The Wine Cellar: For last of cool weather, try Loire Valley whites
In the far, eastern reaches of France’s Loire River Valley, two appellations, Sancerre and Pouilly-Fumé, produce the globe’s most intriguing sauvignon blanc white wines. Their arresting, yet appealing, aromas, bracing flavors and elegant, dry finishes perfectly complement late spring’s fleeting cool days.
The appellations flank the Loire River that flows placidly by as it has done for millennia. Differences in terroir account for subtleties between the appellations.
In Pouilly-Fumé’s approximately 2,800 acres of vineyards on the river’s right bank, various limestone soils — dark Portlandian, white Kimmeridgian and pebbly Oxfordian — underlie most of the area along with pockets of sand and flinty clay. Downstream, on the opposite bank, Sancerre’s nearly 6,500 acres encompass 14 villages. including the hilltop town that gives the appellation its name. The soils feature greater amounts of chalky Kimmeridgian limestone geology interspersed with gravels and flinty clay.
Both Sancerre and Pouilly-Fumé experience a “continental” climate with hot summers followed by generally glorious, sunny early autumns. Frigid winters give way to rainy, often quite cold springs. Each appellation’s best vineyards lie on sunny, well-drained slopes.
These factors contribute to seductive regional wines that balance enticing ripe fruit and zesty, mouthwatering acidity. To capitalize fully on the situation, growers in both areas have generally embraced organic vineyard practices that minimize synthetic fertilizers and chemical treatments. Upgrades across the area over the past 30 years in winery equipment also have enhanced quality tremendously.
In short, growers in both Sancerre and Pouilly-Fumé have become more focused on placing the sauvignon blanc fruit and its terroir at center stage. Sancerre’s whites tend to have a little more body and richness, whereas well-made Pouilly-Fumé wines often feature more understated fruit with smoky hints.
Enjoy the following wines with mixed greens and fresh goat cheese — another regional specialty — oysters on the half shell, sauteed jumbo scallops and meaty, simply grilled fish such as salmon and swordfish.
The 2013 Domaine Girard Sancerre “La Garenne,” France (Luxury 47676; $24.99) comes from wine growers Fernand and Monique Girard assisted by son Alain. They use fruit grown on a steep, east-facing slope with chalky Kimmeridgian soils.
The wine opens with delicate grapefruit, quince and white-flower aromas. Crisp, citrus flavors balance with bracing acidity and a touch of creaminess. The long-lasting, dry finish has lovely fruity balance. Recommended.
For the 2013 Domaine Masson-Blondelet Pouilly-Fumé “Villa Palus,” France (Luxury 45060 ; $22.99), growers Michelle and Jean-Michel Masson like to say they cultivate their vines like their kitchen garden — without weed killers, insecticides and fertilizers. This sustainable approach delivers flavorful grapes well-reflected in the wines.
The “Villa Palus” blend comes from Kimmeridgian soils on east-facing slopes. The nose’s delicate citrus aromas mingle with subtle smoky hints. Rich, pure grapefruit and melon flavors balance with zesty acidity through the dry finish. The wine embodies confident, restrained winemaking. Highly recommended.
The 2012 Domaine Régis Minet Pouilly-Fumé “Vieilles Vignes,” France (Luxury 48611; $24.99) comes from fruit grown over 22 acres with a mix of clay and flint, as well as the highly prized Kimmeridgian chalk limestone. The latter features fossilized oysters from ancient seas. Régis Minet’s labor-intensive, sustainable viticulture practices express the terroir faithfully and consistently.
Aromas of quince, grapefruit, red currants and white flowers greet the nose. Rich lemon and grapefruit flavors with refreshing mineral notes balance with zesty acidity to frame the fruity, dry finish. Enticing smoky hints complete this wine of delicacy and depth. Highly recommended.
For the marvelously well-balanced 2012 Domaine Hippolyte Reverdy, Sancerre, France (Luxury 48357; $25.99 — limited availability) current winegrower Michel Reverdy works tirelessly in vineyards covering two primary soils. White Kimmeridgian limestone and clay soils produce fruit with zest and depth of flavors. Meanwhile more “pebbly” soils over limestone produce fruity, aromatic grapes with immediate appeal.
Blending the two personalities allows Reverdy to deliver a wine with light, golden color offering understated, yet charming, grapefruit, melon and quince aromas. Ripe grapefruit, white-peach and melon flavors wrap in zesty acidity balancing enticing creaminess. The elegant, fruity finish lingers pleasingly. Highly recommended.
Kudos to Reverdy for keeping his father’s name Hippolyte — one of the coolest “old school” names in winemaking — on the domaine. Reverdy lives in Verdigny — population 281 in 2008.
Dave DeSimone writes about wine for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at [email protected].