Loire Valley offers great wines for the summer

Wayne on Wine
Wines of the Loire Valley. Photo by Wayne Crawford

Wayne on Wine

By Wayne Crawford

  Wayne Crawford
  Wayne Crawford

The Loire River, the longest river in France,  meanders 630 miles from its headwaters in Central France in the Cevennes Mountains—4,430 feet above sea level—to the delta in Nantes on the Bay of Biscay.

The river, along with the Gulf Stream effect that brings in soft breezes from Nantes to Orleans, helps warm the vineyards on both sides. Historically, the Loire River divided the Germanic/Celtic north from the Latin culture in the south. The Roman Empire occupation of the region in the first century A.D. established vineyard cultivation.

The Loire wine region contains three subdivisions: the lower Loire flowing into the Bay of Biscay, centered on Nantes, has a maritime climate; the middle Loire embraces Anjou, Saumur and Touraine with a maritime climate and continental influences; and the upper Loire, with a continental climate, encompasses Sancerre, Pouilly-Fume and Menetou-Salon. Coach travel from Mesves-sur-Loire, the eastern start of Loire wine country, is approximately 330 miles to Nantes—about the distance from downtown Atlanta to Tallahassee.

The lower Loire is noted for two white grape varietals. Muscadet (moos-cah-day), officially Melon de Bourgogne or Melon for short, produces a wine with soft, orchard fruit and delicate citrus accents and is pale straw-yellow in color. The second grape is folle blanche, which produces a wine with notes of citrus and green apple, on the palate.

In the middle Loire, the principal grape is chenin blanc; with aromas of peach, quince, apricot, apple and pear, this wine is high in acidity. Other grapes grown in this region include sauvignon blanc, with aromas and flavors of celery, herbs, lemon grass and grapefruit. Chardonnay is also grown here.

The middle Loire white wine AOCs (appellation d'origine controlee or controlled designation of origin) produce some remarkable wines. Savennieres’ whites are made exclusively from chenin blanc and are considered the most age-worthy white wines in France (perhaps, 20 years).

Many well-known white dessert wines are made in the middle Loire near Layon. These include Bonnezeaux, Coteaux du Layon and Chaume, to name a few with chenin blanc the principal grape.

The more commonly known wines from Vouvray and Montlouis AOCs are made with chenin blanc and centered on the ancient town of Tours. The name chenin is drawn from Mount Chenin in the southern part of this region. Further east in Touraine, the white wines are made with chenin blanc, sauvignon blanc and up to 20 percent chardonnay.

The upper Loire subdivision finds the river turning more north, so vineyards are planted much closer to the water for warmth. These vineyards are 78 miles south of Paris and 70 miles west of Burgundy.

The harsher climate, with frost and ice in the winter, limits the variety of grapes grown in the region.
Sauvignon blanc is the primary white grape and chasselas, one of the oldest known cultivated grapes in the world (likely from North Africa), is also grown here. The latter has a bright acidity, citrus fruit and floral perfume aromas and flavor.

Sancerre AOC produces white, rose and red wines. Pouilly-Fume AOC produces only white wines. The sauvignon blanc grapes in this region seem to produce a lighter and fruitier juice. Quincy AOC produces only white wines, with vineyards located on plateaus near the Cher River. Coteaux du Giennois AOC produces 100 percent sauvignon blanc wines.

Wine and food pairings
Chenin blanc of Vouvray is a dry, medium-bodied white wine that pairs well with fruit and fruit desserts or baked scallops and trout—a very food-friendly wine. Sparkling Vouvray has a juicy acidity and, on the palate, has notes of green apple, white peach and honeysuckle.

Sauvignon blanc from Sancerre goes remarkably well with goat cheese, light fish dishes, oysters and almost any shellfish. Sauvignon blanc from Pouilly-Fume is a great complement to goat cheese, creamy chicken dishes, smoked salmon or crayfish.

Rose wines pair well with grilled fish, grilled or roasted pork, green salads and grilled shrimp. As Julia Child offered, rose can be served with anything.

‘Wines drinking well now’
The good vintage years for Loire wines are 2008, 2009 and 2010. Regis Minet “Vieille Vignes” Pouilly-Fume 2011, $16; Baumard Sauvennieres 2009, $18; Jean Reverdy Sancerre La Reine Blanche 2011, $19 (one of the great wine-producing families); Chat de la Chesnaie Muscadet Sur Lie 2012, $12; and Domaine des Baumard Clos du Papillon 2008, $32.

Following our fundraiser, the Big Canoe Wine Group spent a pleasant June evening on Lake Petit savoring a nice rose acclamation wine, several whites and a 100 percent cabernet franc Chinon.

Chateau Langlois NV Brut Rose a Cremant de Loire, France, $21.99: The grape variety is 100 percent cabernet franc. The wine is light pink in color with a nose of red fruit berries. On the palate, the taste is fresh, fruity and light— an excellent summer aperitif. Highly recommended.

Pascal Jolivet Sancerre 2011 Sauvignon Blanc, Loire, France, $24: This wine is fermented naturally without adding yeasts. Bearing a darker straw color, the wine is fresh, with nice acidity. On the palate, it is balanced with a bold structure supported by its acidity, residual sugar and clean fruit taste. Recommended.

Cuvée D Adair 2011 Sancerre, $18: A citrus nose, with flavors of lemon, lime and grapefruit on the palate, this wine has a nice acidity and pleasant finish. This wine is available at Costco. Best Buy.

Domaine Philippe Delesvaux 2004 Clos Du Pavillon, Chenin Blanc, Coteaux du Layon, Saint Aubin, France, $34 (for 500 mL): This is a sweet/dessert wine made in Anjou-Saumur. The domaine is certified organic. Light in alcohol, this is a delightful wine to end an evening. Flavors of honey complement a smooth, but lingering, finish. Highly recommended.

Next month, our focus will be on sangiovese grapes from Old and New World producers.

Wayne Crawford is a certified specialist of Wine CSW and a member of the Society of Wine Educators and the American Wine Society.

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