Last month we attended a trade tasting for wines from the Loire Valley sponsored by the Loire Valley Wine Bureau. Loire Valley produce the most popular wines drunk by the French populace and is "France's longest and most diverse wine region". In fact, the region is divided into 5 primary regions, which include 65 appellations. Because of its large size, the Loire Valley is home to wide diversity of grapes. Sauvignon Blanc is probably the most widely planted variety, but there is also Chenin Blanc, Pinot Gris, Melon de Bourgogne (Muscadet), Chardonnay, and Romorantin. And these are only the white grapes. For reds, there's Cabernet Franc, Pinot Noir, Gamay, Grolleau, Côt (Malbec), and Pineau d’Aunis. These varieties are used to produce either red, rosé, or sparkling wine.
We learned quickly however, that one doesn't request a wine by the varietal, instead you request a wine by appellation. For instance, you could request either a white Chinon or a red Chinon and receive a Chenin Blanc based wine or a Cabernet Franc - depending on the request. A request for Muscadet Coteaux de la Loire would get you a Melon de Bourgogne. The most popular request during the tasting was for a Sancerre - which would deliver a Sauvignon Blanc or Pinot Noir. This region is perhaps the most famous appellation in the Loire Valley and its grapes produce phenomenal Sauvignon Blanc wines. We've never been serious drinkers of this varietal, thinking most we've tried were rather bland. But these are in their own class; fruity but balanced. Easy to drink - but with texture. Some we noted were Jean Reverdy et Fils, Domaine Rolland Tissier & Fils Sancere Blanc, the Alphonse Mellot Les Romains, and a Sancerre from the Alliance Loire - "a group of winegrowers who decided in 2002 to pool their resources in order to offer a complete range of authentic, well-balanced wines".
The Alliance Loire also was pouring a nice Vouvray and Saumur - both Chenin Blanc wines. And this is one grape that probably doesn't get the attention it deserves. It's versatility allows it to be vinified into excellent still wine, dessert wine as well as the sparkling version. And since blending is a French tradition, some of the best wines we tasted were Chenin Blanc\Chardonnay blends. There was the Domaine des Varinelles N.V. Cremant de Loire Brut (plus some Cabernet Franc) and the Collection de J.Mourat - Blanc (50/50 blend).
As for the reds, Cabernet Franc was the prime choice. These were full bodied wines, but silky - melting in the mouth. Our favorites were the collection from Domaine de Belair: the La cuvée Gabriel, La Fosse aux Loups, and the La Croix Boissée. Other's were the Chinon Le Clos de l'Echo from Couly-Dutheil and the Chateau de la Genaiserie Anjou-Villages Cabernet Franc. This winery was also pouring a nice medium bodied Gamay - the Anjou Gamay. Gamay was also a fixture in the Clos du Tue Boeuf 2008 Cheverny Rouge Rouillon (Gamay and Pinot Noir) and the Theirry Puzelat Telquel that were being poured by Williams Corner. However, our favorite among these was the Theirry Puzelat In Côt We Trust - 100% Malbec. Its lighter than most wines made from this varietal, but has a nice rustic quality to it - easy to drink with a slight spiciness. Plus the grapes are sourced from "vine growers who farm their plots organically, and in some instances Bio-dynamically".
This tasting opened our eyes to the abundant wines available from the Loire Valley. Next we look forward to exploring some of the more eccentric varietals from this region such as Pineau d’Aunis and Menu Pineau. We hear Thierry Puzelat may be another good source.