Thursday, July 12, 2012

A Blind Tasting of Loire Wines

I love blind tasting wines with good friends. We always end up having great discussions, bouncing guesses off of each other, debating, thinking... drinking. The theme for this blind tasting was "Loire varieties," meaning the wines could come from the Loire Valley in France, or they could be grown elsewhere but made from Loire varieties (chenin blanc, sauvignon blanc, cabernet franc, melon de bourgogne). Except for the few noted wines, these were all tasted blind, and I wrote down my scores and guesses before the wines were unveiled. There were some seriously crazy wines in this tasting, but also a lot of straight-up delicious ones. This event served as yet another reminder of why I love wines from the Loire. They're so versatile, so full of unique flavors and minerality. And the New World versions did pretty well, too.


Whites and a Rosé

2011 Marc Plouzeau Sauvignon Touraine "Les Devants de la Bonnelière" - France, Loire Valley, Touraine
Very pale color in the glass. Big nose of flowers, lemons, minerals and sea shells. The palate shows tart lemons, lots of minerals and focused acid. It's very precise, with solid length on the finish. Tasted blind, guess: 2010 Sancerre. I was happy to see this was a Marc Plouzeau, as I've been a fan of his wines. This is a great summer bargain, and as my guess showed, it performs well above its price point. (88 pts.)

2010 Domaine des Aubuisières Vouvray Cuvée de Silex - France, Loire Valley, Vouvray
Aromas of oil, apricot, a bit of nuts, and some herbs (sage?). The palate starts off quite rich, with lots of peach. It transitions from tangy lime and margarita to minerals. There's a thickness to the palate (higher alcohol?), but the acid keeps it balanced. Guess: South African chenin blanc. (85 pts.)

2011 Clos Roche Blanche Pineau d'Aunis Touraine Rosé - France, Loire Valley, Touraine
I tasted this blind and as soon as I took a whiff, I knew it was from Clos Roche Blanche. There's an earthiness, a natural, dirty component to all of this producer's wines, and I recognized it right away. It shows a pretty light salmon color in the glass. On first pour, this wine smells like musk, pepper and wild strawberries. Over time it opened up to show cinammon candy, dried leaves and a hippie incense sticks. The aromas are complex and volatile, shifting with time and air. The palate shows zippy acid, and the flavors explode with tobacco, dandelion greens and minerals. This wine is insane. I give it serious crazy points, but I also really enjoyed drinking it. (90 pts.)

2009 Domaine de l'Ecu (Guy Bossard) Muscadet de Sèvre-et-Maine "Expression de Gneiss" - France, Loire Valley, Pays Nantais, Muscadet de Sèvre-et-Maine
Aromas of oil, dried pear, lemon and a bit of wax. The palate starts of smooth and plump with green apple fruit and lemons, then transitions to a real zingy acid. Flavors of lemon and a hint of herbs made me think sauvignon blanc. Tasted blind, my guesses for this were all over the place, but I finally guessed this as a Northern Italian sauvignon blanc. Turns out this is a really unique muscadet with a range of interesting flavors. Solid stuff. (87 pts.)

2005 Domaine de la Pépière (Marc Ollivier) Muscadet de Sèvre-et-Maine "Trois" - France, Loire Valley, Muscadet de Sèvre-et-Maine
Medium yellow color with thick legs. Some sweet apricot and honey on the nose, underlined with some lemon zest and citrus. I also get a really yeasty aroma, almost like a Champagne. The palate starts of big and full, with apricot, lemon rind and grapefruit flavors. There's a solid dose of acid and a streak of minerals. Sea shells and salt carry the finish, which is long and delicious. Tasted blind, I guessed this as a muscadet that spent some serious time on the lees. It's not as precise and steely as some of Pépière's other muscadets, and it's quite rich, but it's undeniably delicious. This wine has the stuffing to age another five years at least. (90 pts.)

2007 Celler Escoda-Sanahuja Conca de Barberà "Els Bassots" - Spain, Catalunya, Conca de Barberà
What an absolutely insane wine. The only thing remotely comparable to this wine is chardonnay from the Jura, but this wine is crazier than any Jura wine I've had. It's unfiltered for sure, showing a smoky apricot color in the glass. Right out of the bottle this wine reeks of cheese rind, campfire, charred peanuts and wax. It smells like it was fermented in one of those ancient open-topped cement containers. On the palate, this wine is even weirder. Very tangy acid, which I like. Flavors of roasted nuts, english breakfast tea and onion grass. No joke, this wine is a medley of bizarre flavors. I tasted this blind, and knew it was some sort of crazy natural chenin blanc. Go figure, it's from Spain. It's almost like a Nicolas Joly, but with a bit less nerve. Thanks, Brett, for bringing this. It's a wine for the open-minded, experimental palate, but I can understand how a lot of people would simply pour out this wine. Some of the tasters did just that. (88 pts.)

2009 Domanine Bonnet-Huteau Muscadet de Sèvre-et-Maine Sur Lie Vieilles Vignes "Goulaine" - France, Loire Valley, Muscadet de Sèvre-et-Maine
This wine was not tasted blind, but I like to think I would've guessed it as a muscadet because it's just so classic. Aromas of lemon-lime, sea shells, white flowers and a bit of potpourri. The palate is zippy with acid, showing lots of lemons, melon rind and even a bit of pineapple. Focused, mineral-driven, yet creamy at the same time. Gorgeous finish of limestone and sea salt. This wine will improve with a few years, but it's so clean and refreshing right now. (89 pts.)

2008 Cullen Wines Sauvignon Blanc/Sémillon Cullen Vineyard - Australia, Western Australia, Margaret River
Almost clear straw color in the glass. Aromas of almonds, creme brulee and a bit of musk. The palate starts of plump with green apple and pear fruit, then a rush of lemon zinger tea and herbal greens sweeps in. Searing acid on this wine, but its complemented by an oily finish. Tasted blind, I had a really hard time figuring out what the hell kind of wine this was, but I ended up guessing a new world chenin blanc. Thanks, J, for always bringing really cool Australian wines to our tastings. (88 pts.)

This has been one of my favorite dessert wines, year-in,
year-out. It beats a lot of Sauternes at three times the price.
2004 Domaine des Baumard Coteaux du Layon "Clos de Sainte Catherine" - France, Loire Valley, Coteaux du Layon
Gorgeous apricot honey color in the glass with big legs. The aromas are so sexy: apricot, white peach, some lemon oil. With time the wine showed more wax and floral aromas. The palate starts off thick and creamy with lots of apricot, peanuts, orange rind and a dose of brisk lemon. With time the acid came out more, balancing the flavors, but this is definitely a rich and luscious wine. Lovely lemon candle and sweet apricot on the finish. This was the wine I brought and I was really pleased with the way it showed. I'd love to taste this again in 10 years because it has so much complexity to unpack. (92 pts.)


2006 Pride Mountain Vineyards Cabernet Franc - California, Sonoma County
Black-tinged purple color with thick legs. Aromas of cherry pie, sweet berries and lots of toasty oak. The palate is goopy with berry fruit, cheesecake topping and toasted marshmallows. The tannins themselves taste sweet. The alcohol is a bit bothersome and there's not nearly enough acid to keep it balanced. Tasted blind, guess: Virginia cabernet franc. Sorry, Pride, but this wine needs less sugar, more acid and more personality. (82 pts.)

2009 Yannick Amirault Bourgueil "La Petite Cave" - France, Loire Valley, Bourgueil
Big vibrant purple color. The aromas are thick and savory, with black cherry, potting soil, chewing tobacco, olive tapenade. The palate is rich and compact, demonstrating its youth. Dense tannins, gushing black cherry fruit. Black olives and iron linger on the finish. I tasted this blind and knew it was a Yannick Amirault Bourgueil because I've had so many of them. Amirault has such a great combination of dense fruit and hints of herbs and spices, especially in the 2009 vintage. This is a wine that would appeal to a wide array of tastes. I really think it needs at least two or three years of age before it shows its best, and it could easily age for 8+ years. (91 pts.)

2009 Domaine Guion Bourgueil "Deux Monts" - France, Loire Valley, Bourgueil
This wine was not tasted blind. Aromas of sweet black cherries, green olives and a bit of tilled soil. The palate demonstrates fine tannins, tangy cherry fruit and a bit of mocha. It's very silky and easy to drink, but by no means simple. A really yummy cabernet franc. (87 pts.)

2008 Gramercy Cellars Cabernet Sauvignon Columbia Valley - Washington, Columbia Valley
Based on color and aromas alone, it's clear we're dealing with a Washington State wine. Screaming purple color. Aromas of sweet cherries, bright blueberries, dried leaves and baker's chocolate. The palate is juicy with bright cassis fruit, accented by blueberry and a bit of mocha. Despite the richness of the fruit and the sweet tannins, this wine comes off as balanced, elegant and seductive. The finish is long and full of flavor. Tasted blind and because this was a Loire variety tasting, I guessed Washington State cabernet franc. It was interesting to have a cab sauv thrown in, and I'm glad Gramercy got some representation at this tasting, as I've enjoyed all of their wines that I've tasted. (91+ pts.)

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