Misfits of the Loire
June 3, 2016 3 Comments
A good wine student can most likely give you an excellent overview of the wines of the Loire. Perhaps it would go something like this:
The Pays Nantais is the westernmost region of the Loire Valley. It is adjacent to the Atlantic Ocean and overall the coolest area of the Loire, focusing on dry white wines produced using the Melon de Bourgogne grape variety. The majority of the wine here is produced in one of the four AOCs bearing the name “Muscadet.”
Moving inland, the Anjou-Saumur region focuses on white wines, both still and sparkling and in various levels of sweetness, produced from Chenin Blanc. Still reds, still rosés, and some sparkling wines are also produced in Anjou-Saumur, primarily using the main red grapes of the area–Cabernet Franc, Pinot Noir, Gamay and Côt (Malbec). Moving further east, the region of Touraine produces white wines using Chenin Blanc, but further inland as the soils and climate evolve, the focus moves to Sauvignon Blanc. Red wine and rosé is produced here as well. The easternmost region of the Loire, referred to as the Eastern Loire or Upper Loire, focuses on crisp whites made using Sauvignon Blanc; a few Pinot-Noir and Cabernet Franc-based reds are produced in the Eastern Loire as well.
So how did our wine student do? Pretty well, I would say. That’s a nice overview of the Loire!
However…if we want to dig a bit deeper, we will learn that the 300 mile-long Loire Valley wine region actually contains close to 50 AOCs and 5 IGPs, and among them over two dozen grape varieties are grown and made into Loire Valley wines.
Here are a few that I found that produce unique wines using grapes that are (somewhat) unusual for the Loire Valley. I like to call these wines “Misfits of the Loire” (in the most endearing use of the term, of course).
Cour-Cheverny AOC: The Cheverny AOC is tucked into the easternmost part of Touraine, just south of the Loire River. The subregion of Cour-Cheverny (named for a tiny commune with around 2,000 inhabitants) is, in turn, tucked into the southeast part of the Cheverny AOC. Here you’ll find the only Loire Valley plantings of the Romorantin grape variety (and, perhaps the only Romorantin vines left in France). The Cour-Cheverny AOC produces dry to off-dry wines.
Romorantin is a white grape variety closely related to Chardonnay–its parentage appears to the be same as Chardonnay (Pinot X Gouis Blanc) however, the “Pinot” in the case of Romorantin is not Pinot Noir (thought to be the parent of Chardonnay), but rather a rare Pinot mutation known as Pinot Fin Teinturier—making Romorantin and Chardonnay something akin to step-sisters whose fathers were fraternal twins (thank goodness we’re talking about grapes).
Cour-Cheverny was promoted to an AOC (from its former VDQS status) in 1993. It currently has just under 180 acres (73 ha) of vines, all planted to Romorantin. Dry wines produced in the Cour-Cheverny AOC tend to be light-bodied, crisply acidic, and lightly aromatic with aromas and flavors of citrus, green apple, and peach. Richer, off-dry wines–some of them lightly affected by botrytis–can have a waxy texture along with flavors of tropical fruit and honey.
Pouilly-sur-Loire AOC: The Pouilly-sur-Loire AOC actually occupies the same location as Pouilly-Fumé (which might be called its “much-more-famous brother”). As all good wine students know, Pouilly-Fumé produces crisp, dry, white wines from 100% Sauvignon Blanc grapes. The Pouilly-sur-Loire AOC, in contrast, produces dry white wines using 100% Chasselas–a grape mostly known for its (likely) origin near Lake Geneva as well as its widespread use in the wines of Switzerland. Chasselas is currently grown throughout France, although it is usually used for table grapes or grape juice. It is, however, an allowed grape in the Alsace AOC (albeit typically used in blends) and Vin de Savoie AOC. Known as Gutedel, it is also grown in small amounts in Germany and Austria.
The wines of Pouilly-sur-Loire AOC are the only AOC wines in the Loire allowed to use the Chasselas grape variety. Pouilly-sur-Loire wines are somewhat rare, but Domaine Saget makes a version described on their website as “pale gold with hints of yellow, aromas of white fruit, plum, and almond; pure and crisp with mineral notes.”
Touraine Noble-Joué AOC: The Touraine Noble-Joué is a rosé-only AOC tucked in between two tributaries of the Loire River—the Cher and the Indre–just south of the town of Tours. Rosé-only AOCs are not uncommon in the Loire Valley–others include the AOCs of Rosé d’Anjou, Cabernet d’Anjou, Cabernet de Saumur and Rosé de Loire. However, the Touraine Noble-Joué AOC in unique in that it requires the wines to be produced using a blend of the “three Pinots” – and one of them is white.
The required blend for Touraine Noble-Joué AOC is as follows: a minimum of 40% Pinot Meunier, a minimum of 20% Pinot Gris, and at least 10% Pinot Noir. No other grapes are allowed.
The wines of the area also have a long and interesting history. It was a favorite of King Louis XI of the House of Valois, who ruled France from 1461 to 1483. However, as the town of Tours began to grow and spread into suburbs, the vineyards gave over to housing, roads, stores, and cafés. In 1975, primarily through the efforts of vigneron Jean-Jaques Pierru (of Jean-Jacques Sard Jérémie Pierru), the remaining 30 ha of vineyards in and around the town were saved, and the wine brought back into style. Touraine Noble-Joué was awarded its AOC status in 2001.
Technically considered a vin gris (per the Cahier des Charges), Touraine Noble-Joué AOC has been described as pale, pinkish-grey in appearance with aromas of cherry and strawberry. The wine tends to be light-bodied and crisp with flavors of cherries, red plum, flowers, and berries; followed by a hint of minerality on the finish.
- Robinson, Jancis, Julia Harding and José Vouillamoz: Wine Grapes. New York, 2012: Harper Collins Publishers
- Robinson, Jancis and Julia Harding: The Oxford Companion to Wine, 4rd Edition. Oxford, 2015: The Oxford University Press
The Bubbly Professor is “Miss Jane” Nickles of Austin, Texas… firstname.lastname@example.org