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Staggering diversity of "terroirs," climates, grapes and styles of wine. One common trait: the wines' refreshing acidity, and no matter how magnificent, they are food-friendly and meant to be enjoyed young.
By Simone Zarmati Diament
As summer's sultry blanket envelops us, and even the thought of a barbecue sounds like too much effort, drinking light, fresh, aromatic, unpretentious whites with hints of honeysuckle and citrus can be a delightful respite. This year, we are kind of spoiled by the choice of French whites, and especially those from the Loire Valley.
It is of course quite impossible to group all the wines of the Loire Valley under one category, or appellation. The Loire is the longest river in France, and much of its 630-miles banks are vineyard country. To give a point of reference to Americans, at a Loire Valley Wine Tasting in Miami that took place last month, winemaker Jo Landron of Domaines Landron translated it to about 24,000 acres, an area as big as all the vineyards in New Zealand, that extend from Burgundy to Bordeaux.
The diversity of terroirs, climates and grapes is staggering, and the styles of wine change accordingly. The one trait they share is their refreshing acidity, and the fact that no matter how magnificent some of them can be, they are all meant to be enjoyed young, can be sipped on their own, and their aromatic flavors and good minerality make them superbly food-friendly wine.
Elegant "Fines Bulles" the Loire's answer to Champagne.
Best known for its Sancerre, the Centre Loire set a world wide standard for Sauvignon Blanc. And the Château de Sancerre, built by the count of Champagne in the 10th Century, destroyed by fire and rebuilt in 1974, was purchased by the Marnier-Lapostolles in 1919, was instrumental in establishing its reputation. It remains a leader with wines fermented on lees like Sancerre 2002, 100% Sauvignon Blanc, with a splendidly complex nose: flinty, floral and herbal, a smooth and buttery texture with aromas on the palate hinting of spice and an amazingly long finish. But few know that Sancerre also produces fine red wines from Pinot Noir, like Sancerre Rouge "L'Etourneau"Domaines Fouassier 2002, and that Vouvray, made 100% from Chenin Blanc grape, can produce great still wines as well as elegant bubbly. The delicately effervescent Saumur and Vouvray, that the French unpretentiously call "fines bulles" (fine bubbly in English), are the Loire's answer to Champagne. Like the fine and elegant Saumur Brut - Bouvet Ladubay NV, those bubblies are made with Chenin Blanc (instead of with Chard, Pinot Noir and Pinot Meunier) and produced with the traditional "méthode champenoise." But they have no right to use that name, and -- aren't we lucky! -- can be bought at a fraction of the price of traditional Champagne ($15 and up).
A diversity of whites, rosés and reds fit for Kings.
Downstream from Sancerre, the river, which had been flowing north, generously loops to the West to nurse the historic cities of Orléans, Blois, Tours and Angers.
With a diversity of whites made from Sauvignon Blanc and Chenin Blanc, and reds such as the feisty Chinon, the ruby-colored Bourgeuil and the fruity Saumur-Champigny dominated by Cabernet Franc, no wonder the Kings and nobles of France settled down there, built magnificent châteaux with generous caves, sacrificed entire armies and fought with tooth and nails to keep the juice flowing!
The Rosé d'Anjou Rémy Pannier 2002, for instance, gets its salmon color from Cabernet Franc and Grollau grapes pressed to extract the pink juice.
Dryness of the wines depends of the appellation, region and style of the wine maker. Some are the equivalent of Grand Crus even though it is not an accepted appellation in the Loire. But these are all refreshing wines you can drink on their own under the shade of a tree, or paired with food.
Feasts of oysters and Muscadet.
With Muscadet (called Melon de Bourgogne) from the Atlantic Coast, off Brittany, near the port of Nantes, you get a whiff of the sea, which is so perfect to accompany crustaceans and seafood, that breakfasts of oysters and Muscadet have become a legend.
The aim of Muscadet is not to age, but left to time, it goes back to its original style: Meursault. "The wines of the Loire are for pleasure," says Jo Landron, whose wines from Domaines Landron, all Muscadets and all organic, come from three vineyards, each with a distinct mineral quality coming from the different soils.
The wines are elegant and smoothly rich, intensely aromatic yet light, with notes of tangy citrus, honeysuckle and herbs. You can actually taste the diffrerent terroirs in the Muscadets Sèvre et Maine: "Amphibolite Nature" 2003, sur lie "Domaine de la Louvètrie"2003; sur lie "Hermine d'Or"2002; and sur lie "Le Fief du Breil"2002.
And with a beautiful blue bottle of Donatien Bahuaud Muscadet Sèvre Blanc de Mer at $6.99 - if winemaker Jean-Luc Blanchard finds an importer real soon -- we can all be winners.