Loire Valley Wines:
About two years ago we reported on the wines of the Loire Valley (https://www.advicesisters.com/loire-valley-wine/), with a focus on the Sancerre AOC and its predominant grape Sauvignon Blanc. This grape, along with Chenin Blanc, are the major varietals of the region. However, the Loire Valley is a very large area stretching about 300 miles along the Loire River in central France.
The Loire Valley is not only a major wine producing area but is also home to a diverse agricultural economy (the second largest in France) with a focus on truck crops, gourmet products and fruits.
History of Loire Wines
It also has a very long viticultural history stretching back as far as the 1st Century. It was most famous for the Sancerre wines which were highly prized throughout Europe long into the Middle Ages. But today, these famous dry white wines are only a small part of the production of this fertile valley. The Loire is actually one of the most diverse wine regions in France, with about 24 percent of production being rose wines, 20 percent red varietals and 9 percent sparkling wines. Major red varietals include Cabernet Franc, Gamay, Grolleau, and Pinot Noir.
Interestingly, unlike many French wine regions, single varietal wines are predominant in the Loire Valley which makes it easy to understand and sample these selections.
Tasting Loire Wines
Two recent tastings in New York allowed us to focus on the broad range of wines coming out of the Loire. The first, which was held at the lovely Skyroom bar presented 8 wines which documented the variety of varietals in the Loire.
Of the eight three were Chenin Blanc, with one of those being a sparkling wine, one was a Melon de Bourgogne, a predominant white grape of the region, two were Cabernet Franc varietals (one of those also being a sparkling wine) and the others were blends.
Later that month, the annual Spring To Loire walk around tasting was held at the Eventi Hotel. This event, like most walk-arounds, featured hundreds of wines, but we focused on the different Cabernet Franc offerings. Cabernet Franc is a black grape varietal most generally known for blending with Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot in the Bordeaux.
However, it is also a versatile wine on its own. It can be found in wines from throughout the southwestern regions of France as well as the Friuli region of northeast of Italy, Eastern Europe (principally in Hungary), Canada (where it is often used in ice wines) and throughout the United States where it is particularly predominant along the east coast, with some excellent Cabernet Franc varietals produced in Pennsylvania, Virginia, and New York.
Cabernet Franc is lighter than Cabernet Sauvignon and has a particularly perfumed nose, with aromas of pepper, tobacco, raspberry violet and often green pepper. It has a peppery taste on the palate, and can sometimes be more of a green-pepper note.
Interestingly, in the case of every sparkling Cabernet Franc we sampled, this distinctive note was absent. Rather the sparkling Cab Franc’s tended to be extremely fruit forward with a lot of raspberries. The winemakers present at the two events all agreed that this was because the Rose versions of the varietal tended to be first press and did not spend much time on the skins. This keeps the stronger peppery notes out of the wine.
The Loire Valley is one of seven regions in France approved to produce Crémant, a sparkling wine produced using the same method as Champagne, Cremants are dry sparkling wines that are an excellent alternative to their more expensive cousins.
While Champagne tends to be more yeasty, the Rose Cremant sparkling wines made from Cabernet Franc are fruity and friendly. As with many sparkling wines, Cremant Rose pairs very well with a wide range of foods, from light cheeses to spicy Thai dishes.
Some of the standout Cabernet Franc sparkling wines from these two Loire tastings were:
Maurice Bonnamy, Brut Rose (NV: $17): This sparkling wine is made of 100 percent Cabernet Franc grapes. This was an excellent wine, pinkish in color with a fruity raspberry nose. The wine was fresh on the palate with some vanilla and peach notes along with the berries.
De Chanceny Cremant de Loire, Brut Rose (NV: $15). Another 100 percent Cabernet Franc sparkling, the wine was dark salmon in color. The wine had a buoyant mouse. On the nose there was raspberry. The wine was fruity with strawberry, raspberry and dark fruits. It was a bit peppery up finish (the darker color suggests more time on the skins).
Ackerman Cremant de Loire, Brut Rose (NV: $20) Pinkish salmon colored with a raspberry nose, the wine had a huge mouse. On the palate, the wine was dusty dry with light strawberry on the finish.
Langlois Chateau Cremant de Loire Brut Rose (NV: $25). This was an 80 percent Cab Franc, 20 percent Pinot Noir Cremant. Light pink in color, with an apple nose. The wine was dry but very fruity with sugar plum and berry flavors. This is a friendly wine that would be a great party choice.
On the still side, Joseph Bellot Le Boisclair, (2015: $18). Light red in color with a very clean nose. This was not your grandfathers Cab Franc. The palate was very clean with good structure and a lot of raspberry and strawberry.
There was no pepper to this wine which was more like a new world Bordeaux blend with a ton of fruit and less of the stronger notes that can be found in Cabernet Franc varietals.
Donatien Bahuaus, Les Boires (2014: $15): Ruby red in color the wine had a raspberry nose with some laundry mat notes. Peppery up front this wine had a light structure and was very drinkable with a green pepper finish.
Cabernet Franc is a versatile wine that unlike its Bordeaux cousins has both high acidity and fairly soft tannins. This gives it the structure to stand up to foods like bar-b-que and stews but the fruitiness to be paired with red sauce Italian dishes or even stronger fish.
One tip that I heard was that Cab Francs green pepper and herbal notes make it really good for pairing to the herbs like oregano, pepper, thyme or sage.
Why Love the Loire!
The wines of the Loire Valley are incredibly diverse, is difficult to run the gamut of the wines in the region. The happy hour tasting alone included 8 different wines and that only covered a small part of the variety. These are wines that are easy to pair, reasonable to purchase, easy to drink, are moderate in the level of alcohol, and that require little aging and care. They make excellent house gifts and party choices.
For more information on the wines and on the region visit: http://loirevalleywine.com/
social tags: @LoireValleyWine
This report is by the AdviceSisters’ wine & spirits columnist, John R. Dunham