Why Loire Valley?
Le Jardin, the garden of France is what this fairytale landscape is referred to as. There are as many castles planted as are vineyards. It is the 3rd largest producer in France, spanning 500 miles from Muscadet on the Atlantic West coast to Pouilly Fume on the East end. The region is divided administratively into four regions; Muscadet, Anjou, Touraine, Upper Loire. Get to know InterLoire, the official interprofessional organization of producers, merchants, and traders.
They are dedicated to the promotion, production & sale of quality Loire Valley wines. What makes the region so unique is it’s the only region in France with no unified basic AOC wine and the styles are just as varied. Here, you will find from yeasty saline still wines, sweet to dry rose, luscious or dry age-worthy wines from Chenin Blanc, Cabernet Franc varietal expresses unlike anywhere in the world, Cremant sparkling wine, Pet Nats, and smoky Sauvignon Blanc that will stand up proud by varietal design. Despite its size, it is a treasure of boutique producers. Controversial producers such as Jackie Blot, revered biodynamic monopole Nicolas Joly of La Coulée de Serrant, and Dagueneau, are wines to explore. I had the pleasure to taste my way through the Garden of France at Hi-Time Wine Cellars
LA TAILLE AUX LOUPS TRIPLE ZÉRO JACKY BLOT
This review will be longer to give a justified background to this controversial producer and his immaculate wine. No capitalization, no battonage, no malolactic conversion, no liqueur de tirage, no liqueur d’expedition, NO INTERVENTION, is how I introduce renaissance man, Francois Chidaine; aka Jacky Blot. He has been established since 1989 in Montlouis-sur-Loire, next to a better-known neighbor, Vouvray. Chenin Blanc grapes are hand-harvested on his property from 50+ old vines. His wines are translucent and display Chenin Blanc’s honest personality. As a variety, it’s dreamy because it can be produced in a plethora of styles, from bone dry to lusciously sweet, sparkling and perfectly age-worthy. As a varietal, it’s easy to grow, expert acid, body, natural sugar, and a bouquet of aromas and flavors. JB believes, adding anything to a wine with a 100% Chenin Blanc would be muting it. JB’s pedigree of wines is a fine statement of how a wine ought to be vinified.
Call it French snobbery, or politics, his wines have been censured from making wine out of regulation. Briefly stated, he grew his grapes in his home base Montlouis but vinified the wine in Vouvray. This isn’t how the French make wine. What law states on the label is 100%, what it’s made from, where grapes are sourced, and where it’s produced. Regardless of bureaucracy, the man makes great wine.
For example, the same issue has been going on in the Oregon and Washington States sharing the Milton Freewater district of Walla Walla. However, there is an extreme difference between “New World” and “Old World” regulations. In the NW there is a guarantee of health and safety regulations, along with experimentation. In the OW, there’s a list of laws that make you want to resort to hard liquor. Producers in Oregon have access to growing grapes in the state of Oregon, but vinify their wines in The state of Washington, and call it Washington wine. Why would anyone want to do that? Oregon wine is not known for the most popular grapes that are grown effectively in this district, Syrah and Cabernet Sauvignon. Washington is known internationally for such varieties and Oregon it’s renowned for Pinot Noir. The soils that grow the grapes are reminiscent of huge pudding stones called gallets in Châteauneuf du Pape. The stones have excellent drainage, heat retention and radiation, which lifts temperatures and where late harvest grapes can fully ripen. On the global market, Oregon producers would rather sell wine as Washington wine rather than claim Oregon as the wine’s origin. It’s the power of marketing.
This is the reason why Jacky Blot has pioneered to differentiate himself as a superb maker of wines while disregarding the laws. The color is brilliant gold with animated effervescent. The nose is daring with buttery brioche and foaming yeast. The fruit is crisp honey apples and yellow plum, citrus fruit of ripe lemons, pink grapefruit, cranberry pie, wet stone, and red peppercorns. On the palate, it’s racy and refreshing dry, high acid, medium alcohol, light body medium- intense fresh orchard fruits, zippy citrus, honeycomb, butter saltine crackers, vibrant texture, prickly mousse, and a long finish. This wine is like looking clearly through a windowpane. It doesn’t deliver excessive notes and flavors. However, it presents clarity on the nose and brightness on the palate. It’s excellently balanced with alcohol, fruit, and acid. It expresses sharp and to the point. I don’t suggest cellaring. The style is designed to enjoy as it is and bring you a wine of integrity. I will also mention it is generously priced.
ISABELLE GARRAULT LE GRANDS MONT SANCERRE 2018
Verdigny is a commune in the Cher department of the upper Loire Valley. It is where the family of Isabelle Garrault has been established for over 300 years. The most notable appellation this wine hail’s from is Sancerre. This region is renowned for sharp smoky Sauvignon Blanc and peppery Pinot Noir. The soils are composed of Terres Blanc (limestone-clay) and Cailotes (pebble limestone), giving the wines intense mineral and flinty character. Production is small, grapes are hand-harvested along with sustainable practice.
The color is a medium lemon, green highlights. The nose it’s highly intense with pungent aromas of lime and lemon zest, pomelo, ripe bartlett pear, acacia, white flowers, and carbon. On the palate, it’s dry medium alcohol, medium+ acid light body high intensity of fresh juicy citrus and crisp ripe orchard fruit, pungent herbs of lemongrass, and mint, wet stone, and wet wool. Light texture and long finish. This is a very good wine. It is very concentrated on the front with its aromas and flavors. It carries nicely to the mid-palate. It’s spicy for the long finish but the acid and fruit fall short on the finish to keep reaching for more. Can hold for a few years, but enjoy a young expression now.
NICOLAS JOLY CLOS DE LA BERGERIE SAVENNIÈRES 2014
To describe Nicolas Joly would be many terms, but one that comes on my mind is a charlatan. He took over his classically farmed family estate in 1977. It is located in the middle Loire Valley of Anjou, in the sub-region of Savenniers. This area is highly famed for razor-sharp wines with searing acid based on the Chenin Blanc grape. Schist and volcanic soils can give a wines depth, structure, and age-ability. What also makes this estate unique is it is 1 of only 3 single owned estates with its own appellation, Coulee de Serrant. This estate joins two other monopoles for this prestigious title within France, Romanee Conti and Chateau Grillet. Nicolas Joly wasn’t a follower of the green movement until he picked up a book on biodynamics. He was naturally attempting to find a better way to manage his vineyards. Since then, he has become one of the great forces in the field, and his holdings have been farmed using biodynamic principles since 1984.
These wine grapes are not sourced from Coulee de Serrant but in the shadow through an equally reputable area of La Roche Aux Moines; a rock of the monks. Achieving full ripeness without rot can be a problem in Savennières but here the slopes amass the sun’s rays and give fair protection from cold north winds while staying gusty enough to moderate the occurrence of botrytis (Grape berries affected by botrytis gradually dry out on the vine, naturally concentrating their sugars and flavor compounds).
The color is deep gold. On the nose, it’s high intensity with notes of baked golden delicious apples, mandarine orange, quince compote, orange saffron, beeswax, celery seed, crushed stone. On the palate dry, high acid, full-body, high alcohol, heavy texture, high intensity with ripe orchard fruits including pear tart, oriental spices, zesty citrus of blood orange, camomile tea, smoked herbs, and saffron, for a long finish. This is an outstanding wine, concentrated with flavors and aromas, gently perfumed, coats the mouth with sophistication, balanced with its high alcohol with but high acid and dense bouquet. It’s complex yet refined. This wine can age for 10+ years, delivering a generous amount of acid while developing butterscotch, mushroom, truffles, fig newtons, and masculine minerality notes. This a producer who consistently has proven laws are meant to be broken.
FRANCOIS CHIDAINE CLOS HABERT, MONTLOUIS-SUR-LOIRE 2017
Montlouis has and still is the shadow of Vouvray. The difference is soil. In Vouvray, there’s a higher portion of Teaufo (a form of chalk). This type of soil will give the wines structure and age-ability. In Montlouis, there is a higher portion of sand, the wines are more perfumed and fruit-forward. Before Montlouis became its own appellation, it had to produce wines under Vouvray. This wine is from Franois Chidaine, he is the same famed producer AKA…… JACKY BLOT. While many of his vineyards overlook the Loire River, this wine is produced on one of his vineyards, Clos Habert. It lies adjacent to the Clos du Breuil, on clay and a type of silex called perruches. Part of the vineyard is about 25 years old, with the rest 60-80 years old. Chidaine, an apostle to biodiversity, uses these vines to make a soft style of Montlouis with a captivating balance and minerality; usually around 20 g/l of residual sugar.
This is one of his entry-level wines although he produces wines in all styles and price points based on the Chenin Blanc grape. Although Chenin Blanc is what he treasures, he does produce a handful of wines with Sauvignon Blanc and Cabernet Franc. I have firmly believed behind every incredible man is a solid woman. When in the area, make it your objective to enjoy their wine shop, La Cave de l’Insolite, run by wife, Manuela Chidaine. This wine shop is a real treat. They not only showcase their wines but also in support of hard to find boutique producers in the area.
The wine is a deep lemon with slightly petitlant at the core. High intensity on the nose with ripe Anjou pear, baked golden delicious apples, honeydew melons, lychee, and quince, along with savory notes of orange saffron, celery seed and white flowers of honeysuckle, orange blossoms. On the palate it’s off-dry (tendre) medium alcohol, medium + acid, medium body, high intensity with flavors of tropical and stone fruits, perfumed with flowers, exotic spices, mouth-coating texture, and long finish. This is a very good wine. The balance and concentration in the body are offset by the generous residual sugar. It is bold without overwhelming the palate. The finish is long from the combination of both ripe exotic fruits and baked stone fruit. Spices can be felt on the long finish but the acid can be amped up slightly. I would highly recommend this wine. It’s gratifying, but because of its intensity and residual sugar, you will want to move on.
BRENDEN STATER-WEST SAUMER ROUGE 2018
“In 2015, I insisted that I wanted to find some vineyards to start making my own wine. Romain proposed one hectare of a vineyard called Les Chapaudaises to me, and I knew it was a terroir that could make the style of Chenin that I am crazy for elegant, pure, vertical, with salinity from the limestone. ” — BRENDAN STATER-WEST
Brenden is a compelling young American originally from Oregon with no winemaking history. Instead, he was an English teacher who sought work in France. With a profusion of exposure to wine, he developed an affection for it. He then quit teaching and went to work for a wine shop in Paris. Everyone has the moment one wine captivated their attention, with Brenden it was from the revered Domaine Guiberteau in Breze. In 2011 he went to apprentice for producer Romain Guiberteau. The fascinating story continues when he met a family in the town of Chace in the appellation of Saumur-Champigny. They owned an ancient inactive tuffeau cave cellar. He bought the property from the vigneron family, renovating the cellar for the production of his own wines.
Saumer Rouge is 100% Cabernet Franc and comes from developing south-west facing lieu-dit (single vineyard) La Ripaille in Breze. The soils here are sand-clay giving the wine a perfumed fruit-driven profile. He is the 2nd grower with La Ripaille, the other being Antoine Fourcault of Domaine Du Collier. The grapes are 100% destemmed, 6-day maceration; to preserve fragile and pure texture, 6 months stainless aging in Chace
This wine is a deep ruby, with a high intensity of wild red fruit, tart red cherries, field berries, pomegranate, red plum, lavender, red beet, bell pepper, mint, potting soil. On the palate it’s dry, medium+ acid medium stalky tannins, medium- body, medium alcohol, juicy texture, medium+ intensity with bright fresh red berries cherry tomatoes, pungent red bell pepper, field lavender and hibiscus, cracked green & red peppercorns and fresh earth, with a medium finish. This is a good wine. It’s solid, linear, and pure. It’s fruit-driven, with elevated acid and pulls the tannins stronger on the mid-palate. It fills the mouth with fluid juice. Minerality can fill the void and riper tannins will soften the texture. This would give the wine a better balance. He is an electric winemaker who is shifting the direction unto a forward movement while still maintaining historic integrity.
DOMAINE BRETON “TRINCH” BOURGUEIL 2018
“TRINCH: The anthem of Liverpool’s soccer fans, you’ll never walk alone, inspired by the name that means cheers in English: As long as you have a bottle on hand and supportive friends around, you’ll never drink alone.” – Pierre Breton
Catherine and Pierre Breton have been running their 15-hectare vineyard since 1991; they’ve been biodynamic since 1997. Located between Tours and Saumur in the Loire Valley, they specialize in red wines based on Cabernet Franc from the Chinon and Bourgueil appellations. By appellation regulation, wines are also allowed to contain up to 10% Cabernet Sauvignon. The grapes come high terrace vineyards on soils of and gravel; gives wines floral and fruity notes when young, and earth with 20 years ago. They use indigenous yeasts for their fermentation, and only the minimum use of sulfur dioxide (typically 10 mg/liter of SO2 added at bottling). All wines are unfiltered
The color is medium ruby with a blue tint On the nose medium intensity with notes of red fruit wild raspberries, red currant, red plum with earthy undertones of wet saddlebags, white mushrooms, pepper, and spices. On the palate its dry, medium acid medium grippy tannins, medium alcohol, medium body medium intensity tight texture field red fruits, cranberry sauce, charred bell peppers more flavors savory spices of cloves, liquorice, gingerbread, mineral earth and truffle, Medium+ finish. This wine is very good. It is still youthful on the front but there’s a deep mineral core giving it structure and concentration. The undertones display its development with less fruit and more savory flavors, perfumed with earth fruitcake and truffles. Cellar this bottle another decade or purchase two and reassess the other in another decade, if you can wait that long.
THIERRY GERMAIN DOMAINE DES ROCHES NEUVES SAUMUR-CHAMPIGNY CLOS DE L’ECHELIER
Named after walled-in terraces that form a ladder. Each plot from the best vineyards in Saumur Champigny is vinified separately to distinguish each wine produced. Domaine des ROCHES NEUVES by Thierry Germain has been renamed Saumur-Champigny for 10 years, still in biodynamics. Since 1993 originally from Bordeaux, he is one of the most ominous and brilliant winemakers in the region.
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