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Crisp, chilled French whites offer refreshment on hot days

Dave DeSimone
| Tuesday, July 17, 2012, 8:56 p.m.

When summer's heat and humidity reach unbearable limits, enjoy white wines from France's Sancerre and Pouilly-Fumé (pronounced poo-wee foo-may ) appellations. Vignerons in both areas grow primarily Sauvignon Blanc and produce wines with exquisite, uplifting aromas and crisp, mineral laden fruit. Served well chilled, the wines deliver superb refreshment and pleasure.

Sancerre and Pouilly-Fumé face each other on opposite sides of the Loire River in the Upper Loire Valley's remote eastern reaches. Far from the sea's moderating influences, the area's distinctly continental climate brings extremely cold winters.

Short springs with unpredictable frosts follow. Generally hot and sunny summers ripen the vines properly through harvest, which must be timed correctly to avoid damaging autumn rains. The vineyards' proximity to the Loire River helps mitigate the climate's harshest effects.

Soils also play critical roles in determining the terroir in Sancerre and Pouilly-Fumé.

Sancerre's 14 villages fan out over rolling hillsides featuring three overlapping soil types. The most prominent, caillottes, blends well-drained chalky soils with rocky pebbles. Terres blanches soil features clay mixed with white-color Kimmeridgian limestone rich in fossilized oysters. Finally silex — flint soil — makes up the remaining 20 percent of Sancerre's vineyards.

Each soil yields distinct wine styles. And Sancerre producers rarely blend fruit grown on two or more soils.

Grapes grown in caillottes soils tend to yield markedly fruity and plump wines with subtle grassy notes. Wines from terres blanches soils tend toward more elegance with smoky traits. The silex soils typically produce the most austere and noticeably grassy renditions of sauvignon blanc.

By contrast, terres blanches soils with Kimmeridgian, Portlandian and Oxfordian limestone predominate in Pouilly-Fumé's vineyards. The resulting wines generally show more reserved fruit and distinct “gunflint” smokiness. Fumé in French means “smoked.”

Two tasty wines currently available on PLCB luxury store shelves illustrate the influences of terroir.

In the village of Bué, winegrower Emile Balland's family traces its winemaking roots in Sancerre to 1650. Emile carries on the tradition admirably with the 2010 Emile Balland, Sancerre “Croq'Caillotte,” France (Luxury 36385; $27.99).

The wine comes from relatively young vines planted on a steep hillside with excellent sun exposure. According to Balland, caillottes covering the hillside create a formidably rocky surface.

All work on the vines must be completed by hand. This dissuaded other winegrowers from replanting on the site for more than 100 years after the phylloxera epidemic destroyed vines in the late 19th century.

But Balland believed in the site's special traits and replanted vines with the hope of producing outstanding fruit. His wine bears out the hunch.

The shimmering yellow color offers grapefruit and peach aromas with light honeysuckle and grassy notes. Terrific, ripe citrus flavors balance with mouthwatering, fresh acidity. The elegant, dry finish lingers deliciously. Pair it with either oysters on the half shell or grouper baked with a citrus sauce. Highly recommended.

Across the Loire River in Pouilly-Fumé, winegrower Michel Redde, who was born in 1930, decided as a young man to take up his family's traditional profession of tending vines. He slowly added potential vineyard sites and, then, executed the difficult work of clearing and planting vines.

Eventually he installed a tasting cellar named “La Moynerie” and began exporting as Pouilly-Fumé's popularity grew abroad. His son Thierry joined the operation in 1977 and continued changes, such as creating a gravity-based fermentation system.

The latter innovation minimizes manipulation of the wines and preserves the freshness so vital to sauvignon blanc-based wines. More recently, Michel's grandsons, Sébastien and Romain, joined the team and brought new enthusiasm for pursuing natural, organic based vineyard methods. The domain's 100 or so acres — sizeable for the region — incorporate classic terres blanches soils, as well as patches of flinty silex.

With the 2009 Michel Redde et Fils, Pouilly-Fumé “La Moynerie,” France (Luxury 36251; $24.99), fermentation and aging took place primarily in stainless steel and neutral wooden barrels to preserve a classic Pouilly-Fumé expression. Aging on the lees — spent yeast cells — adds subtle creamy notes.

Quince and gunflint aromas greet the nose. Grapefruit and quince flavors balance with delicious acidity and smoky mineral notes through a dry finish. Pair it with fresh goat cheese with walnuts, haricots verts (thin green beans) and vinaigrette. Highly recommended.

Dave DeSimone is a wine critic for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at ddesimone@tribweb.com.

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