Wine column for week of 17 March 2014

We return to the Loire this week. As a region it is not as well known as Burgundy or Bordeaux or Champagne, but it produces a range of excellent wines, many of which are good value for money.
The 2012 Clos de Nouys demi-sec from the Vouvray region is a delightful wine, redolent with aromas of ripe peaches and apricots combined with an underlying sweetness that is never cloying. It is a delicate wine that reminds one of walking near English hedgerows on a sunny day. I recommend drinking it without food, as an aperitif on a warm evening, though it could be consumed with light poultry dishes.
Whites from Vouvray come from the northern centre of France and are made from the chenin blanc grape. But they have a unique French charm that separates them from wines made with this grape in other regions of the world. In South Africa, for example, chenin blanc can produce flabby, uninspiring whites that have little flavour or character. The only thing to recommend those is their low price and cheerful nature.
The Loire Valley is actually a range of regions along the Loire river. It starts near the city of Orleans in central northern France – remember Joan of Arc, the maid of Orleans? – with the regions of Sancerre and Pouilly-Fume and ends in the Muscadet region near the city of Nantes on France’s Atlantic coast. Along the way it includes the regions of Vouvray, Chinon, Bourgueil, Saumur and Anjou.
The Clos de Nouys shows what a quality winemaker can do with the chenin blanc grape. The chardonnay grape is famous for its malleability; that is, the grape is relatively neutral but reflects both the terroir and the techniques the winemaker applies.
We can say the same about chenin blanc, though with chardonnay the artifice often comes from the use of oak which contributes a range of flavours to the wine over time. This sense of development and evolution can be fascinating with chardonnay, especially those from the Chablis and Burgundy regions.
Chenin blanc from Vouvray is made in stainless steel tanks and generally never sees oak. This example was grown on clay and chalky soils which contribute to a sense of roundness in the mouth. It gives a sensation of completeness, as though all edges have been removed and delivers a feeling of lightness and elegance.
Chenin blanc offers a range of characteristics from bone dry to sweet. This is a demi-sec (half dry) style, meaning it offers some sweetness combined with just enough acidity to give a sense of balance.
This chenin would be excellent as an aperitif on a warm evening. Think of it as a wine that stimulates and prepares your palate for dinner.
The reverse applies with the other wine from the Loire this week, the 2011 Les Nivieres from St Cyr-en-Bourg in the Saumur region of France. It needs a reasonably strong meat dish. Wines from this region are made with cabernet franc. Most readers will know that cabernet franc is the minor member of the trio used to make Bordeaux reds.
In Saumur cabernet sings as a regal solist. In this region it has the texture and acidity of fine pinot noir combined with the depth of flavours and tannins of young cabernet sauvignon. Here those tannins are subtle and soft making the wine eminently approachable when young.
The 2011 vintage was difficult in some parts of France but this wine feels rich and ripe. It must have come from a meso-climate near the Loire that is perfect for this grape variety. It bursts with aromas of blackberry, blueberry and spice and these follow through on the palate. Locally these wines are served slightly chilled — half an hour in the fridge before opening — which seems to enhance their flavours, and I would encourage people in Asia to do the same.
This cabernet franc was grown on sand and limestone soils which give it a slight chalky sense on the back palate. The balance of acid, subtle tannins and fruit purrs in the glass like a contented cat by the fire.
As I have said before, wines from the Loire offer better value in general than wines from France’s better known regions. Do yourself a favour and try some.
Words: 698. Find a link here.

Categories: Not home, wine

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