PETER GRIFFIN gets a taste of Loire Valley wines and discovers that his bias towards red wine isn’t always applicable.
Despite its close proximity to Paris, I’ve never really thought seriously about taking a trip through the Loire Valley.
There’s one key reason for that – my bias towards red wine. Loire is mainly lauded for its white wines which make up around half of the vast region’s output and primarily include Sauvignon Blanc, Chenin Blanc, Melon de Bourgogne and, increasingly, Chardonnay.
Would you like to support our mission to bring intelligence, insight and great writing to entertainment journalism? Help to pay for the coffee that keeps our brains working and fingers typing just for you. Witchdoctor, entertainment for grownups. Your one-off (or monthly) $5 or $10 donation will support Witchdoctor.co.nz. and help us keep producing quality content. It’s really easy to donate, just click the ‘Become a supporter’ button below.
With limited time and funds, my instinct, automatically, is to head for Bordeaux, Burgundy or the Rhone Valley, where I’m spoiled for choice with delectable reds.
But an evening spent with Will Brunel-Morvan from Maison Vauron, the French wine merchants who run a delightful deli, cafe and wine shop in Newmarket, Auckland, has convinced me to add Loire to my post-pandemic wine tour planning.
The region, as I discovered at a Loire Valley tasting hosted by Brunel-Morvan at Regional Wines in Wellington last month, has some impressive Cabernet Franc wines to keep a red vino lover like myself happy.
Light-bodied reds aplenty
“Loire reds are of increasingly high quality, and of increasing importance as consumer preferences continue to move toward red wines,” notes Wine-searcher.com.
“Although they offer less stylistic diversity than the whites, a light-bodied, fruity Gamay from the Fiefs Vendeens is nevertheless quite different from a spicy, tannic Bourgueil. The number one red-wine variety is unquestionably Cabernet Franc, the grape behind the reds of Chinon, Saumur and Bourgueil. Lighter-bodied, less ‘serious’ wines are made from Pinot Noir, Malbec (known here as Côt) and Gamay.”
I’ve barely scratched the surface of Loire reds. Brunel-Morvan presented us with several pleasing Cabernet Francs that were light, fruity and complex. Normally I like my Cab Franc in a Bordeaux-style blend with Merlot. But this tasting has encouraged me to seek out some 100% Cab Franc wines.
Most significantly, however, the tasting finally opened up my mind to the potential of Chenin Blanc, a white grape varietal I’ve had a standoffish relationship with for years.
I should know better. I had a similar wariness of Riesling based largely on New Zealand examples before a trip to Germany’s Mosel Valley convinced me it’s the noblest of white grapes. An unforgettable trip through Alsace just reinforced that view.
The only Chenin Blanc I have in my collection is, admittedly what most people gathered at the tasting agreed was probably New Zealand’s best example – the Te Arai Chenin Blanc ($35) from much-loved Gisborne-based organic wine maker, Millton.
Te Arai is a beautiful yellow-gold colour and has a sweet floral nose. On the palate there’s plenty of crisp apple, hints of honeysuckle and white peach and it has a chalkiness to it. Perfect for a summer’s lunch in the garden.
Millton is so popular because it captures the essence of Chenin Blanc – light, with crisp acidity and minerality, a floral aspect to it and a hint of sweetness.
Party like it’s the Renaissance
The Loire Valley wine region stretches inland from the Atlantic with the broad river snaking through it, from Nantes and Angers to Tours and Orléans. These are cities with rich history and wine flows through all of them.
Brunel-Morvan spent a lot of time talking about the climate and soil of the Loire, which varies greatly across the region’s many wine-making departments. There are grapes grown on schist and granite in some areas, sandy and stony soils in others. Above the river, getting the grapes ripe enough can be a challenge. There’s a leanness to the environment that demands a skilled and delicate touch. Rarely has the soil been so obvious in white wines for me. You can taste the stone in these wines, the flinty notes pairing well with the invigorating acidity.
There’s another good reason to head to the Loire Valley, according to Brunel-Morvan. Its proximity to Paris has for centuries made it the weekend party spot for the rich and famous, who during the Renaissance and Enlightenment, constructed some of the most elaborate chateaux there. Perhaps the most impressive is the 15th-century Château d’Amboise, a UNESCO heritage site. But there are over 300 chateaux in the region, enough to keep you occupied with sightseeing between wine tastings.
What to say in general about Chenin Blanc? They are often lean, tart, minerally, occasionally a bit buttery. The off-dry style tends to be more floral and rich, probably more to my liking.
The Cabernet Franc wines we tried were quite tart with decent acidity and fruity often with green, herbaceous notes. I was impressed at how approachable and light they were. Brunel-Morvan described one of them, the Arnaud Lambert Terres Rouges Saumur Champigny, as the Beaujolais of the Loire Valley.
Three Loire stunners to return to
It has a beautiful purple hue to it, with a nose of fresh red berries. It is dry and with medium acidity and tannins, full-bodied with earthy, leathery notes.
It turned out to be the highlight of the night for me, along with the Taille aux Loups Remus Montlouis 2019, a classy Chenin Blanc that sells for $60.99. It is bone dry, spicy and floral with lemon zest, apple and honey coming through. It would pair well with seafood.
There clearly is so much to discover in the Loire Valley and I haven’t even tried the region’s Gamay and Pinot Noir, nor really got to grips with the minerally Muscadet, dry and light-bodied, maybe a bit insipid to my palate and made from the Melon de Bourgogne grapes.
Actually, my highest-rated wine of the night was the closer, a show-stealing Château de Fesles Bonnezeaux 2013. This sticky Chenin Blanc is blessed with the Noble Rot, resulting in a concentrated, luscious wine with notes of honey, citrus and baked apple. What a way to close out a great tasting.
Taille aux Loups Montlouis Brut NV ($48.99) ****
Refreshing, light, crisp, a perfect start to the evening.
Gerard Fiou Sancerre 2019 ($38.99) ****
A great, perfumy nose. Crisp and fruity, with medium acidity, A light and more delicate Chenin Blanc from the people who own Clos Henri in Marlborough.
Arnaud Lambert Blanc Pierrieres Saumur 2019 ($43.99) ****
Mellow but with a pleasing crispness. Lychees and crisp apples. Not a quaffer, an elegant wine to savour. Good texture and a long finish. From Sambiose.
Sauvion Bousquets Vouvray 2019 ($27.99) ****
Grown on gravel and clay. Wood polish on the nose. Apples, pear, citrus. An oily texture to it. Complex and slightly sweet. A slight oaky note, floral, unctious, quince, would make a lovely aperitif or with salmon or a starter.
Taille aux Loups Remus Montlouis 2019 ($60.99) ****1/2
100% Chenin Blanc. Pure, clean and buttery. Grown on 50 – 80-year-old vines. Mineral notes and a creaminess to it. Medium acidity. Complex and well-balanced, spreads out beautifully on the tongue. Delicious, one for a special occasion.
Bernard Baudry Granges Chinon 2019 ($33.99)****
An incredible nose of green pepper and cherries, with a freshness to it. A woody, smoky Cabernet Franc. Seemingly a mouthful of oak, a bit too much. But still light. Intense blackfruit, cigars and a hint of orchard funk. Dark ruby hue. Aged in cement, no oak! Cellar for 4 – 5 years.
Arnaud Lambert Terres Rouges Saumur Champigny 2019 ($39.99) ****1/2
Fruity, peppery, a great nose. Licorice and vanilla. Big tannins for a light wine. The beaujolais of the Loire Valley. A bit astringent. Age for 6 – 8 years.
Yannick Amirault Les Quartiers Bourgueil 2017 ($42.99) ****
Smoky and gamey with a freshness to it. Quite alcoholic. A bit astringent but shows great promise.
Château de Fesles Bonnezeaux 2013 375ml ($39.99) *****
Sweet, ephemeral. Aged in Acacia casks. Grapes are put on a bed of straw first. Apricots, honey and lemon, the perfect balance of acidity and sweetness. Sticky Chenin Blanc at its best.
- Visit Kiwi-founded and world-leading wine database Wine-searcher.com to find the best info and prices for wines.