Buying French wine can be daunting. The name of the grape is not seen on the bottle. There could be the name of the village or vineyard on the bottle. None of which probably helps many people here in Canada. But with perseverance and a bit of knowledge you can learn a bit about a wine region, such as the Loire Valley and the grapes they use, so you can make a better informed decision of what you would like to buy.
Let me introduce you to the Loire Valley. It is located south of Paris, in a valley with the Loire River running through it, that extends from the coast on the west, inland about 280 km. The climate ranges from cool coastal to warm continental, which gives this region great latitude in the types of grapes grown and wines produced. They are the top AOC (Appellation Control) region in France for producing white wine and second largest producer of Rose AOC wines.
You can divide the Loire Valley into 4 sections; starting at the Atlantic coast, you have the Nantes Region, where 95% of the wines are white and made with the Muscadet grape (FYI the grape is actually called Melon de Bourgogne; Muscadet is the name of the wine produced, but most people call it Muscadet). Muscadet wine is known for its salty tang, which people attribute to being close to the coast, and also has flavours of apples and citrus. The wines do not have strong flavours. Sometimes the wine makers will let the wines age on their lees over the winter to add some extra complexity and texture. You can pair seafood, such as oysters, fresh or baked, seared scallops, or a goat cheese salad for example with this wine.
Moving inland you next have Anjou + Saumur, that produces almost 50% pink wines, 27% red, 16% white and 10% sparkling wines. The main white grape is Chenin Blanc and red grape is Cabernet Franc. Chenin is a very food friendly white wine. It can be made as a dry table wine, but also is made into sparkling wine and into fortified wine. It is very versatile. It has higher acidity with flavours, depending on the summer temperatures, of green apple, peaches or tropical fruits. It also can show off minerality and flowers. The still table wine pairs well with fresh seafood, smoked salmon, salad with chicken chunks, a light seafood pasta, pork belly and more. Cabernet Franc is one of the parents of the Cabernet Sauvignon grape. It is not a heavy or tannic as the Cabernet Sauvignon Sauvignon grape. It is well-known for its characteristic green pepper or cedar aroma/flavour. You also can get aromas and flavours of cassis, plums, and raspberries. This wine pairs well with dishes that have herbs, which accentuate the herbal character of the wine. Grilled tomatoes with basil, roasted pork chops with rosemary are two examples. You do not need to serve with a herbed dish. Roast duck or lamb would also pair nicely with Cabernet Franc.
Touraine is the next wine region in the Loire Valley. This one produces 51% red, 27% white, 17% sparkling and 5% pink wines. The main white grapes are Chenin Blanc and Sauvignon Blanc. The main red grapes are Cabernet Franc and Gamay Noir. I’ve taken you through the Chenin Blanc and Cabernet Franc grapes already, so I will just now cover Sauvignon Blanc and Gamay Noir. Sauvignon Blanc is perhaps more well-known to you as coming from New Zealand, but France is its heritage. These wines are not necessarily as herbal and bracing as you would get from New Zealand or other New World producers. A Touraine Sauvignon Blanc would have citrus, grass, gooseberry and light mineral aromas and flavours. Seafood is a great pairing for Sauvignon Blanc. Gamay Noir is a low tannin red that has very tasty red summer fruit flavours, like strawberries and raspberries along with cherries and sometimes flowers. An easy to drink wine that you want to give a slight chill before serving to show it off to its best. I think more people should try this grape. It can pair with seared tuna or salmon, salad with chicken chunks, or seared duck breast, and more.
Lastly, furthest inland you have the Centre-Loire region which produces 82% white wine from Sauvignon Blanc, and 13% red wine from Pinot Noir. They also produce 5% pink wine. Within the Centre-Loire you have the Sancerre and Pouilly Fumé sub-regions that are known for their Sauvignon Blanc. Sancerre may be the world’s most celebrated place for the Sauvignon Blanc grape. The soil imparts a minerality and crisp acidity, along with the characteristic citrus and grassiness you associate with Sauvignon Blanc. Pouilly Fumé’s smoky, “gun flint” aroma is its unmistakable trademark. This aroma adds more complexity to the wine, and maybe adds a range of other dishes you may want to pair it with such as a grilled pork chop, bacon wrapped scallops, in addition to fresh seafood. Pinot Noir is a light bodied, lower tannin red grape that you probably associate with Burgundy, but this region is not too far north from Burgundy. Look for red fruit flavours, soft tannins and medium acidity. Pinot Noir pairs with grilled duck breast or salmon, rack of lamb, ham, Brie cheese and more.
A Few Wines From the Loire Valley Paired With Food
I was invited to a Media tasting of Loire Valley wines at The Loft at Earls Yaletown with the tasting led by Daenna van Mulligan. Below you will find a few of the wines with my tasting notes, along with a food pairing we enjoyed with them.
Monmousseau Touraine Cuvee JM Brut 2011 ($23.99) – This sparkler is made with 100% Chenin Blanc grapes and is made according to the Methode Traditionnelle (Champagne method). This wine had a bright medium lemon colour. Citrus, toast, lees and some saltiness on the nose. Medium body; dry. Very citrusy followed by green apples and lees. A hint of toasted oak and some nuttiness too. Tiny bubble. Rating:
Touraine Sauvignon Domaine ROC de Chateauvieux 2015 ($17.49) – Lighter pear skin in colour. Very herbal nose together with lots of passion fruit aroma. Dry, medium body and medium plus acidity, with light minerality. Gooseberries and pine needles on the palate. Mouth watering acidity and green fruit on the finish. Rating:
To these wines we had some calamari. Citrus always goes with calamari, but as well the acidity and bubble from the Monmousseau cleaned up the oil from these deep-fried squid rings. The Domaine Roc de Chateauvieux was a very complementary pairing. Either choice, a tasty way to enjoy calamari!
Pouilly Fumé Domaine Serge Dagueneau & Filles Tradition 2014 ($31.99) Although I did not catch any flintiness on this particular Pouilly Fumé, it had a very interesting nose, with aromas of mint, flowers and chalk. Medium bodied, high acidity, but still a silky mouth feel. Thee is also a salty minerality to this wine. Black currant leaf, white flowers and some pepperiness on the palate. A complex wine. Rating:
We paired this wine with an arugula salad with goat cheese and toasted almonds. I really enjoyed the pepperiness of the arugula, the toast from the almonds, and the salty creaminess of the goat cheese, which were all mirrored in the wine.
Hureau Saumur Champgny Tuffe 2011 (~$30) – 100% Cabernet Franc. This wine was medium translucent garnet in colour. Light light sour cherries, vanilla, and cedar aromas. Medium minus body, dry, with light cedar/capsicum flavour, followed by red cherries, woodiness and some pepper. Medium tannins. Dry finish with pepper and cedar flavours on your tongue. Rating:
A salmon fillet with roasted carrots and a pesto sauce made a great pairing for this wine. The sweetness of the roasted carrots was very complementary to the wine, and the pesto sauce brought out the herbaceousness in the wine. Being lower in tannins, the red fruit in this wine came out and complemented the subtlety of the salmon.
Thank you to The Loft at Earls Yaletown for providing us with the excellent food pairings.
My Trip to the Loire Valley
I thought besides trying Loire wines, you may want to visit the region. I did, and following are a few articles that I penned while I was there in 2011. Enjoy!