The Loire Valley, a region in central France running along the Loire river, is referred to as the Garden of France thanks to the lush, fertile soils in the area. With the benefit of these soils vineyards have been flourishing here since around 400 AD.
Soils vary widely along the river. Near the coast, where the Atlantic meets the Loire river, the area is known as the Lower Loire Valley, here we find a Mediterranean climate and Melon Blanc grapes. The Melon Blanc variety is typically used to make a Muscadet style of wine. In what’s called the Middle Loire Valley, we get cooler climates and the main variety is Chenin Blanc, which can also be known as Vouvray. Finally there’s the Upper Loire Valley in North-Central France, this is where you will find the classic home of Sauvignon Blanc. Although the region is most famous for it’s whites, the Middle Loire Valley is also home to some Cabernet Franc.
In a recent post on his blog Cellar-Book, Keith Levenberg said, “Let’s be clear about this. Cabernet sauvignon does not taste like currants. Pinot noir does not taste like cherries. Riesling does not taste like apples. They taste like what they are. Cabernet tastes like cabernet, pinot tastes like pinot, riesling tastes like riesling. The analogies to other fruits are, perhaps, of some arguable potential use to someone who’s never tasted a grape before, the same way describing a zebra as a horse with stripes is helpful to someone who’s never seen a zebra but extremely unhelpful if you are aspiring to describe what is notable about one particular zebra.”
I initially struggled with the limiting nature of this statement and I don’t agree that fruit descriptors are unhelpful to all but those who have never tasted a grape. However, his point that a wine tastes like the grape it was made from stands true for the wines that follow. They are not bursting with fruitiness or an excess of descriptors of any kind. But they are very true to their varietal expression.
These wines were selected by the team at Wineseeker in Wellington and served as part of their Exploration tasting series.
Monmousseau Sparkling Rose – Cabernet Franc and Gamay Noir blend
(RRP $25.00 12% alc/vol)
On arrival we were greeted with a smile and a glass of Monmousseau Sparkling Rose. A clean, clear salmon pink colour with bready and biscuity notes on the nose. Bone dry with notes of cherry, strawberry and a toasty backbone, there was a tart acidity to help awaken the palate. A perfectly pleasant wine, but overall, there was a touch too much fruit-driven sweetness for me and the wine felt slightly unbalanced. As an amuse bouche, it was refreshing and definitely fit to purpose.
Chateau de la Ragotiere Muscadet Sevre et Maine Sur Lie 2011 – 100% Melon de Bourgogne
(RRP $23.00; 12% alc/vol)
A clear, pale lemon hued wine with a shy and subtle nose, bone dry and with a crisp, almost harsh acidity. On it’s own this wine is rather austere, a one trick pony prizing acidity most of all. Even with the sur lie treatment of leaving the wine to sit on it’s lees, the resulting boost to body or weight is marginal. The Muscadet was paired with scallops and the addition of seafood made all the difference. The acidity instantly dropped and the wine becomes far richer, a well chosen pairing. This is a definite food wine.
Domaine du Vieux Preche Sancerre 2011 – 100% Sauvignon Blanc
(RRP $31.00 13% alc/vol)
When you put your nose to the glass you could happily believe you were drinking quite a classic Marlborough Sauv with a huge hit of green capsicum and asparagus. There’s also a nuttiness to the nose. Drink it down for a crisp, refreshing and lightly textured wine. Bone dry, medium body, high acidity and a medium finish, on the whole I found it to be a rather lean wine, but paired with a selection of goats cheeses it becomes rich and creamy, silky smooth. Now that’s a good pairing.
On a side note, I had misplaced my tasting sheet that had the wines listed out, a friend sent me a photo of her notes. In the margin next to the Sancerre she’d noted, “Over 2/3 of all New Zealand wine exports are Sauvignon Blanc.” Under which she remarked, “I drank the other third.” Ha!
Henri Bourgeois ‘La Porte de l’Abbaye’ Pouilly Fume 2011 – 100% Sauvignon Blanc
(RRP $39.00; 13% alc/vol)
Clear medium lemon in colour this is not your typical New Zealand Sauv. Marked by smokey aromas with a sharp aromatic intensity on the nose. The palate in comparison is quite understated but you get more smokiness and a flinty backbone. I searched for the fruit but to no avail. Medium acid and body with an exceptionally long finish, this wine was paired with a selection of goats cheeses. The food pairing was fantastic for texture making the wine beautifully creamy. The wine was an interesting tipple both with and without the pairing.
Marc Brédif Vouvray 2011 – 100% Chenin Blanc
(RRP $30.00; 13% alc/vol)
I struggled to name what I was finding on the nose and on the palate here, the main presence. I scribbled nutty and fermented with big question marks, eventually it came to me, this wine was oozing lanolin. The sweet, nuttiness of almond flesh greets you, along with the aforementioned lanolin. The wine has a candied quality without being unctuous. This wine is more than full bodied, with a high acid and savoury, mineral notes to accompany the dominant lanolin. the body and the texture of the wine are the big sellers here. The wine was paired with chicken in a cream sauce, that I, as a non-meat eater, was unable to sample, but I found the wine plenty interesting on it’s own. I imagine it would have been another case of a creamier, richer wine with the selected pairing.
Marc Brédif Grande Annee Vouvray 1988 – 100% Chenin Blanc
(RRP $76.00; 12.5% alc/vol)
The draw card of the tasting, the 1998 Vouvray was clear and pale gold in colour, with notes of wild honeyed nectar, almond flesh, dried apricots and lanolin. The texture on this wine was something special. Full bodied with low acid the primary flavours were lanolin, dandelions and figs. Very rich, very interesting with a long finish, this wine was ever so moreish.
Angelique Leon Chinon 2010 – 100% Cabernet Franc
(RRP $25.00; 12.5% alc/vol)
Deep purple in colour, showing it’s youth, the 2010 Cab Franc had oodles of pepped meat and oregano seasoning on the nose. Swirl it around in your mouth and it’s shouting about earthy, leathery, tobacco notes with just a touch of red fruit. Tannins, acidity, finish – medium all around and bone dry. A rather rough wine, the Chinon was paired with rare venison and grilled mushrooms. The mushrooms brightened the wine slightly, helping it show more red fruits. If this was served to me on a cold winters night with a bowl of hearty, spicy stew, I would be most pleased.
Yannick Amirault Bourgueil ‘Les Quartiers’ 2009 – 100% Cabernet Franc
(RRP $38.00; 13% alc/vol)
Fresher, lighter and brighter than the previous Cabernet Franc, these were complimentary styles to present at a regional tasting. Clear, deep ruby, with herbal and green leafy notes. Flavours of spearmint and red fruits mix with medium, drying tannins, low acid, medium body and medium finish. The wine was rather lean with not much going on in the texture department. Paired with food the fruit was driven right up and the wine became far cheerier to drink.
Baumard ‘Carte d’Or’ Coteaux Du Layon 2011 – 100% Chenin Blanc
(RRP $20.00; 12% alc/vol)
The chosen sticky has a bit of botrytis infusing the wine with notes of honeyed apricots and orange peels. Full bodied and sweet with low acid the wine has rather mild flavours of caramel, toffee, more apricot and white florals. Citrus on the finish, this was overall a fantastically textured, rich drink. This dessert wine was matched to some quite excellent blue cheese as well as a home-made tarte tatin. The blue cheese improves the texture and dials up the fruit characters, the tarte tatin shone a spotlight on the presence of toffee characters. Both proved to be very nice matches emphasising a smooth, rich nature.