5 Loire white wines offer taste of ‘Garden of France’
Stepping into a garden on a sunny, breezy April day brings marvelous pleasures for all the senses. Enjoying crisp, aromatic white wines from the Loire Valley — a vast region known as “The Garden of France” — offers parallel pleasures.
Le Jardin de la France, as it is known in French, tracks the course of the Loire River Valley beginning in the middle of France in the region called the Massif Central. The river flows north and northwest past vineyards of limestone and clay in the famed Sancerre and Pouilly-Fumé wine regions. The Loire’s northern pinnacle lies only 80 miles south of Paris in Orléans, a city made famous by the military victory led by Joan of Arc.”
Turning hard to the southwest, the Loire River then widens past the cities of Tours and Angers. Gentle slopes along this long stretch claim innumerable vineyards along with abundant cherry, pear and apple orchards and fields of artichokes, asparagus, leeks, lettuce, strawberries, melons and saffron. Famed châteaus — magnificent, beautiful country castles — also dot the riverbanks. Each grand estate typically incorporates ornate formal gardens overflowing this time of year with aromatic blossoms of vivid yellow, purple and pink.
Finally the Loire River continues majestically westward through the city of Nantes before completing its course in the Atlantic Ocean. The vineyards here feature colorful foliated gneiss and schist rocks interspersed with sandy soils. In total, over 185,000 acres of vineyards unfurl along the banks of the Loire River and its tributaries. The area runs over 630 miles and envelopes 87 distinct wine growing regions known in French as appellations.
Try the following wines for an introductory taste of the Garden of France’s diverse, readily available pleasures:
• The 2017 Château de la Jousselinière, Muscadet Sèvre et Maine Sur Lie, France (PLCB Luxury 74967; $10.99) comes from Chon family which has operated a domaine near Nantes since 1719. For this delightful wine they use Melon de Bourgogne grapes grown in rocky schist and granite soils surrounded by a damp maritime climate. The fruit fermented in glass-lined concrete tanks to capture delicate grapefruit and pear aromas. In the glass, ripe citrus and apple flavors balance with zesty acidity softened by delicious creamy notes. Steamed mussels in a cream and shallot sauce offer the classic paring with Muscadet. Highly Recommended.
• The 2017 Château de Montfort, Vouvray “Demi-Sec,” France (PLCB 8747; $14.99) comes from chenin blanc grapes grown on a beautiful limestone plateau overlooking the Loire River east of Tours. With an average age of fifty years, the vines deliver concentrated fruit made more intriguing by growing in limestone soils over soft chalky bedrock known as tuffeau. The grapes ferment in temperature controlled stainless steel tanks to preserve freshness. The wine’s pale straw color offers ripe peach and apple aromas with light smoky hints. Delicious ripe orchard fruit flavors play with refreshing acidity and just enough tartness to balance a subtle kiss of sweetness in the finish. Pair it with a classic dish as rainbow trout filets topped with a creamy sauce of melted butter, white wine, shallots and capers. Recommended.
• The 2016 Domaine de la Belle Étoile, Sauvignon Val de Loire I.G.P., France (Luxury 73826; $17.99 — available at Centre Avenue Premium Store in Shadyside) comes the Esnou family, fifth-generation growers with a sure hand for producing tasty wines. This bottle comes from Sauvignon Blanc vines grown in clay and sandy soils in Brissac-Quincé south of the Angers. Fermentation in stainless steel tanks renders a wine with fresh, ripe grapefruit, quince and light guava aromas. Ripe, straightforward fruity flavors, bracing acidity and subtle creamy notes carry through the soft, dry finish. Pair it with fresh oysters on half shell. Recommended.
• The crisp and delicious 2017 Vignoble Dauny, Sancerre “Terres Blanches,” France (Luxury 77933; $23.99) comes from arguably the Loire’s best known and most fashionable white wine appellation, Sancerre. The wine also delivers outstanding quality and value especially since it comes from organically grown fruit. The engaging golden color offers bright citrus and herbal notes opening to crisp, full-bodied citrus flavors and a seamless dry finish. Pair it with grilled tuna steaks. Highly Recommended.
• When city dweller Eric Nicholas and his wife Christine started in wine from scratch in 1995, they did not enjoy the advantages of having family vineyards. To compound the challenge, they also chose to work in a then obscure and particularly damp and chilly part of the Loire Valley, Jasnières and Coteaux de la Loir north of Tours. After committing to farming organically and eventually biodynamically, their reputation for meticulous work and delicious wines grew steadily and brought global recognition. The 2016 Domaine de Bellivière, Jasnières “Les Rosiers,” France (Luxury 74967; $39.99) proves the point. The wine comes from hand harvested chenin blanc grapes grown in limestone. Fermentation occurred using only native yeasts, and aging took place in neutral older barrels. The wine’s golden color offers ripe peach, red grapefruit and delicate honeysuckle aromas. Juicy flavors of ripe citrus, peach and a touch of toasted nuts balance with lush acidity carrying the elegant, dry finish. Pair it with scallops and shrimp grilled with a light coating of live oil and Herbes de Provence. Recommended.