureau ‘Tuffe’ Saumur-Champigny (Loire Valley, France)
Who: Philippe Vatan and his daughter, Agathe Vatan
What: Cabernet Franc
How: 10-20 months in tank
Fun Fact: The Vatan family has their own wine caves that date back to the 13thcentury.
What It Tastes Like: Silky smooth with notes of cranberry, raspberry, and tobacco. It’s that girl-next-door kind of wine.
Now we are moving further east to Touraine, which is where the climate starts to shift from the cold and rainy Western Loire to the intensely hot summers and extremely cold winters of the Eastern Loire. Some of the most familiar places of the Loire: Bourgeuil, Chinon, and Vouvray are all here. One of exciting aspects of the Loire is the mixture of producers who are implementing centuries-old traditions and eccentric winemakers who are experimenting with classic and new winemaking techniques. The Loire is also known for having absolutely fabulous sparkling wine and rosé. Think fresh, vibrant wines that run the spectrum of bone-dry to sweet!
2016 Domaine Jousset "Rose à lies" Pét-nat (Loire Valley, France)
Who: Lise and Bertrand Jousset
What: Gamay and Grolleau
Where: Montlouis sur Loire, Touraine
How: The fermentation is in 400L neutral barrels until 15g of sugar is left.
Fun Fact: In the 1990’s near Tours was where a winemaker named Christian Chaussard brought together other vigernons to teach how to make pét-nat. Pét-nat has such a huge following in the Middle Loire that there is even a yearly tasting event devoted to this semi-sparkling bottle of fun.
What It Tastes Like: Like tossing a handful of tart raspberry and lemon candies into your mouth. If this pét-nat were a song it would be Lady Gaga and Bradley Cooper’s Oscar winning song ‘Shallow.’
2015 Catherine and Pierre Breton ‘Trinch!’ Bourgeuil (Loire Valley, France)
Who: Catherine and Pierre Breton
What: Cabernet Franc
How: Vinified in stainless steel
Fun Fact: Oddly enough, the winemakers’ surname, Breton, is also the local name for Cabernet Franc.
What It Tastes Like: Smooth, crunch raspberry and cassis goodness with a touch of cowboy.
If you’re craving an amazing pairing try the goat’s milk cheese Sainte Maure in our case and Domaine Jean Tellier from Menetou-Salon. What’s Menetou-Salon, you ask? Well, if you like Sancerre, you’ll love Menetou-Salon! Like Sancerre, it’s always Sauvignon Blanc (although they do produce some red and rosé as well) and it has the same limestone soil that produces that smooth richly mineral driven body in Sancerre. Menetou-Salon borders Sancerre in the Eastern Loire about 300 miles east from Muscadet.
2017 Domaine Jean Tellier Menetou-Salon (Loire Valley, France)
Who: Jean and Denise Tellier
What: Sauvignon Blanc
How: 95% of it is aged in tank and 5% in barrel
Fun Fact: Because of its perfect pairing with wines from the Loire Valley there is a deep-fried fish fair, a crayfish fair, and an oyster fair yearly!
What It Tastes Like: All limestone, depth, minerality, and a touch of citrus. Paradise City?
So, when you gather your nerve together to pack your bags in the middle of the night and move to France…A) move to the Loire Valley; B) your first investment should be a goat and/or Château. For classic goat cheese pairings, try Saint Maure, Chabichou au Poitou, and Valençay enjoyed with a bottle of a Loire red, white, rosé, or pét-nat and you’ll be dancing in happiness. To read more about the Loire cheeses at the shop, click here.
Au revoir mon ami!