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Great White Wines from France’s Loire Valley: Hidden Gems


The Loire rocks. The white wines they make in this part of France are unlike anywhere else in the world. Once you get used to the names, and they’re not easy—Sancerre, Pouilly Fumé, Vouvray, Anjou, Muscadet, Montlouis-sur-Loire and Savennières, to name a few—the rewards are great. There is nowhere else in the world where you can find such consistency in excellence of quality for white wines priced under $30. In the Loire Valley, it’s opposite-world—excellent AND affordable white wines are the rule, overly expensive and elitist white wines the exception.

What’s the catch? Just one, most likely: if you’re a fan of oaky, buttery, big and ripe whites . . . then, sadly, the Loire just may not be for you. The Loire Valley is a place of pastoral serenity, distinguished by the river that runs through it, the long and peaceful Loire. This UNESCO World Heritage site is teeming with grand chateaux and quiet villages that take you back to the Age of Enlightenment. Things are moderate here, as are the wines. Sauvignon Blancs from the Loire are, arguably, the most distinctive in the world—crisp, dry and focused with an unmistakable touch of minerality and acidity which can’t be imitated anywhere else. Even the sweeter wines, those made from Chenin Blanc grapes, have such a personality-driven sense of balance, harmony, brightness and aromatics that you simply cannot compare them to sweet & aromatic white wines from the rest of the world. 

I attended an annual trade & media Loire Valley wine tasting, called “Spring to Loire 2016,” hosted in Culver City, Los Angeles, by the Loire Valley Wine Bureau. It’s an exceptional event to discover hidden gems from small producers in the wine region, some distributed by big name distributors and some sold through tiny, independent operations. It’s a tasting that’s refreshingly attitude-free and chill. When your wine region is largely a hidden gem to the rest of world, a pleasant air of modesty is all part of the charm, just as it is with the region’s wines. Note, I chose to focus on the classic white varieties of the Loire only; it’s worth noting that the region’s Cabernet Francs are very hot right now with the cognoscenti. The following wines reviewed are the ones I selected as the best among nearly 100 wines offered.



PITHON-PAILLÉ “Coteau des Treilles” Anjou 2012

Chenin Blanc | $58 | 95 pts

More expensive than the majority, but a fairly stunning example of how pleasurable, exotic and sophisticated a Chenin Blanc—once upon a time derided as a commonplace sweet wine—can be. A passion project of the winemaker, the fruit comes from very steep slopes, and the mark of terroir is splendid. Starting with a great nose of minerals, mint, honey, Meyer lemon and orange oil that follows through vividly on the palate, all of these bright accents are juxtaposed with a pleasant woodsy undercurrent as well as a note of flintiness and saltiness. An absolute beauty in total harmony.   search   winery   distributor



Sauvignon Blanc | $23 | 93 pts

Raw, natural quality from organically farmed vineyards of a 17th-generation estate, this is Sancerre that is terroir-driven to the max. You’ll want to spend time with this one, it really stands out. Ready for this?—it’s redolent of a jalapeno margarita. Spicy lemon-lime and exotic flair. Unadulterated and uncensored, it’s unforgettably racy and unrelentingly fascinating. Brilliantly handcrafted white wine.   search   distributor


MICHEL REDDE “La Moynerie” Pouilly Fumé 2013

Sauvignon Blanc | $30 | 92 pts

Elegance that jumps from the glass. This is high pedigree Sauvignon Blanc of great character that happens to be very quaffable. There’s complexity and structure here that suggests one might not want to open the bottle right away—three to four years out from the vintage seems to be the right window. Crisp but rich in stone fruit notes and lemony acidity, it’s distinguished by a touch of flintiness, minerality and grassiness. Super solid expression of the Loire.   search   winery   distributor


VINCENT GRALL “Tradition” Sancerre 2014

Sauvignon Blanc | $26 | 92 pts

Pristine, super clean texture and seamless, this is a classic. No oak used at all brings brightness and clarity while a bit of stem inclusion adds slight tannins. Handmade in every aspect, the winegrower is there from the vineyard to bottling. Sauvignon Blanc of excellent structure, chiseled with precision, and of rich intensity of organically farmed fruit. Captures the heart and soul of Loire Valley tradition.   search   winery   distributor



Sauvignon Blanc | $26 | 92 pts

So pretty and just lovely all around. Aromatics abound—orange blossom, acacia, sweet peppermint and herb garden. Weighty and substantial, 30-40 year-old vines bring about robust flavors cleanly delivered and soft on the palate. Graceful and generous, this is the feminine side of Sauvignon Blanc. A spark of bright minerality and acidity on the finish is an energetic reminder that this is white wine that will not be held back or be reticent.   search   winery   distributor


ALAIN GUENEAU “La Guiberte” Sancerre 2014

Sauvignon Blanc | $23 | 92 pts

Enchanting, rich, so pure, clean and vibrant—the quintessence of great wine from a small winegrower off the beaten path that makes a region like the Loire so special. The calcareous clay soil, meaning rich in ancient calcium, and 25-year-old vines make for a terroir-driven Sauvignon Blanc that is both complex and structured. Notes of melon, Meyer lemon, eucalyptus and white flowers are pretty and stylish.   search   winery   distributor


LE DOMAINE SAGET Pouilly Fumé 2012

Sauvignon Blanc | $29 | 91 pts

Honeysuckle and beeswax on the nose segues to a wine youthful in character and brightly focused. Warm, inviting and slightly sweet fruit flavors of mango and ripe peach meet vibrant citrus zest to appeal to the senses. Attractive minerality adds liveliness to the mouthfeel and a stony backbone brings structure. Very classy and sensuous, this is golden-hued wine that wants it both ways. Hard to resist.   search   winery   distributor


DOMAINE VINCENT CARÊME “Les Clos” Vouvray 2010

Chenin Blanc | $26 | 91 pts

Looking for Chenin with a “garagiste” flair? Here it is. A most esoteric Chenin Blanc, very different and a strong personality. The grapes grow on bush vines resulting in more concentrated fruit and a liqueur-like viscosity to its texture. This is a single-vineyard, biodynamic Vouvray made from an iconoclastic, highly contemporary winemaker. Bodacious.   search   winery   distributor


SAUVION Sancerre 2015

Sauvignon Blanc | $25 | 91 pts

Classy and highly pleasurable Sauvignon Blanc, starting from its charmingly fragrant nose of peach and bee pollen, a wine that hits every note just right from flavorful start to finish. 30-year-old vines and classic, fundamental winemaking produce a solidly structured Sancerre with plenty of traditional charm.   search   winery   distributor


DOMAINE DE L’ECU “Orthogniess” Muscadet Sevre et Maine 2014

Melon de Bourgogne | $21 | 91 pts

Seriously structured Muscadet, a rarity, with biodynamic purity and vibrancy. The crystalline focus and clarity of this eminently dry wine truly stands out. This Domaine is a Muscadet specialist and its Orthogniess has intellectual heft, complemented by scintillating notes of pear, toast and yeast. Evocative, as you can almost catch a whiff of the salt of the coastal sea in the wine.   search   winery   distributor


DENIS BREUSSIN Vouvray Sec 2012

Chenin Blanc | $19 | 90 pts

Notes of crisp lemon, green melon and bright and exotic tropical fruit combine with focused acidity and the region’s classic limestone minerality to make a fundamentally delightful Chenin Blanc from a family winery now in the hands of the fifth-generation winemaker. Unassumingly attractive with a handcrafted quality.   search   distributor


DOMAINE DE LA BATARDIERE Muscadet Sevre et Maine 2013

Melon de Bourgogne | $14 | 90 pts

Nothing in the white wine world quite matches the dry, crisp, bright and lively allure of an excellent Muscadet. Surprisingly lengthy with excellent balance, this is a standout in a wine variety that can often come across as one-dimensional and ordinary. Lemon-lime persistence begs for the freshest raw seafood pairing along with a drizzly, overcast coastal setting for just the right romantic atmosphere to enjoy this.   search   distributor



Clos du Gaimont Vouvray 2014, $17
Florian Roblin “Champ Gibault” Coteaux du Giennois 2014, $18
Paul Buisse Touraine 2015, $12
Sauvion Muscadet Sevre et Maine 2014, $12
Sauvion Vouvray 2014, $12


July 13, 2016