Top Picks From the Wine Cellar: Try these 4 Loire Valley reds
Late summer’s sunny, hot days and lingering, warm evenings call out for refreshing libations. Crisp white wines make a good choice, but don’t overlook the delicious, fruity refreshment available from well-balanced reds served slightly chilled.
Consider Loire Valley red wines. They come primarily from cabernet franc grapes (referred to as “Breton” in the Loire Valley). Other less prevalent red-skinned Loire varieties include gamay, grolleau, pinot d’anuis, pinot noir and malbec. All the vines benefit from the region’s diverse and distinctive growing conditions.
Unpredictable spring frosts frequently create soul-searching challenges for Loire Valley grape growers. But beginning near the Atlantic Ocean around the city of Nantes and running eastward up the Loire River to the city of Tours, a relatively mild and sunny climate generally prevails during the core growing season to ripen red-skinned grapes. On the ground, a combination of gravel, sands and clay cover rocky subsoils including slates, schists, volcanic rocks, hard limestone and chalk.
To take full advantage of this distinctive terroir, the best Loire red wine growers work relentlessly to control grape yields while maintaining commercial viability. Their goal is clear: produce top-quality grapes with intriguing aromas, pure ripe fruit and good acidity for freshness.
Once high-quality fruit has been harvested and sorted, then doing the least amount of intervention in the winery becomes critical. Ideally chillable Loire reds ferment with native yeasts rather than commercially engineered yeasts that manipulate aromas and flavors. Also the most gulpable wines receive minimal aging in oak barrels to preserve pure fruitiness.
Because Loire Valley red wines remain relatively obscure in the American market, good values abound on quality wines.
Consider the following tasty bottles:
The 2017 Domaine de la Chanteleuserie, Bourgueil “Cuvée Alouettes,” France (Luxury Code: 77801; $17.99) comes from cabernet franc vines growing on a limestone plateau covered with sand and clay. According to the domaine’s American importer, Kermit Lynch, the location’s direct southern exposure allows the grapes to ripen fully. This maximizes red fruitiness and minimizes the “greenness” that often dominates underripe cabernet franc fruit.
The grapes ferment in temperature-controlled stainless tanks to capture full fruitiness. Aging occurs exclusively in steel tanks as well to highlight the fruit. The wine offers appealing blackberry and floral aromas with a touch of bell pepper. In the glass, juicy red fruit balances with fresh acidity and supple, refined tannins. Delicious and gulpable. Highly Recommended.
The idiom in the name of the delicious 2016 Domaine de L’Enchantoir, Saumur Puy-Notre-Dame “Le Pied à l’Étrier,” France (Luxury 81024, $18.99) hints at the untamed, exhilarating wine to come in the glass. “Le Pied à l’Étrier ” translates to “the foot in the stirrup.”
The wine comes from cabernet franc grapes grown organically in chalky limestone. Fermentation occurred with native yeasts to enable the wine’s natural, authentic personality to unfold. Bottling with minimal additions of sulfites again allows the fruit’s raw, unadorned personality to shine. And shine it does.
Ripe raspberry and strawberry aromas lead the way. Touches of meatiness and earthiness add intriguing notes. Pure, raw red and black fruit flavors unfold on the palate balanced by lively, crunchy acidity and firm tannins. It’s an exuberant, gutsy wine of terrific lingering pleasure. Highly Recommended.
The 2018 Domaine Les Hautes Noëlles, Gamay, Vin de Pays du Val de Loire, France (Luxury 81043; $13.99) comes from a vineyard near the Atlantic Ocean where the Loire River finally empties out. Rather than using cabernet franc, this wine comes from Gamay. The grapes grow organically in sandy soils with mica-schist, a type of foliated rock with colorful quartz and mica.
After harvest by hand, the gamay fruit went through initial carbonic maceration, which is a fancy technical term indicating fermentation occurring in a closed tank. The process captures unabashed fruitiness and softens the wine’s texture. The grower succeeded admirably.
The wine’s vibrant bright red color unfolds red cherry and violet aromas. Juicy red fruit flavors follow with plenty of freshness and a soft, fruity finish with just a touch of fine tannins. Chill it and enjoy. Highly Recommended.
The Loire Valley also offers soft and fruity, yet essentially dry, rosés that deliver tremendous refreshment. Try the 2018 Domaine les Pins, Bourgueil Rosé “Cuvée Les Rochettes,” France (Luxury 76995; $13.99). The fruit comes from the Bourgueil appellation where written records show Benedictine monks systematically cultivating the vineyards as early as 1089. Records from 1152 refer to “Breton” or cabernet franc grapes. This delicious wine comes from 100% cabernet franc grown in gravelly soils.
The lovely salmon pink color offers fresh floral and red fruit aromas. Refreshing strawberry and citrus flavors with medium concentration balance with superb freshness. The wine finishes clean and fruity. Highly Recommended.