By Rick Riozza
Alors! The 2015 French Open Tennis Tournament, one of the world’s four Grand Slam tennis championship events, is now underway at Roland Garros Stadium in Paris. It’s the only Grand Slam event played on a clay surface—which is the slowest tennis surface and thus makes for the most physically demanding matches.
And for the last couple of weeks, we’ve been living the wine tennis dream of getting to France a bit early and enjoying the famed wine country that are only hours outside of Paris before settling in to watch the matches at Roland Garros.
Our last two articles have included toasting at the Champagne region and cheering and grubbing at the ancient and idyllic Chablis vineyards. Now our final jaunt is over to the lovely Loire Valley whose wines, chateaux and castles have captivated us with its beauty and history. Those interested, click on The Vino Voice category at the top of the page to catch up.
We’re now venturing west to the Loire River, which is the longest river stretch in France which commences in the country’s mid-section and flows 600 miles out to the north Atlantic.
It could be said that the Loire is “the garden of France”, and the home of some of the most delicious, delectable, enjoyable French wines. The debate will always continue with French wine aficionados as to the world’s favorite. However the Loire wines have lightness, airiness and freshness that put a spring in the taste buds of those who love powerful Rhônes, the contemplative Bordeaux, or the elegant Burgundies.
There is no such thing as a heavy Loire or high-alcohol Loire wine. To those in the know—now you being one them—these wines are always the smart sexy choices for quaffing in the desert.
To a lot of wine lovers, the Loire region can be daunting with all the different regions and wine names. But in terms of grape varieties the Loire is easy, and I’ll discuss three of the four that dominate the area: Sauvignon Blanc, Chenin Blanc, and Cabernet Franc.
With prices remaining reasonable for most Loire wines, back in the States, this is a great time to discover crisp, grassy Sauvignon Blanc; versatile Chenin Blanc in all its styles; and the surprising richness and age worthiness of the Loire’s Cabernet Francs.
So we’re heading over to the Loire’s interior Sancerre and Pouilly Fumé region. Two hours from Paris or a three hour’s drive from Chablis. This is the spiritual heartland of Sauvignon Blanc. From here, the grape has spread around the world, bringing its unforgettable grassy and citrus aromas, flavors of grapefruit and gooseberry to millions of wine drinkers. The region produces the finest and most complex Sauv Blanc in the world.
Sancerre is bright; Pouilly Fumé is generally richer, more perfumed a product of the greater amount of clay in the soil. It is exuberant, bright, great with food and as an apéritif. You’ll find Sancerre all over the Paris bistros and at Roland Garros.
S’il vous plait—it’s time to learn about Chenin Blanc. It may well be the most delicious wine you’ve never had. Most of the stuff made in California can only hint of what the wine is really about. It’s versatile because it can produce so many styles of wine: sparkling, dry white, medium-dry white, sweet white, late-harvest white. It’s dynamic because what can be produced varies each vintage.
So proceeding west on the Loire River, the next big wine area is Vouvray which probably produces the best Chenin Blanc in the world. Good Vouvray is out-of-the-gate charming, firm, and delicate, exhibiting a nutty, floral, honeyed character whose rich flavor is balanced by palpable acidity and bracing minerality.
And the best cuvées from the best vintages will provide some of the most haunting, complex, long-lived white wines produced anywhere. Chenin Blanc, done well, is one of the most seductive wines on earth. Those with ears and palates, take heart.
A great wine recommendation is the Domaine des Baumard, Coteaux du Layon, owns a very fresh lively style, with zippy acidity enlivening the apricot, white peach, green plum, and quince flavors. The floral-tinged finish plays well and intertwines with the lasting fruit.
The pricey Quarts de Chaume, late harvest Chenin Blanc, is one of the most delectable sweet wines in the world. Those who claim to hate “sweet wine” are incredibly missing out here. I have to perform figurative dentistry to get diehards to even just taste this wine. Once they do—and are amazed—I make them pay up!
A bit further west is the region of Saumur, with two types of wine to try: The one style is white sparkling—fines bullets, as they call them in the Loire. This is Champagne in miniature, but made with Chenin Blanc—the grand houses, the miles of cellars carved out of the tufa and the same méthode traditionelle for making its Saumur and Crémant de Loire.
The other wine is red—from Saumur-Champigny and close-by Chinon. The grape is Cabernet Franc. This is the red wine of the Loire. They are smooth, opulent sometimes, yet always with the acidity and freshness that are the true hallmarks of Loire wines. Aromas of tobacco, spice and violets; delicious raspberry and black currant fruit flavors.
L’Open français est arrivé !! Hey! We’ve got to get back Paris—the French Open is already afoot!! We’ll complete the Loire tasting after the championships. But now we’ll be enjoying “le hamburger” or “le hot-dog” with a nice glass of wine on an acre of clay. Tennis everyone?!