The Loire Valley — France’s hidden wine gem

The Chateau de Chambord is located in France’s Loire Valley. Photo courtesy of Carl Kanowsky.

Back in 2011, I was wine stupid.

Sure, I knew about some of the better producers: Mondavi, Piero Antinori of Italy and the Rothschild family of France. I also knew about appellations: Bordeaux, Napa and Tuscany, but I had not even scratched the surface.

And, I was too ignorant to appreciate that.

In 2011, my youngest son, Scott, was finishing up a semester in Brussels. He didn’t realize that he needed his parents to help get him home. So, Terry and I flew to his rescue. My only concern was his well-being — our going to Europe had nothing to do with my bride and I experiencing Holland, Belgium and France on the way to picking him up.

Part of that journey included two days in delightful Amboise in the lovely Loire Valley, which is about 150 miles southwest of Paris.

Boy, we saw the sights, which included some breathtaking castles, like Chateau de Chambord.

What I failed to understand was that, besides chateaux and rivers, I was in the heart of a world-class wine region. More than 185,000 acres are dedicated to vines.

The Loire River bisect the town of Amboise, France.

Many of the most renown appellations include Chinon, Anjou, Touraine, Vouvray, Pouilly-Fume and Sancerre. While Cabernet Franc does well here, the stars are two ranking whites: Chenin Blanc and Sauvignon Blanc.

Now, these are wines that you can set aside not just for years but for decades.

With a climate not unlike the Champagne region and north of Burgundy, Bordeaux and the Rhone Valley, the question every year is whether and when the weather will get warm enough to ripen the grapes. But like those folks from Minnesota can tell you, it’s always something of a gamble.

If the year is too cold and wet, the wine will be thin. But with good sun and rain at the right time, gorgeous wine will result.

For instance, Robert Parker described the 1994 Pierre Boullay Sancerre Chavignol (a Sauvignon Blanc) thusly: “It represents the essence of the varietal and terroir. Full bodied, strikingly pure and rich, this is a wine of magnificent power, extract, balance and precision.”

And Wine Spectator had this to say recently about the Saumur White Clos des Carmes Brézé 2014 from Domaine Guiberteau (a Chenin Blanc): “(W)ith some air, honeysuckle and salted butter flavors emerge, leading the way to roasted pineapple, mirabelle plum and burnt brown sugar notes. A flash of ginger zips through on the long, savory finish. This offers a lot.”

So, on April 11, I attended a Loire tasting from more than 80 producers. Prior to the event, I hoped to make amends for being wine stupid in 2011 and missing out on such an opportunity.

I will report back my findings.

Carl Kanowsky is an attorney, a fledgling baker, an enthusiastic cook and an expert wine drinker.

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