Exploring France, the Loire Valley, beginning with Sancerre & Touraine

I will admit that I typically drink domestic wines.  I like to buy local and so I support California Wineries as they are the closest.  I am finding that I want to expand a little and find out how my beloved California varieties compare with the same varieties from their country of origin.  The amazing variety of fragrances and textures that can come from the same variety of grape grown in different soils and climates, then the differences in the winemaking style that can be completely individual or as influenced by an area and the palate of that area’s people.

Today we are exploring Sauvignon Blanc and how the variety expresses itself in the place it is said to express itself best and that is Sancerre in the Loire Valley in France.

The Loire Valley is located in the North West part of France along the Loire River.  It has a cool northern climate similar to Champagne, but is one of the most diverse growing regions in France. The area is known for making straightforward wines that express the terroir.  You will find pure expressions of the grape here.  You can divide the region into 3 broad sections, the west near the Atlantic where you will find Muscadet; the middle where you will find Vouvray; and the east end, which home to Sancerre and Pouilly-Fume.

Our journey with the white wines of the Loire begins here, on the east end of the valley in Sancerre, and then drift a little back toward the middle to Touraine.

Sancerre and Pouilly-Fume come from the eastern end of the Loire.  Sancerre sits on the west side of the river and the vineyards here are on a cone shaped hill with white chalk slopes.  On the other side of the river you will find Pouilly-sur-Loire where Pouilly-Fume is made.  I have heard many tales about the origin of the name Pouilly-Fume; some say the name comes from the morning mists, some say the flint like character in the wine, some for the bloom on the grapes that looks smoky.  While many say that you do get a smokey, flinty character from the Pouilly-Fume wines, most experts cannot tell the wines of Sancerre from the wines of Pouilly-Fume, so when choosing a wine, I went with a Sancerre and then ventured a little further to choose another wine to set it against.

The Sav Blancs from Touraine are decidedly less expensive than those of Sancerre and so one of these went into my basket.

Touraine is located on the east end of the middle part of the Loire Valley.  This area around the city of Tours is known for Cabernet Franc and Chenin Blanc but a good portion of their wine is Sauvignon Blanc.  This area is where the tributaries the Cher and the Indre enter the Loire River.

Domaine Guenault 2012 Touraine Sauvignon Blanc

Domaine Guenault 2012 Touraine Sauvignon Blanc

Domain Guenault is owned by the Bougrier family and is located on the steep slopes over the Cher river.  They are 5th generation negotiants in the Loire Valley.  In addition to this property they have domaine and winery holdings in Anjou and Muscadet.

Sancerre while now thought of as Sauvignon Blanc, also produces Pinot Noir.  In fact before the phlloxera outbreak in the 1860’s, the vineyards here were planted mostly with Pinot Noir and Gamay.  As they replanted the new white Sancerres were considered the counterpart to the simple uncomplicated Beaujolais.  The area of ‘Sancerre’ includes the city of Sancerre and 14 other parishes on the left bank of the Loire.

Christian Salmon Sancerre

Christian Salmon Sancerre

Domaine Christian Salmon has been growing grapes in Sancerre for 6 generations.  The vineyards are located on the finest slopes in Bue, the parish just west of Sancerre.

As to what to pair with these wines?  Sancerre is noted for standing up to bolder flavors and over and over I read that it went well with grilled salmon with mango salsa, so…we picked up some Atlantic salmon and mangos and as it was cold out, I pan seared it.  Also suggested were salad greens and sharp flavors like vinaigrettes and capers, so we had a side salad with those items.   Sancerre and goat cheese was noted as a match made in heaven.  Specifically if you can find Crottin de Chavignol to pair with it.  I could not, but found a trio of goat cheese Crottin.  We popped open the garlic & herb and the Natural cheeses and spread them on Brioche crisps.  These were incredibly tasty with both of the wines.  We were also hungry enough that we added some Thai lime shrimp skewers and vegetable goyza.  Both went fine with both wines.

Goat cheese Crotini and Brioche toast, Thai lime shrimp and vegetable gyoza

Goat cheese Crotini and Brioche toast, Thai lime shrimp and vegetable gyoza

Now to the wines.  In the glass the Sancerre was lighter, almost clear and had a little touch of effervescence.  It was crisp clear and bright with terrific citrus notes.  The Touraine was much more golden in the glass.  It also had a weightier mouthfeel and you immediately got citrus and petrol on the nose.  Petrol, I know…but in a really great way.  Both wines were lovely, each in their own way.  You could tell that they were both Sauvignon Blancs but they still were very different from each other.  I love that the same variety of grape grown just 141 miles away, can be so different in a wine.  Both of these wines are much more subtle than the big brassy Sauvignon Blancs that you get from Australia and I also found them more nuanced than many California Sav Blancs that I know.

Next we will venture further west and enjoy some Chenin Blancs from Vouvray and Savennieres!

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