Sunday, May 16, 2010

The Friday Lineup™ - Loire Valley Report

A weekly commentary on selected wines tasted. All wines are sampled pristine and with food.

Last week, I tasted about 220 wines in the Loire Valley from Muscadet to Sancerre. Here are some wineries and wines that caught my attention. (Sorry that my program doesn’t permit the addition of diacritical marks.)

If it’s Monday, it must be Muscadet…

We start a cool, overcast, rainy week meeting five producers in Muscadet Cotes de Grandlieu at Severine Larcher’s Domaine des Herbauges. I am especially impressed with Domaine du Haut Bourg’s crisp, floral wines and Prieure Royal Saint-Laurent’s complex, long-lived whites. Winemaker Michel Morilleau likes to have his wines get some oxygen to emphasize the floral aspects and uses as little sulfur as possible. (“It makes the wine white, and I hate that!”)

Frog legs from the nearby lac cooked in garlic and beurre blanc are a lunch centerpiece at La Grignotiere in the village of Bouaye.

Afternoon at Muscadet de Sevres et Main is a tasting of very good new and old wines, including a 1997, at Domaine de la Quilla, along with those from Clos de la Houssaie.

But the highlight of the day comes with dinner at La Terrace in Savennieres (sandre with shallot beurre blanc) with several producers. The restaurant has a marvelous view of the Loire, and, within a few square kilometers along the slopes of the river just downstream from Angers, some of France’s best white wines are made. This is also the heartland of French biodynamics, and we are hosted by bio’s always-vivacious Evelyne de Pontbriand of Domaine du Closel, although I must admit that Closel’s wines, with loads of oxygen and dancing on the edges of volatility, are not my favorites from the region. The show-stealers are single bottles from Damien Laureau, Domaine aux Moines and Eric Morgat.

Tuesday in the Anjou hills…

It is still raining and windy when we get to the spectacular Chateau Soucherie, which is undergoing an extreme makeover under new owners, led by charismatic and talented winemaker Thilbaud Boudignon. I particularly enjoy his Anjou Blanc, Savenierres and sweet Coteaux du Layon.

Delicious rare duck breast with a potato gratin highlights the lunch at La Corniche, a roadside restaurant near rural Saint Aubin de Luigne.

We move on to the Cave des Vignerons de Saumur in Saint Cyr en Bourg. Most of the 20-some wines we taste are well-made, affordable-but-not-memorable, everyday regional wines. That being said, I am extremely impressed by the winemaker, young Eric Laurent, who attacks the job of producing wines from more than 110,000 hectares of vines in 4,000 parcels by more than 150 growers. Imagine making critical decisions as an average 800 tons of grapes per day arrive at the winery over a period of four weeks of harvest!

Dinner is at L’Alchemiste, a small restaurant with high standards on a back street in Saumur. Tonight’s food star is a delicious dorade (I think) with small flavorable beans. We are hosted by the big sparkling wine houses – Ackerman, Bouvet, Louis de Grenelle, Langlois Chateau, Blanc Foussy, JM Monmousseau. All produce nice, good-value wines, although some are a bit broad and cling to the palate. None of them blow me away.

Red-Wine Wednesday in Chinon and Bourgueil…

The high points of today are visits to two domaines – Jerome Billard’s La Noblaie in Chinon and Denis Gambier’s des Ouches in Bourgueil. Billard’s rose’ from Cabernet Franc is one of the best I have tasted, and his reds are complex, fruity, earthy and very age-worthy. Gambier’s reds, made in the old limestone caves of the regions, are lovely monster wines in the Medoc manner – huge, complex Cab Francs with loads of tannins, fruit and alcohol that take about six years to come around. He makes different cuvees from the hillsides and “the gravels,” plus a reserve with some Cab Sauv. While most of the reds of the Loire are easy drinking and low in alcohol, those of des Ouches (oooches) shows that the region can produce big wines that are well worth the wait.

At the newly opened La Maison des Vins de Loire in the old section of Tours, we are treated to wines from the seldom-seen appellation of Montlouis. I am especially impression the sparkling Chenin Blanc, Bubulle, and the whites of Domaine de la Taille (Jacky Blot),

Two very good meals today. Lunch at Stephane and Yelena Perrot’s L’Ardoise in Chinon is the best stop on the trip for food, presentation, service and ambience. If you’re touring the region, L’Ardoise is a must-taste. The dishes, served on rectangles of black slate, are much too elaborate to describe in detail, but the foie gras served two ways with a fig ice cream and a beef fillet with a lightly sweet wine reduction sauce are superb today. Dinner at La Theleme in Tours – a lovely, lively city – is also noteworthy, especially the creamy crab wrapped in seaweed with chives.

Ascension Day Thursday at Vouvray…

People actually lived in these caves along the river, even after the richer class started building residences above ground from the stones quarried below.

Today is a holiday in France (the country has an equal amount of holidays and work stoppages, it seems) but the Vouvray producers graciously give up their mornings to treat us to a tasting of Chenin Blancs and lunch in their maze of caves. The wines here are uniformly very good – the sparkling, the lightly sweet whites and, especially, the dry whites. The first three producers I taste are a good case in point of different styles.

Domaine Vigneau-Chevreau wines, a bio producer, are juicy and fruity, yet in balance. Those of Domaine de la Chataigneraie are light and elegant, from sparkling to white table, and those of Domainee de la Fontainerie are very lively and aggressive, great food wines. “I don’t make feminine wines,” says La Fontainerie’s Catherine Dhoye Deruet. Also interesting are the wines of Clos de l’Epinay, Chateau Gaudrelle and Domaine d’Orfeuilles.

In the afternoon, we go up the Cher Valley and then cut cross-country through the hills until we re-enter the Loire near the lovely old hillside town of Sancerre, where we stay the night. Is there a more beautiful visit of towns and rolling hillsides of vines along the Loire? For dinner, there is a lovely mint pea soup with partially dried tomatoes and a crab claw at La Pomme d’Or.

Friday in Sancerre and Pouilly Fume…

The best total portfolio of wines we explore on the visit is at Domaine Serge Dagueneau et Filles in the Pouilly Fume town of St. Andelain, where Valerie Dagueneau takes us through her spectacular array of wines – the Chasselas-dominated Pouilly-sur-Loire, several Sauvignons from Pouilly Fume and three very nice wines from the re-emerging area of Cotes de Charite, until this year known as Cotes de Charitois – a Chardonnay, Pinot Beurrot (Gris) and a very satisfying, gamy Pinot Noir.

After a couple of more stops, we finish at Domaine Fouassier, a 10th-generation producer, at the foot of Sancerre Mountain. The whites all have the best characteristics of great Sancerre – fruit, acid, flowers, complexity – but winemaker Benoit Fouassier, who took over winemaking with his cousin in 2000, reminds us that Sancerre also makes reds from Pinot Noir. And his Pinots are big, chewy and tannic. It also occurs to me that Benoit has the grapes and the guts to do what other winemakers can’t or don’t do – make big, mouth-filling, well-aging Pinot Noirs that are not the least bit feminine, as Burgundies have been characterized for centuries.

And so, as the week on the Loire finishes on, surprisingly, a Pinot high, it’s dozing time on the long ride back to a welcome hotel room at Charles de Gaulle.

Until next time…

Roger Morris

1 comment:

劉KarolR_Sundquis said...

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