Essential Loire

The Loire Valley is a long, meandering stream that produces an incredibly varied array of great wines produced all along its length.  It’s difficult, really, to pick a “top wine” of the Loire – there are so many great candidates.  I couldn’t even manage to keep this to a “top ten” list! You’ll soon see why.  Please go out and try some of these wines – absolutely essential drinking.  We’ll break out our list this time by sub-category with a word on each.

 

Sancerre

Sancerre is among the most well-known appellations in the Loire.  Some suggest that it is particularly well-known among Anglophones because it’s easy to pronounce, but the fact is that the wines are just incredibly delicious. Centuries before the Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc category, Sancerre had cornered the market on crisp and refreshing.

It’s difficult not to begin with the “Three Kings of Chavignol” – or at least with the next generation.  The names of Cotat, Vatan and Boulay are legendary

  • Sancerre Les Monts Damnés, François Cotat: Les Monts Damnés earned their name because their steep slopes made the vineyards difficult to work.  This is one of the top sites in Chavignol (also of goat cheese fame), a village near Sancerre that produces top wines.  The Cotat cousins (François and Pascal) took over from their fathers (Paul and Francis, respectively); both houses had long been associated with the greatest vineyards in Chavignol, and with a rich, ripe style that sometimes bordered on demi-sec.  Today both cousins make interesting wine, but this bottling is one of the greats that is also relatively easy to find – a “go to” wine if ever there was one. 
  • Sancerre Clos de la Néore, E. Vatan: Edmund Vatan was legendary Chavignol produers who turned his production over to the next generation in recent years.  In this case to his daughter Anne.  The Clos de la Néore is a parcel within the Monts Damnés terroir that has become legendary among sommeliers.  Considered by some the “holy grail” of Sancerre, and one of the great wines of France. 
  • Sancerre Clos de Beaujeu, G. Boulay: To complete the Chavignol trifecta it is necessary to try the wines of Gerard Boulay, whose family has owned vineyards here since the 14th century.  The Clos de Beaujeu is the central portion of the slope bordered by the the vineyard called Cul (or Culs) de Beaujeu.  It is an east-facing slope planted on the same Kimmeridgean marl that is found in Chablis. 
  • Sancerre rouge « Charlouise », Vincent Pinard: It would be completely unreasonable to leave Sancerre without mentioning a red!  These wines, made from Pinot Noir, provide beautifully expressive cherry and violet scented wine that is a step lighter than most Burgundy, but every bit as elegant.  Vincent Pinard is one of the young stars of the appellation: definitely producing “vin sans pinard.” 
  • Pouilly Fumé Silex, Didier Dagueneau: To continue with the legends of Sauvignon Blanc, we switch to the other side of the river and Pouilly Fumé.  As with the Kings of Chavignol, the baton has passe chez Dagueneau to the next generation – this time following a tragic accident that removed this exceptional and innovative winemaker from our midst too early.  The wines, however, have continued to mark the high point of the terroir of Pouilly, and are a requisite stop on any tour of the best of the Loire.

 

Cabernet Franc 

Cabernet Franc is a grape with a venerable history in the Loire – no less a personage than the great Renaissance author (and wine producer) François Rabelais was extolling its virtues in the 16th century.  Much lighter and finer than the wines of the same grape produced in Bordeaux, Cabernet Franc is produced in many areas throughout the region. 

  • Bourgeuil « Nuits d’Ivresse » Catherine & Pierre Breton: Domaine Breton is one of the leading lights of the “natural” wine movement, and this wine, produced without sulfur, is among the greatest cuvées of this type, with an intense and profound fruit but a finesse and elegance that is truly surprising.

 

  • Chinon Le Clos Guillot, Bernard Baudry: A beautiful example of Cabernet Franc planted on gravel soils, yielding a wine with an expressive fruit and light body.  Baudry is one of the references of Chinon

 

  • Chinon Coteau du Noiré, Philippe Alliet: Philippe Alliet produces a different style of Chinon – much more masculine and concentrated than many other producers.  His model is Bordeaux, and the influence shows – these are wines that show best with some time in the cellar.  His Vieilles Vignes cuvée from fifty year old vines is well known and widely available, but it’s worth the effort to seek out his Coteau du Noiré bottling from hillside slopes on limestone soil.

 

Muscadet

A tour of the Loire would not be complete without a look at Muscadet.  Long considered the perfect match for oysters, this wine can be much more than that.  Produced from the “Melon de Bourgogne” grape, it is a wine of subtle complexity that can take years to show to its best advantage. 

  • Muscadet Sèvre & Maine Sur Lie Granite de Clisson, Domaine de la Pepière: Clisson is one of the « crus » of Muscadet, known for its granite soils.  This bottling from Domaine de la Pepière has long been one of the leaders in the region and is understandably a classic. 
  • Muscadet Sèvre & Maine Sur Lie "Le L d'Or", Pierre Luneau-Papin Luneau-Papin is distinctive among producers of Muscadet in that they offer mature vintages to the market.  It is still possible here in the states to find bottles of the 1999 for sale.  These rare bottlings begin to show the full potential of Muscadet.

 

Bonus wine! 

  • Cour-Cheverny Cuvée Renaissance, François Cazin: There is so much variety in the Loire that I couldn’t stop with a “top ten” list: I had to add this quirky wine from the Touraine.  Cour-Cheverny is produced from the heritage grape variety Romorantin that is grown nowhere else in France.  The grape is named for a village where the French King François 1er owned a château.  He imported vines of this variety from Burgundy where it originated, a close relative of Chardonnay and Pinot Noir that nonetheless has a character of its own.