April 11 marked my first somewhat intensive sampling of wine from the Loire Valley.
You remember my last column — about the fact that I toured the Loire Valley years ago — focused on castles and not the world-class grape varietals that have made that area famous, along with the “Game of Thrones”-style chateaux populating the region.
I started my education into the styles of wine offered in Loire at Spring to Loire 2019.
While the event provided mostly the low-price spectrum of what Loire sells, it gave me an introduction to the more prominent grapes grown there.
The two main red wines from Loire are cabernet Franc and pinot noir. The wines of these grapes poured at the event were not particularly distinctive. Cab Franc was better represented, with wines that allowed it to be seen as an alternative to cabernet sauvignon but a bit gamier in style. The pinots were fairly missable.
As expected, the stars of the show were the whites.
The first level were wines made from melon de Bourgogne grapes. Stephen Reinhardt, a reviewer for Robert Parker’s Wine Advocate, wrote in 2014 about the poor reputation Melon de Bourgogne suffers.
He said, “The muscadet (a more common name for melon de Bourgogne) has always been under the influence of négociants. This was originally a good thing, but the dynamic changed when the focus shifted to bulk sales, which require a simple, uniform product.”
And that is what we found at the event. The wines were bland with little character. Something similar to what happened a few years ago when most California chardonnay tasted like a stick of butter had been fermented with the grapes. Now, California winemakers have gotten past that, so maybe the same might happen in Loire.
I really looked forward to sampling both chenin blanc and sauvignon blanc. Chenin had good coverage in California in the ’60s and ’70s, but most of those vines are gone now, replaced by more popular varietals. But, just because it’s not widely planted here does not mean it’s not excellent wine.
South Africa makes outstanding chenin blanc, as do a few producers here in California.
Terry and I enjoy a high-quality chenin, because it boasts layers of flavors of lemon and grapefruit with a bouquet reminiscent of honeysuckle and citrus with a long, balanced finish.
We found some fine examples of chenin from the Loire Valley, including Guilbaud Freres La Lanterne, that exhibited some of these characteristics.
A good sauvignon blanc should have a nose of tropical fruit and wet gravel, with complex tastes of stone or citrus fruit and grass, featuring a buttery texture and a long finish. Several importers poured a quite tasty sauvignon.
In addition to having some delicious wine, I always enjoy these events because of the wine folk we encounter. These included Monsieur Pierre Truyoo of Tru-Wines LLC. Fascinating guy, and he knows Santa Clarita as he’s been selling to Juan Alonso at Le Chene for years.
So, do yourself a favor and explore some excellent white wine from France’s Loire Valley.
Carl Kanowsky is an attorney, a fledgling baker, an enthusiastic cook and an expert wine drinker.