The occasional Riesling or Burgundy aside, I’ve been on a huge Loire kick of late. Starting just prior to the last episode of WBW that focused on French Cabernet Franc, running straight through my rather prolix three part story of a visit to Chinon, and continuing right into dinner last night, the wines of the Loire have been keeping me coming back for more. I’m sure the beauty of the region and the experiences recalled from my last trip there have something to do with it. It also doesn’t hurt that the Loire seems to be the hottest bed of innovative and natural wine growers in France. Many Loire wines tend toward naturally low alcohol levels. And it remains one of the few regions where some seriously high quality, age worthy wines can still be found for under $20 a bottle. Above and beyond all of that, I think it’s the incredible diversity and the vibrant, food friendly nature of the Loire’s best wines that really keep me captivated.
Muscadet Sèvre et Maine Sur Lie "Le Fief du Breil," Domaine de la Louvetrie (Jo Landron) 2004
Jo Landron is one of the champs of the natural wine movement in the Pays Nantais, the region at the mouth of the Loire, near the Atlantic seaboard and synonymous with the wines of Muscadet. His 2004 “Le Fief du Breil” is showing just great right now. Its intense, almost saline mineral extract, combined with a marrowy, leesy influence in the mouth made me think of a soft pretzel taken straight from the oven and thrown onto a platter of oyster shells. This is classically crisp and fresh, yet it’s no lightweight. Bracing acidity combines with the wine’s physiological density to provide some serious palate impact. This has a long life ahead of it.
Here’s a side note of potential interest. If you’re keen to find wines made from organic fruit and feel more secure with produce that is certified organic (as opposed to being farmed organically but without certification), then take a look at the small print in the photo of Landron’s label. “Vin Issu de Raisins de l'Agriculture Biologique, Certifié par ECOCERT” means literally “wine issued from organically grown grapes, certified by ECOCERT.” ECOCERT is one of France’s primary organic certification bodies. $14. 12% alcohol. Natural cork. Importer: Martin Scott Wines, Lake Success, NY.
Chinon, Domaine Bernard Baudry 2005
Speaking of modestly priced wines worthy of a spot in your wine closet, the basic 2005 Chinon from Bernard Baudry is a great candidate for mid-term cellaring; that said, it’s hard to pass up enjoying it now. It reminds me an awful lot of the Chinon “Les Graves” of Fabrice Gasnier. That’s a good thing, not just because Gasnier’s basic cuvée is among my long-standing everyday favorites, but also because the similarity speaks to the clear, true expression of terroir in both producers’ wines. Baudry and Gasnier are both located in Cravant Les Coteaux, one of Chinon’s sub-regions located just to the east of the city and just north of the banks of the Vienne. Here again, it’s worth studying the information on Baudry’s label:
Graviers 80% et Argiles de Coteaux 20%
Sols travaillés sans utilisation de désherbants et d'engrais chimiques.
The geological makeup, 80% gravel and 20% argile/clay soils, is pretty much identical to that of the vineyards from which Gasnier’s “Les Graves” is produced. Baudry’s wine is a touch more muscular but both share leafy aromas, hints of red cassis and cherry fruit, crackly acidity and lots of texture. Not big, bold tannins. Just lots of fine grain that gives a really invigorating mouth feel. These wines demand food with their texture. And they blossom in the presence of food, ranging anywhere from salmon to pork and poultry, and from sausages to a local goat’s milk cheese like St. Maure de Touraine. $17. 13% alcohol. Natural cork. Importer: Louis/Dressner Selections, New York, NY.
Touraine "Cuvée Côt," Clos Roche Blanche 2005
My first encounter with the “Cuvée Côt” from Clos Roche Blanche was at François and Manuela Chidaine’s wine shop, La Cave Insolite, during a visit there in early 2004. I brought a bottle home with me, the 2002 I think, and ended up not opening it for quite a while. When I finally did, it made my top-ten list for the year. Just delicious, characterful wine. I’m not sure the 2005 is quite as captivating, though it may get there with time. Either way, it’s tasty as can be right now. Classic Loire Côt (Malbec) aromas of hickory smoked bacon, huckleberries and fresh horse poop. Like with the Chinons above, there’s a nice spine of zesty acidity. The mouth feel is rounder, with broader, rustic tannic impact. This is the bottle I enjoyed with dinner last night, a simple plate of pasta with a tomato and mushroom sauce. Not culturally synchronized, I know, but actually not a bad match. It would be even better with those same mushrooms along with some caramelized onions served over a roast loin of pork. $17. 12% alcohol. Natural cork. Importer: Louis/Dressner Selections, New York, NY.