When spring and Easter are just around the corner, thoughts in my wine appreciation group inevitably turn from winter reds to lighter wines. I have entitled this selection ‘Up the Loire’ – as the variety of wines, from gros plant at the mouth of the Loire to well beyond Sancerre into the Auvergne, makes this a region worthy of study.
Crémant de Loire – the crémant range of sparkling wines is often dubbed the poor man’s champagne. But this bone dry fizz produced by the traditional “méthode champenoise” is not easily dismissed. It is made from a variety of local grapes grown between Angers in the West and Touraine in the East. Chenin Blanc, with its heartland around Saumur, is the consistent component.
Muscadet-sur-lie – I have chosen a slightly more refined Muscadet in Muscadet-sur-lie (on the lees). Muscadet is, unusually for an “appellation” wine, named neither for a region nor a grape variety.
Recent DNA research has found the Melon de Bourgogne grape used to make it is a close cousin of Chardonnay. Muscadet is most successfully produced towards the mouth of the Loire, providing a good value, clear and often sharpish dry white from “Neptune’s vineyard” – an ideal accompaniment to most simple seafood and fish dishes.
The Loire Valley is not renowned for its red wines, but there are three that deserve a place on any wine rack. Always have available, especially in summer, a bottle of red from the Touraine. Chinon is from south of the river, while Bourgueil and St Nicholas de Bourgueil are from north of the river.
Despite the advice for these wines of “drink youngest available”, a summer with abundant sunshine will result in a more robust wine that will keep. A little local geographical, as well as meteorological, knowledge may also bear fruit. Vines closer to the river, where the soil is more sandy, produce a lighter wine. But, whichever you choose – and don’t overlook Saumur – the wines should be served at “cellar temperature”. If you are eating out, a good sommelier will ensure that you are aware of this.