Saturday, January 9, 2010

CQ's Wine Guide to France Part 3: The Loire


The Loire Valley is one of France’s largest and most diverse wine producing regions. Every year it seems new appellations are added and/or redefined. Still the dominant wines are from the Eastern most Loire, Sancerre and Pouilly-Fume. There is no “cru” system in place, however, producers now more so than ever are adding vineyard names to their wines to indicate a higher quality level to the consumer.


 The Loire Valley has a Maritime climate with cool winters and moderate summers. The soils are limestone with fossilized sea creatures. The high amount of minerality in the soil translates to an aroma of gunpowder or smoke especially in the wines of Sancerre and Pouilly-Fume.

  1. Melon de Bourgogne: sometimes called Muscadet after the appellation. Neutral aromatically – smells of green apple. Sometimes conveys salinity on the palate. Light to medium bodied wines, high acid. Used in Muscadet – the best ones come from the town of Sevre-et-Main.
  2. Chenin Blanc: relatively neutral aromatically, green apple, and wool. Medium to high acid, medium to full bodied. Produces wines from very dry to very sweet depending on method of production. Prone to vigor so yields must be restricted to produce the best wines. Used in the central Loire.
  3. Sauvignon Blanc: very aromatic, high acid, medium to full bodied wines. Aromas of grapefruit, lime, gooseberry, “cat’s pee”, and grass. Used in Eastern Loire for Sancerre and Pouilly-Fume.
  4. Cabernet Franc: can produce wines with an unpleasant “green” stem-like flavor when under-ripe. Used to give wines body in the warmest years in Bordeaux. Often blended with up to 25% Cabernet Sauvignon to produce the most serious of the reds in the Loire.
Regions of Note

  1. Muscadet: Western-most appellation in the Loire. Wines are produced solely from Melon de Bourgogne. Dry, crisp, almost salty wines perfect with seafood. The best wines can age for 10 to 20 years. The best wines are fermented and aged on the lies to create creamy, yeasty aromas not unlike those in Champagne.
  2. Vouvray/Savenierres: Central Loire. Wines are made from Chenin Blanc from dry to sweet. The driest wines will often be labled “sec”. Vouvray and Savenierres are perhaps some of the most age-worthy wines in the Loire.
  3. Couteaux de Layon/Quarts de Chaume: sweet wines from late harvested Chenin Blanc.
  4. Bourgueil/Chinon: Some of the most serious and age-worthy red wines come from here. They are primarily Cabernet Franc, however, producers now may blend in up to 25% Cabernet Sauvignon for more structure. They are smoky and taste of plums.
  5. Anjou/Saumur: many of the grapes for sparkling wine come from here to make cremant de loire. Also red, rose, and white wines are produced.
  6. Sancerre/Pouilly-Fume: Definitive Sauvignon Blanc appellations setting the standard worldwide from the Eastern Loire Valley. Crisp and lemony with a grassy background. Full-bodied with a strong “flinty” minerality from limestone soils. The best Sancerres and Pouilly-Fumes can age.
Producers of note
  1. Didier Dagueneau: Sadly recently deceased. Producer of top quality age-worthy Pouilly-Fume. Used traditional methods such as horse-drawn plow to produce the highest quality wines.
  2. Nicolas Joly: arguably the founding father of biodynamism in France among winegrowers. Producer of Savenierres.
  3. Domaine de Baumard: Incredibly consistent producer of top quality sweet wines from Chenin Blanc.
Biodynamic Wine Growing

Following organic practices by not using artificial pesticides, but also taking it a step further by following the rhythms of nature. Special mixtures of composts fermented in animal bladders and horns are used to fertilize the vineyards and harvest time is determined by the cycles of the moon. The vineyard’s ecosystem including animals, microorganisms, vines, and surrounding vegetation are treated as a whole living entity rather than examining only the individual vine’s growth and fruit production.

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