Archive for January, 2017
Here is a tasting we put together for our staff & other young sommeliers on wines from France’s Loire Valley.
For this tasting, we divided the Loire Valley into 4 main subregions–Nantes to the west, & then heading east from there–Anjou (colored in fusha); Touraine (colored in red wine stain) & finally the Central vineyards, located in the far eastern stretches of this map.
We then set up the tasting order by grape varieties & comparing them, which we hoped would provide additional insight.
FIRST FLIGHT–Red wines. The 1st two wines were produced from the Cabernet Franc grape variety, one from Chinon & the other from Bourgueil across the river.
2014 Chinon, Charles Joguet “Cuvee Terroir”. Charles Joguet produces several different bottlings of Chinon. We chose the “entry” level bottling, named Cuvee Terroir”–a blend between a parcel from Beaumont-en-Véron with the alluvial soils of the left bank of the Vienne River, along with press wine from all the other cuvées of the domaine. This wine deftly displayed very typical qualities of Chinon Cabernet Franc–lots of transparent red fruit, intriguing spice, notable minerality & the distinct “green thing” with higher levels of acidity, bordering lean for most Californian wine palates & low to medium tannin levels. Tasters could readily see the difference between what the Loire Valley typically offers in comparison to what one would find from Bordeaux’s Right Bank or California. We then poured the 2014 Bourgueil, Chanteleuserie “Beauvais” 2014. The vines for this cuvee was planted in 1971 on clay limestone & fermented & aged in old oak. The most obvious difference to tasters is how much more this wine had to say, not so much in loudness or ripeness, but really more about intricacy & detail. Most would surmise this is from the older vines & the layering created by the length in the older oak barrels. This side by side taste certainly made one remember that not all Cabernet Francs are created equal. We then poured a Pinot Noir from Reuilly, Denis Jamain 2014 from the Central Vineyards to the east. This small artisan estate is quite renown for their Kimmeridgian limestone soils. The 4 hectare parcel where this wine was grown has a little more clay to the mix & the vines average 25 years in age. It was quite evident that the tannin structure was very different from the first 2 Cabernet Franc based reds & it was definitely lighter in color. This wine was also not as forthcoming–much more delicately nuanced, pretty & ethereal with more minerality than fruit. It was also much lighter in weight & mojo.
SECOND FLIGHT–2 white wines from the Nantes.
The first wine was the 2014 Muscadet Sevre et Maine, Bregeon “Sur Lie”. When I was growing up in this industry, I was told, if the wine is really neutral tasting with a prickle of bubbles, it is probably Muscadet. It is probably because we were able to only find commercial grade examples AND ones that were not shipped in temperature control or from a fresh new vintage. Times have thankfully greatly changed & my new favorite is from Andre & Michel Bregeon. In a region where sandy; fossilized oyster shells are common, the Bregeons grow their wines in gabbro soils. They also wild yeast ferment & age their wines on the lees in underground, glass-lined cuves until bottling. As pure & typical as can be. They also produce a tiny bit of Gros Plant du Pays Nantais in a small ¾ of a hectare parcel, also of gabbro soils & aged for 18 months on the lees. We thought, this would provide an interesting comparison
THIRD FLIGHT–2 Sauvignon Blancs from the Central Vineyards.
I was once told, this winegrowing features a collision of 4 different main soil types. Therefore understanding what soil type your vines grow in, will help you better understand the resulting wine. The 2014 Reuilly, Denis Jamain “Les Pierres Plates”, for example, “is an ancient winemaking village that today has only about 300 acres in vines. Our bottling, Pierres Plates, is from a specific vineyard with Chablis-like soil full of chalk, fossils and sea shells. Try to imagine Sancerre grown at Chablis. The fruit is lively, with white flower perfumes, citrus and minerality. It has finesse and precision”. The 2015 Pouilly Fume, Regis Minet “Vieilles Vignes” —in comparison comes from a prized vineyard which sits at 750 feet elevation & has scattered pieces of flint in addition to the clay limestone soils. This gives their Sauvignon Blanc a very different, more pronounced presence & broader paint brush stroke.
FOURTH FLIGHT–2 Chenin Blanc based white wines–1 from Touraine & 1 from Anjou.
We began with the 2012 Jasnieres, Pascal Janviers. It’s not often that we run across a Jasnieres, especially a good one, so we were thankful that Brian brought us this one to share. Jasnieres is from the northern reaches, along the Loir tributary & generally regarded as the coolest of the subregions. Clay, limestone, sand & flint soils, Pascal farms 66 different parcels (a total of 9 hectares). A very different take on Chenin Blanc. In comparison, we followed that with the 2008 Savennieres, Chateau D’Epire, a very different take on what Chenin Blanc can be. It took me a very long time trying to understand what Savennieres wines want to say. I find the wines to be so severe, very austere, hard & masculine, often unforgiving in its youth. The nose is quite unique in its blend of honey, beeswax, floral, flinty/matchstick nuances. Savennieres is located in the Anjou sub-region & the top soil is blue-gray slate which lies atop sandstone & slate. With some bottle age, however, the nose can become glorious & the mouthfeel much more luscious texturally. Eventhough we poured one with some bottle age, I would say, it REALLY needs much, much more. This wine really does need LOTS of time to resolve itself. Wow! What a difference–the same grape variety, grown in relatively close proximity–resulting in such VERY different wines????
FIFTH FLIGHT–2 Chenin Blanc whites from Vouvray (in Touraine) & the standout Champalou winery.
Here is yet 2 other examples of what the Chenin Blanc wants to say. We start with the 2015 Vouvray, Champalou. This is to me, the very best of the Loire Valley has to offer—such, mesmerizing purity, remarkable lightness on the palate, wonderful ethereal-ness/minerality, seamless texture & a precise, delicious, sweet-sour edge. The 2015 Vouvray, Champalou “La Moelleuse” is in comparison, a late harvest wines–produced from grapes which are sorted by hand in order to best select botrytized berries & the ones with the largest concentration of sugar from raisining (passerillage). The level of botrytis in the grapes used to make this wine depends on the vintage. Definitely not as severe or hard as some of the Coteaux du Layon wines can be.
Hopefully a tasting like this gives participants a base to work from. The first goal was to show tasters what I think are “good” wines. Secondly, hopefully one can now ask better questions moving forward.
Thank you all for coming & sharing!
A fun way to better understand the world of wines is through comparative, side by side winetastings. One example would be to do side by side tastings featuring wines from the Old World & wines from the New World.
Examples of the New World include wines from California, Washington, Oregon, New Zealand, Australia, Chile & Argentina. Often these countries label their wines by the grape variety—Chardonnay, Sauvignon Blanc, Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot and Malbec for instance.
In comparison, examples of the Old World would include wines from France, Italy, Germany, Austria, Spain, Greece and Portugal. Their top tier wines are usually named after the place where the grapes are grown—Pouilly Fuisse, Chianti Classico and Piesporter Goldtröpfchen for instance.
To better understand this concept, think about the Kula onion. There is something special about the area of Kula on Maui which results in a special onion. Neighboring Makawao or the rest of Maui for that matter, the onion is not quite as special. Well, that’s kind of how it works in the Old World with wines. Please remember they have had centuries of finding those special places which result in unique wines.
So, an interesting comparison, for instance, would be to taste a New Zealand grown Sauvignon Blanc (2013 Mohua “Marlborough”) next to a Sauvignon Blanc from France’s Loire Valley (Domaine du Salvard Cheverny).
I find the Mohua to smell of all kinds of exotic fruit nuances—melons, kiwi, ruby grapefruit and even guava/passion fruit. The fruit also carries through to the taste with a lip smacking, uplifting lemon/lime kind of crispness which really can get the digestive juices flowing.
In comparison, the Cheverny (the name of the village it is from) seems so light in color, almost water looking. The nose is quite deceptively and unexpectedly explosive, also displaying lots of fruit nuances with a much stronger mineral component (think of wet rocks). The wine has an understated and remarkable intensity/concentration to the taste without any sense of heaviness and is very long on the palate. I also love how amazingly light this wine is on the palate.
Now here is the kicker to me and how tastings like this can help tasters.
New Zealand has made quite the reputation world wide for their Sauvignon Blancs. Where there used to be only a few renditions available retail here in the Islands, now there are so many choices today. The challenge now becomes to find the good ones, especially at affordable prices. Here is one worth searching for.
On the other hand, who ever heard of Cheverny? And, how many people run to the store to buy the latest vintage? Having said that, Cheverny helps me satisfy my sense of adventure and discovering something new and good! The soils for this bottling is meager sandy and clay and the climate cool, all which translates in strong sense of place in this wine. Furthermore, the Loire Valley of France, just so you know, is where Joan of Arc did her crusades and where Leonardo Da Vinci chose to be buried. This estate was founded in 1898, through five hardworking generations of the Delaille family. So, besides sense of place, there is also history, culture and heritage involved here, which find so intriguing and interesting as this helps to make the wine what it is. AND, all of this at under $18 a bottle!
Another interesting comparative tasting would be to taste the Ernesto Catena Cabernet Sauvignon “Tahuan” side by side with the Vin de Pays d’Oc Rouge “Les Traverses de Fontanès”.
The Tahuan bottling is the wine project of Ernesto Catena, the son of iconic Argentina mogul Nicolas Catena. The vineyards lie high in the foothills of the Andes Mountains and are organically farmed. How can one not love the elegance, class, seamless texture and tastiness of this wine?
In comparison, how many readers ever heard of or even know what Vin de Pays d’Oc Rouge “Les Traverses de Fontanès” means? I would have asked something along those lines until I visited the estate to see the vineyards and tasted their wines. There is nothing fancy or “trophy” about this small, family owned domaine located down in southern France. This is the work of a young couple, farming and producing small amounts of wines how their families did before (except they now organically and biodynamically farm) to make a living to raise their 2 young children. What struck me most of our visits there was how I could smell the intoxicating sun baked rocks and wild shrub and wild herbs which surround the vineyard. And, then to smell them again in the finished wine reminds of their strong “sense of place” presence in the wine’s core. I didn’t mention that this wine is 100% Cabernet Sauvignon (40 year old vines) on purpose, because this wine is not at all about a grape variety. It really is about a sense of place and a family who lives and is part of that sense.
There are many different levels one can create with side by side tastings. Most people try to find wine they prefer. One winner, one loser. In each of the duos above, I instead look for “good” wines, which have something to say in their own way. AND, when takes a closer look at the prices, these 4 wines do so while greatly over delivering quality for the dollar.