Loire Valley wines are like the countryside from which they come: calm, understated and beautiful. They have none of the pomp and circumstance that surround great bottlings from Bordeaux, Burgundy or Napa. The Loire produces easy-drinking, affordable wines to be enjoyed.
And what variety! Name a style, and the Loire Valley has it: reds, rosés, dry whites, sweet whites and sparkling bottlings. It’s home to two of the world’s most famous grapes, Sauvignon Blanc and Chenin Blanc. If you want to find the archetype of these two grapes, look for wines from Sancerre and Anjou, respectively.
This month’s reviews touch on this wide variety of styles. There’s also particular emphasis on a style that should be more popular: Muscadet. These light white wines are from vineyards close to the mouth of the Loire, and therefore, to the influence of the Atlantic Ocean.
They’re light in alcohol, eminently fruity (always with an intriguing touch of pepper), and can be enjoyed young, though they do have the ability to age. It’s hard to ask for more when a fresh, crisp apéritif is needed, or if you seek a wine to go with Dungeness crab or oysters.
Recent reviews have also featured another style that deserves more recognition: reds. The Loire’s red wines mainly come from Pinot Noir in the Sancerre region, or from Cabernet Franc in Anjou and Touraine. The Pinots are lighter and certainly less expensive than Burgundy, and they’ve improved impressively in recent years. Meanwhile, Cabernet Franc, with its smoky, red fruit character, is a discovery for lovers of St-Émilion in Bordeaux.
Also worth mention are the Sauvignon Blanc wines from places other than Sancerre or Pouilly Fumé. Intriguing areas to look for delicious Sauvignon Blanc include Quincy, Reuilly and Touraine. These bottlings are lighter than Sancerre, crisper maybe, often more herbal and closer to New Zealand examples.
For those of us who love to discover new regions or rediscover old friends, there’s a wealth of Loire Valley wines to please. Good drinking.
Recommended Loire Valley Wines
Classics: Sancerre and Pouilly Fumé
Domaine Roger & Christophe Moreux 2015 Les Monts Damnés (Sancerre); $35, 93 points. This is a tropical-fruit-flavored wine with only a hint of more herbal flavors. It is ripe and juicy with sweeping fruitiness as well as acidity. The texture, mineral in character, comes from the chalk of the vineyard—one of the top sites in Sancerre. Drink this beautiful wine from 2018. Michael Corso Selections. Editor’s Choice.
Domaine Gérard Fiou 2015 Le Grand Roc (Sancerre); $40, 93 points. Still young, this rich, lightly honeyed and intensely ripe wine is beautifully structured. It has swathes of apricot, citrus and gooseberry fruits as well as a dense concentrated texture. The wine is certainly in need of aging. Drink from 2019. David Bowler Wine.
Château de Tracy 2014 101 Rangs (Pouilly-Fumé); $80, 94 points. From old vines grown on flinty soil, this is the top wine from this major estate. Its intensity and sophistication are immediately obvious, with ripe tropical fruit giving way to a spicy, peppery character. However, it is still young and should not be drunk before 2020. Martin Scott Wines. Cellar Selection.
Areas to look for: Quincy, Reuilly and Touraine
Henry Marionnet 2016 Vignes Françaises Sauvignon Blanc (Touraine); $20, 90 points. This wine comes from ungrafted vines, planted in 2000, a rare phenomenon because of phylloxera. It may be because of that origin, that the wine has its own creamy intensity or it may just be a fine wine anyway. It is rich and full of creamed apples and finely balanced acidity. Drink now. Martine’s Wines.
Domaine du Coudray 2015 Une Pointe d’Authenticité (Quincy); $25, 90 points. From La Pointe, a small parcel of old vines, this is a full ripe wine. It has apricot and mango fruits and is vinified using natural yeasts, making it rich and generous. The wine is ready to drink. Savio Soares Selections.
Domaine de Reuilly 2015 Les Pierres Plates Sauvignon Blanc (Reuilly); $20, 88 points. The wine is packed with crisp herbal fruit. Its acidity and its green-fruit character are finely balanced and softened enough to have become very drinkable. The aftertaste is cool and refreshing. Kermit Lynch Wine Merchant.
Les Frères Couillaud 2016 Château de la Ragotière Sélection Vieilles Vignes Sur Lie (Muscadet Sèvre et Maine); $16, 92 points. Old vines, up to 60 years old, are the basis of this concentrated, ripe and intense wine. It is impressive and tightly wound, with layers of rich citrus fruit and a chalky texture. This is still a little young, so drink from 2018. Vineyard Brands. Editor’s Choice.
Véronique Günther-Chereau 2012 Gorges (Muscadet Sèvre et Maine); $21, 92 points. Gorges is one of the recently created village crus or village appellations in Muscadet. The wine has richness and a dense character not always found in Muscadets. While it has some age, which has softened the intense fruit, it is still crisp, fruity and ripe with apple, lime and spice. Drink now. Peter Warren Selections.
Domaine Salmon 2016 Vieilles Vignes Sur Lie (Muscadet Sèvre et Maine); $15, 90 points. There are old vines behind this wine with its pepper aroma and its concentrated full ripe fruitiness. Crisp while also full bodied, this has intense white fruit and citrus flavors. It is a rich wine that will be ready to drink from 2018. CBL Wine Company. Best Buy.
Domaine Amirault 2014 Le Val Renou (Saint-Nicolas-de-Bourgueil); $45, 94 points. Named after the caves where the estate’s wines are aged, this is the vineyard’s top wine. Brilliantly rich with firm tannins and a smoky character, the wine is still young and will need considerable aging. With its blackberry fruits, considerable acidity and a firm aftertaste, the wine needs to age until 2021. Integrity Wines LLC. Cellar Selection.
Alphonse Mellot 2014 En Grands Champs (Sancerre); $112, 94 points. From old vines planted in a single vineyard, this is a spectacular red. It has the crisp acidity of the cool-climate Sancerre, but it also has the weight and ripeness of a fine Burgundy. The wood aging has left a spicy toasty edge to the beautiful cherry fruits and acidity. It could age for another year to be at its best. Drink from 2019. Elite Wines Import. Cellar Selection.
Domaine du Petit Clocher 2015 Cabernet Franc-Cabernet Sauvignon (Anjou Villages); $17, 91 points. This blend dominated by Cabernet Sauvignon comes from schist soil on the plateau above the Loire river. It benefits from a warm vintage to give a rich character as well as some firm tannins. The balance between fruit and structure is just right. Although the wine is young, it will mature quickly, so drink from 2019. Kinson The Future of Wine. Editor’s Choice.