Category Archives: Loire wines

A Loire Surprise

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Let me start by wishing you all a Happy and Peaceful 2018 and hope that the natural disasters that afflicted many in the wine world last year won’t be repeated.

As you might expect, my wife and I enjoyed some nice wines over the holiday period, but one white was a particular surprise (a pleasant one, I should add).  It came from the cool Loire region in northern France and I assumed, for that reason, it would be crisp, fresh and citrusy.  But Château de Fesles’ old vine Chenin Blanc ‘La Chapelle’ from Anjou (Majestic, £11.99) didn’t fit the pattern at all. 

Loire CheninAt 14% alcohol, it’s a big chunky mouthful.  And then there’s the fruit character: not the green apples and citrus of a northern climate but ripe pineapple and mango with a touch of orange at first and all wrapped up in tangy, spicy oak.

So what’s going on?  Part of the answer lies in the words on the label: ‘Vieilles Vignes’ (old vines), in this case mainly over 50 years.  As vines age, their root system expands and so they can pick up more moisture and nutrients from the soil.  At the same time, they tend to produce fewer bunches so all this extra goodness is concentrated into fewer grapes.  The result is more intense flavour which shows through on the finished wine.

But it’s not just that.  Often, grapes struggle to ripen in the cool Loire climate.  At Fesles, they hand-harvest very carefully choosing only the best and ripest grapes.  This may cut down on the amount of wine they make, but it ensures the quality.  They are also moving towards organic methods which the owners believe will further improve the wine.

In the winery, fermentation is in oak barrels followed by 6 months on the lees.  Interestingly, Fesles prefer 400 litre barrels to the more common 225 litre and shun new oak arguing that the use of larger barrels and older wood gives a more subtle oak character.

All this comes together to make a very classy full, rich white and a real bargain at the price.  Drink it with flavoursome white meat or poultry dishes and you, too, may be pleasantly surprised.

 

 

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Bordeaux, Burgundy or…?

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When you buy your wine, do you focus on Bordeaux, Burgundy and the other traditional regions of France or, do think, as one friend of mine said, that these areas are living in the past and trading on a reputation that is no longer justified?  For me, that criticism is a little harsh, but I can understand that many find wines from California or Australia are just so much more approachable and usually better value. 

But, I wanted to put the traditional areas to the test and so I advertised a course entitled ‘The Classic Wines of France’ at Bristol’s Stoke Lodge Centre – a good move as the day was fully booked in record time with a waiting list!  No pressure then!  I just had to find the wines for my eager group to taste.

I wanted plenty of variety and so chose 4 wines from each of Bordeaux and Burgundy plus 2 each from the Loire and Rhône.  And, when I asked the group to choose their favourites at the end of the day, the results were very close with a single vote separating the top 4 wines.

Perhaps surprisingly, given the opposition, the 2 Loire whites shared top spot:

2017-11-16 10.43.18Bertrand Jeannot’s steely fresh Pouilly Fumé (Wine Society, £13.50) showed the benefit of extended lees ageing, while the crisp, fragrant demi-sec Vouvray from Château de Montfort (Waitrose, £11.99) had already been a winner at a previous wine course of mine, having been chosen by those who came to the ‘Wine Rivers of Europe’ day earlier in the year.

But reds from Bordeaux and Burgundy (both from the Wine Society) were close behind:  2017-11-16 10.44.11Château Sénéjac is everything you’d hope a Bordeaux red would be – lovely black fruits and just a hint of tannin; the only surprise is the price: £12.95 – a reflection, I suppose, that it is only an AC Haut-Medoc and not something grander.  No such bargains, sadly, from Burgundy but the group clearly thought Domaine Tollot-Beaut’s Chorey-les-Beaune justified its price tag (£23) with the typical, slightly perfumed Côtes de Beaune style of Pinot Noir coming through particularly well. 

So, is the reputation of these areas justified?  I think the day proved conclusively yes!  Provided you’re prepared to pay a little beyond every day prices, the ‘Classic’ areas of France certainly offer some delightful and very drinkable wines that really shouldn’t be ignored by any wine lover.

Sancerre Style, not Sancerre prices

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ReuillySancerre and Pouilly Fumé, the twin towns of the eastern Loire, turn out some lovely wines. But, because they are famous names and always in demand, the best tend to be expensive (you can easily pay £15 – £20 or even more). And, if you go for some of the cheaper examples found in supermarkets instead, they can be quite disappointing. So, how do you get the lovely, racy, pungent flavours of a good Loire Sauvignon Blanc without paying these sorts of prices?

Look at a map of the area and, just to the west of Sancerre, you’ll see Menetou-Salon; a little further west and you come to Quincy and Reuilly. All three of these villages also produce Sauvignon Blanc in much the same style as Sancerre and Pouilly Fumé, yet, as they are not nearly as widely known, prices – comparing wines of similar quality, of course – are far more reasonable.

Take Denis Jamain’s Les Pierres Plates Reuilly, for example. We opened a bottle recently and it went beautifully with some grilled sardines. It was absolutely textbook Loire Sauvignon with wonderful clean, fresh, gooseberry and green pepper flavours. Only a real expert could confidently say this wasn’t a high quality Sancerre. But, when you check the price, you’ll notice the difference: £11.50 from The Wine Society. And, in case you want to try value alternatives from the other two villages I mentioned, Wine Society also have Domaine Pellé’s Menetou-Salon (£11.95) and Majestic are offering Jean-Charles Borgnat’s Quincy (£11.49). Both recommended.

If you’re searching for reliable Loire Sauvignon even cheaper still, you may need to choose carefully, but I’d suggest you look even further west, over the border into Touraine, the region surrounding the town of Tours. At their best, wines labelled Sauvignon de Touraine can give you much of the same style and freshness as a modest Sancerre, but, production here is quite large and quality can be a bit variable, which is why I say you need to be selective. Above all, avoid Loire Sauvignon at bargain basement prices (which, these days, means below about £6) as cheap examples are often dominated by tart acidity with very little fruit – very unpleasant!

And finding bargains by seeking alternatives to famous names doesn’t stop on the Loire. Châteauneuf-du-Pape, Pouilly Fuissé and many others have their value alternatives. But that’s a Bristol Wine Blog for another day. In the meantime, just look around.