Adventures in Wine > Loire Valley
The Loire is a hugely diverse and beautiful region with numerous appellations along France’s longest river. These include famous names such as Muscadet, Touraine, Vouvray and Sancerre for whites, Bourgueil and Chinon for reds. The wine is made in a variety of styles – red, white and rose as well as dry, sweet and sparkling. Typically, the wines are high in acidity because of its cool, northern position. White varieties to look out for are Chenin Blanc, Sauvignon Blanc and Muscadet while the lesser-known reds include Cabernet Franc, Pinot Noir and Gamay. (Financial Times)
Winery: Domaine Baron
Sauvignon de Touraine
Jean-Pierre Baron is a master of Sauvignon Blanc, and he has put his expertise to good use when creating this remarkable Sauvignon de Touraine. He owns a 13 hectare family domaine in the village of Thesee, on the right bank of the Cher river. Baron’s Sauvignon has fine concentration, a lovely citrus bouquet and a plump palate. It is a ripe, crisp wine with unmistakable Loire character and is the equal of many Sancerres in the market, and a far better value.
Winery: Domaine de Chatenoy
Pierre Clement, the owner of Domaine de Chatenoy, studied oenology in Dijon. His family have been winegrowers in the Loire since 1560 (14 generations).
On the same side of the Loire as its famous neighbor, Sancerre, it is similar in style, yet possesses a unique personality. Vivid citrus bouquet, and rich palate of white peach and flowers. A perfect match for lobster and scallops, as well as river fish.
Winery: Domaine de la Butte
Region: Loire Valley
Bourgueil ‘Mi Pente’
Bourgueil ‘La Pied de la Butte’
After founding Domaine de la Taille aux Loups in 1989 and bringing its wines to international acclaim, Loire master Jacky Blot acquired Domaine de la Butte in the appellation of Bourgueil in the summer of 2002. He seized upon the opportunity to make equally great reds by acquiring an ideal south-facing bloc of Cabernet Franc vines averaging 30 years. The entire slope has a bed of limestone rock and different top-soils and microclimates. The variations give rise to the four cuvees that Blot crafts at his Bourgeuil domaine.
Blot aims to produce dramatic, intensely flavored and original red wines. Domaine de la Butte wines have already attracted international acclaim. Blot credits his experience with late harvest Chenin Blancs for giving him an understanding of the phenomenon of ripeness essential for making the finest Bougueils possible.
Le Pied de la Butte comes from a clay-limestone soil located at the bottom (foot, pied) of the slope. The wine offers generous, savory black cherry and cranberry fruit with a soft texture. It is vinified to be enjoyed upon release. The Mi-Pente bottling is the most concentrated cuvee, as it comes from the oldest vines: they are 50 years old. This is one of greatest Cabernet Francs made in the Loire valley. The Haut de la Butte cuvee comes from the perfectly exposed upper slope. The fruit here is bright, pure and very expressive, offering deep and complex flavors of black berry/cherry fruit and minerals.
Vouvray Cuvée Argilex
The Gautier domaine in Vouvray has been in the family for seven generations. The origins are known to date back to the 17th Century, from a document noting the presence of vines around the Gautier house in 1669. Benoit Gautier, the present viticulturer, took charge in 1981. He began the policy of domaine bottling. Previously the wines were sold to negociants.
The domaine comprises 12 hectares of vines in the communes of Rochecorbon and Parcay-Meslay. The soil is the classic Tuffeau or limestone-chalk for which the central Loire is famous. The average age of the vines is 25 years. Gautier follows a policy of hand-picking for the still wines, while about one quarter of the grapes for his Sparkling wines are machine harvested. The harvest takes place over a period of 20 days in late September and October. The grapes are pressed in a new pneumatic press and fermented and matured in temperature-controlled stainless steel cuves. Depending on the year, some of the single vineyard wines are matured in old oak casks.
The Vouvray De Gautier is winemaker Benoit Gautier’s selection from the vintage. It bursts with ripe and concentrated Chenin Blanc fruit. The gentle acidity is balanced with apricot, pear and honey notes and a just off-dry finish. This wonderful Chenin reflects the promise of the 2001 vintage in the Loire Valley. It is outstanding as an aperitif, with fowl and fish dishes, and with Asian or Indian cuisine.
The Wine Spectator comments: “Racy Vouvray, with green almond, quince and mineral notes, and a bright, lengthy finish.Nicely done.” (89 points)
In 2004, Gautier launched a new cuvee, ARGILEX. It derives from white clay (argile) soil mixed with crumbled silex or quartz in specific vineyards.
Winery: Domaine Pabiot
Region: Loire Valley
This excellent 20 hectare domaine is run by the fourth generation of the Pabiot family. Some of their Sauvignon Blanc vines are 80 years old. Displays the typical grassy-gooseberry aroma and crisp flavor for which this appellation is famous.
Winery: Domaine Paul Prieur
This superb Sancerre comes from Sauvignon Blanc grapes grown on several parcels of vineyards, mainly in the commune of Verdigny and Sancerre. Prieur assembles the cuvees, so the different soils of each commune contribute to the wine’s richness and complexity. The wine is fermented slowly and aged in stainless steel to preserve all of the natural fruit.
The inviting bouquet of flowers and fresh fruit leads to a medium bodied wine that is very versatile with foods. It complements grilled fish and chicken dishes, cold trout, salmon and seafood, soft shell crabs and pasta primavera.
Winery: Domaine Raffault
Region: Loire Valley
Sub-region: Chinon Rose
Chinon Rouge ‘Les Galuches’
Chinon Rouge ‘Clos des Capucin’
Jean-Maurice Raffault’s famed Chinon estate is now run by his son Rodolphe. Chinon is located in the central Loire valley, near Tours, and is the northernmost French red wine appellation. The family has been vignerons in Chinon since 1693 and the estate now comprises 40 hectares spread over 6 communes.
Raffault harvests his Cabernet Francs as late as possible and vinifies each soil parcel separately. Fermentation can last up to one month with daily pumping over for maximum extraction of color and flavors. The wines are then aged in Bordeaux casks in his remarkable 54 degree cellar caves cut into the limestone slopes and are bottled without filtration.
In his now five years at the helm, Rodolphe Raffault has taken his venerable family estate to a new level of excellence and has quickly gained international recognition.
Raffault’s unique Chinon Rose is made by the saigne method. It shows bright and lively strawberry fruit with a long, succulent finish. It is a very versatile wine that drinks well on its own, or with charcuterie, goat cheese, fish, and fowl dishes.
Winery: Taille aux Loups
Sub-region: Montlouis, Vouvray
Montlouis ‘Remus Plus’
Montlouis Sec ‘Dix Arpents’
Montlouis ‘Triple Zero’
A new star has emerged in the heart of the Loire Valley: he is Jacky Blot of Domaine de la Taille aux Loups, in Montlouis, located on the southern bank of the Loire not far from Tours. Blot, a Loire wine broker by profession, acquired about 8 hectares of 50-75 year old vines in 1989. These prized, ancient parcels belonged to families that could no longer continue to cultivate the vines and so entrusted them to Jacky Blot and his team. Blot brings a passion and exacting determination to make wines of only the highest quality. The estate now comprises 12 hectares in Montlouis, Vouvray (and now 14 hectares in Bourgeuil at his Domaine de la Butte, acquired in 2002.) The core of estate lies in the Montlouis appellation, on a high plateau overlooking the Loire River. The soil is a mix of stony limestone and clay that allows for perfect ripening of the Chenin Blanc grapes. As the vine rows are now plowed (instead of being treated chemically) the roots descend deep into the limestone bedrock. This, combined with severe pruning and late season leaf-stripping, keeps yields low and enhances the concentration and complexity of the wines. Average yields are very low, and lower still in the botrytis-effected selections. Harvest is carried out by hand, as late as possible, in successive passes through the vineyards, with a sorting table placed at the end of each row to eliminate unsuitable grapes. After pressing, the wines ferment in barrels that have been crafted for the domaine from Troncais oak, with regular batonage and two rackings. None of cuvees undergo malolactic fermentation, thus preserving acidity and enhancing the wines’ freshness.