Saturday, July 30, 2011

Loire Wines to Remember

It’s hard to describe Loire Valley wines in broad terms. Home to 87 different appellations, the wine region is as expansive as it is inexhaustible. There are so many great wines from the Loire Valley that you could drink a bottle of Loire wine every night for the rest of your life and never get bored. I’ve always found it interesting that wines from the Loire, while ranking up there with the best in the world, are made from grapes you won’t find on many people’s favorite lists: chenin blanc, sauvignon blanc, cabernet franc, gamay and muscadet, to name a few. The distinctiveness of these wines, their diversity, their ability to age and improve for generations, it is all part of what attracts me to this region.

Loire wines have quite a heralded history. Romans planted the first vineyards there during the 1st century AD. The wines thrived in quality and reputation throughout the Middle Ages. In their time, wines of the Loire were even more prized that those from Bordeaux. I fell in love with Loire wines in the summer of 2005, when I started drinking light, refreshing, delicious whites from Muscadet, Anjou-Saumur and Vouvray. As a recent graduate of journalism school, it also helped that many of these wines were surprisingly well-priced. It was a 2002 Baumard Quarts de Chaume, a sweet chenin blanc with impeccable intensity and balance, that really did me in. Since then, I haven’t been able to get enough of the wines of this region.

So I was obviously excited about getting together some great friends and fellow Loire-ophiles for a night of Loire Valley wines. Ripple, a great new restaurant in Washington D.C.’s Cleveland Park neighborhood, was gracious enough to host us, provide us with lots of wine glasses, and deal with our wine-filled rants and outbursts. This tasting was everything I thought it would be. The range of wines we tasted was tremendous, encapsulating most of my favorite wines from the region. So, I’ll get right down to it. Here are my tasting notes (more like love letters) from the evening:

Opening SparklerWe started off the night with this vintage sparkling vouvray from one of my favorite Loire producers.

2002 Huët Vouvray Pétillant Brut - France, Loire Valley, Touraine, Vouvray Pétillant
this sparkling vouvray was a great way to start the evening. gorgeous nose of nougat and lemons. linear palate, great acid and weight. chalky mouthfeel with lush white peach flavors. long finish. (90 pts.)

Sauvignon Blanc
Sancerre has always been my go-to sauvignon blanc, so I was happy to try these two. The Dagueneau was in a whole different class.

2005 Pascal & Nicolas Reverdy Sancerre Vieilles Vignes - France, Loire Valley, Upper Loire, Sancerre
the first sauvignon blanc of the night was a solid one. lemon and grapefruit on the nose. quite rich on the palate with white peach and green apple. creamy mouthfeel. this one didn't have as much acid as i like in my sancerres, but it was still a great wine. these grapes saw some great sun in 2005, and it shows in this wine. (88 pts.)

2007 Gerard & Pierre Morin Sancerre Le Chêne Marchand - France, Loire Valley, Upper Loire, Sancerre
this sancerre was a bit closed down at first, and showed hesitant aromas. with time, this opened up to show lemon and flowers and seashells. the palate was surprisingly rich, almost plump on the palate. this is a really intense wine. i love how the acid and minerality comes out on the finish to leave the palate feeling cleanses. this is a really good wine, and it got better over the course of the evening. (89 pts.)

2007 Didier Dagueneau Pouilly-Fumé Pur Sang - France, Loire Valley, Upper Loire, Pouilly-Fumé
didier dagueneau (may he rest in peace) was an artist of the sauvignon blanc grape. this is one of the most beautiful sauvignon blanc i've ever had. the nose shows rich mango fruit, lime and honey, but also some chives and minerals. plush on the palate, but lively. the balance is superb. tons of fruit, but also rosemary, jalapeno and slate. long finish. this is a fantastic wine. (93 pts.)

Chidaine Montlouis-sur-Loire Clos de Breuil Mini Vertical
Chidaine is a great producer of chenin blanc. It was fun to taste the differences among these three vintages.

2007 François Chidaine Montlouis-sur-Loire Clos du Breuil - France, Loire Valley, Touraine, Montlouis-sur-Loire
this was the first chenin blanc of the night and the first of a mini-vertical tasting of the chidaine's clos du breuil vineyard. at first i was wondering if this was an off bottle because the nose showed some strange elements: a little bit of must and aroma that reminded me of a sheep. that blew off after a bit, and the palate showed no signs of a fault. smooth fruit flavors: bruised apple, honey and some white tea. less acid than i was expecting. (87 pts.)

2008 François Chidaine Montlouis-sur-Loire Clos du Breuil - France, Loire Valley, Touraine, Montlouis-sur-Loire
this was much different than the 07. the nose is a burst of energy: grapefruit, flowers, honey. such a complex nose. the palate shows a lot creaminess and balance. the flavors of honeycomb and peanut brittle are rich and delicious. but there's also great acid that keeps it balaned and fresh. what a beautiful wine. (91 pts.)

2009 François Chidaine Montlouis-sur-Loire Clos du Breuil - France, Loire Valley, Touraine, Montlouis-sur-Loire
the nose on the 09 showed more subtlety than the 08. aromas of sea salt, soap and white flowers. ripping acid on the palate, much more so than the 08 and 07. a little too much acid for me, but this went very well with the food. lemon, grapefruit and saline flavors and a medium finish. (89 pts.)

Cabernet Franc
These three wines took the show. They demonstrate the versatility and ageability of high-end Loire cabernet franc. The Clos Rougeard 06 was an eye-opening wine and an incredible experience.

1996 Domaine du Chêne Arrault Bourgueil Vieilles Vignes - France, Loire Valley, Touraine, Bourgueil
i was doubtful of this cabernet franc because of the age on it, and i'd never heard of the producer. i was pleasantly surprised to find this wine both mature and lively. the nose is a melange of pickles, bell peppers, salted meat and blood. you've got to like cab franc and those aged aromas, or else this wine isn't for you. the palate is still tannic and the acid is incredibly high. i was impressed by the firm structure of the wine. gorgeous mature flavors of dried flowers, olives and some clove. (90 pts.)

2004 Clos Rougeard (Foucault) Saumur-Champigny "Clos" - France, Loire Valley, Anjou-Saumur, Saumur-Champigny
graphite, olives, cedar and sweet currants on the nose. very aromatic. the palate is fresh and lively with grippy tannins. currants and plum skin flavors backed up by interesting leather and iron flavors. this wine is dense. tim opened it the day before and it was still a tightly-wound ball of tannins, fruit and acid. this wine is very good, but will get better with a few more years in the bottle. (91 pts.)

2006 Clos Rougeard (Foucault) Saumur-Champigny Le Bourg - France, Loire Valley, Anjou-Saumur, Saumur-Champigny
during a night of great wines, this stole the show. so much more complex than the 04 clos rougeard "clos." the nose is just orgasmic. aromas ofsweet cranberry sauce, green olives (the kind with pimentos in them). the palate is immaculate. the gorgeous mouthfeel, the silkiness of this wine, it's really incredible. wild strawberry, bay leaf, olives and plum flavors lay atop a bed of dense tannins and fresh acid. probably one of the best (if not the best) cabernet francs i've ever had. the finish is endless. this wine showed perfectly, but this wine could gain in complexity for a very long time, and it would still be strong and lively. it wasn't just me that loved this. it was probably the wine of the night for nearly everyone. we were all dumbfounded. (97 pts.)

Palate Cleansers
These three wines were thrown together in between courses. All chenin blancs, all solid stuff.

2003 Nicolas Joly Savennières Roche aux Moines Clos de la Bergerie - France, Loire Valley, Anjou-Saumur, Savennières Roche aux Moines
this wine needs a disclaimer. this is an extreme wine. it's a freak of biodynamism, nobel rot, an amazing vineyard and a freakishly hot vintage. that said, i love it. this is a wine for nerds. rich golden color. aromas of orange rind, melon, diesel and nougat. the first flavors that hit my palate were peach nectar and leather, like someone spilled juice on a leather jacket. really crazy stuff in here. flavors of dandelion weeds, white cherries and honeycomb cereal. despite its richness, it maintains a lively feel with the acid and minerals. (90 pts.)

2009 François Chidaine Vouvray Les Argiles - France, Loire Valley, Touraine, Vouvray
bitter lemon on the nose, some chalk as well. the palate is bright and fresh with great seashell and saline flavors. this is an intense and compact wine that needs some time to show its full potential. but it's mouthwatering right now. (89 pts.)

2010 Domaine des Aubuisières Vouvray Le plan de Jean - France, Loire Valley, Touraine, Vouvray
this vouvray had a great nose of minerals and sea salt. zesty on the palate. very fresh, dry and delicious. salt and lime on the finish. this was great as a palate cleanser, but also went very well with a variety of cheeses, as it had the acid and freshness to cut through some creamy and strong cheese. (89 pts.)

Dessert Wines
At the end of a great night, these dessert wines were just incredible. Almost too much at this point. Again, the Dagueneau takes the cake.

2003 Domaine des Aubuisières Vouvray Le Marigny - France, Loire Valley, Touraine, Vouvray
rich golden color. gorgeous, thick nose of honey, apricot and lemon oil. the palate is sweet, but balanced, with creamy apricot fruit and a whipped honey flavor that lingers onto the finish. (90 pts.)

2003 Château de la Genaiserie Coteaux du Layon Sélection de Grains Nobles St. Aubin Les Simonelles - France, Loire Valley, Anjou-Saumur, Coteaux du Layon
oily nose, fresh apricots and honey. delicious sweet apricot and honey. the noble rot really shows here. very rich and sweet, but balanced. long finish.

2005 Didier Dagueneau Jurançon Les Jardins de Babylone - France, Southwest France, Jurançon
this was a perfect way to end the evening. what an incredible dessert wine, truly stunning. hugely aromatic with peach, pineapple, pear and clovers. the balance on the palate is amazing. so rich, but equally matched with acid and minerality. lush honey, peach nectar and green melon flavors. saline and seashells on the back end of the palate, transitioning into a nearly endless finish. unbelievable. (96 pts.)

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