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05.15.2006

Highlights from The Loire Valley Wine Bureau Tasting

loirelogo.gifI really appreciate and applaud the increasing growth in marketing efforts at the level of distinct wine regions around the world. In the last two years, more and more winegrowing areas, big and small, have formed marketing associations, and taken their member wineries on the road so that journalists, members of the trade, and the public can sample a large group of wines. Tastings such as those put on by The Union des Grand Crus de Bordeaux, The New Zealand Wine Commission, The Western Australia Winegrowers Association, The Spanish Wine Trade Commission, etc. have the double effect of effectively marketing the wines and the region to a large population of potential buyers and journalists, and simultaneously teaching people a lot about these wines and the region just by virtue of presenting the opportunity to compare a lot of wines from various vintages at one go.

Certainly such tastings represent a gold mine for enthusiastic consumers, but I can't tell you how many times I've seen folks with nametags from restaurants and wine shops asking what seem to me to be incredibly basic questions at these sort of tastings. My point is not to ridicule these folks or be pedantic, but to point out that even folks who are ostensibly in the wine business learn an awful lot at these sorts of events. The value of a better Loire_1.jpgeducated restaurant serving staff or retail sales force to these wineries and wine regions is inestimable.

These tastings can also be a lot of fun. They're hard work for those of us who are attempting to experience them in depth, but an afternoon spent tasting a couple hundred wines is a bit nicer than pouring twelve cubic yards of cement, obviously.

I can't tell you how excited I was when I heard that the Loire Valley Wine Bureau was coming to town with a group of wines. I really enjoy Loire white wines, and have begun to explore some of the reds as well, but have been doing it on a one-off basis, here and there in the way that most wine consumers do: ordering a bottle or a few glasses at dinner, going to a tasting of a few bottles at a local retail store, etc. My travels in France have not taken me through the Loire yet, though it is high on the (very long) list of French wine destinations. Hence my anticipation of the Loire tasting.

The Loire river is the longest river in France, and remains one of the least dammed and interrupted of all the rivers of Europe. The region known as the Loire Valley is, in fact, many distinct growing regions with extremely different climates as the river flows from its eastern reaches in Sancerre to its mouth in Muscadet. In between these two appellations lay several dozen others, the best known of which are Vouvray, Touraine, Chinon, Bourgueil, Savennieres, Saumur, and Anjou, which along with their fellows make the Loire the third largest region for AOC wines, and the second largest region for Sparkling wines. The Loire is best known for its white varietals, of which Sauvignon Blanc and Chenin Blanc are the most famous, followed by the Melon varietal, which is responsible for Muscadet. loire_2.jpgMuch lower profile (and generally less imported as well) are the regions red varietals, which include Cabernet Franc (sometimes mixed with a little Cabernet Sauvignon), Gamay, Pinot Noir, and here and there a dash of Malbec.

I came to the tasting most hoping to taste a bunch of knockout Sauvignon Blancs and Chenin Blancs of which I found a few, but not so many as I expected. I came with little expectation about the red varietals, other than with a general knowledge that much of the Loire is fairly chilly, making it difficult to ripen most red grapes. Indeed, I found a lot of the red wines to be green and stemmy, but a few simply amazed me, and indicated that a good deal more explanation will be warranted in Bourgueil and surrounding areas. The lack of a large number of amazing wines I attribute mostly to the modest size of this tasting and the selection of the particular producers involved in the trade association (many top producers have no need to join such associations, as their wines are well recognized enough already for their tastes).

One thing the tasting allowed was a very clear comparison between the 2003 vintage and the 2004 vintage, for those producers who brought both wines. 2003 was, of course, the worst heat wave that Northern France has seen in decades, which resulted in a very atypical harvest. Many whites had residual sugar and very high glycerin levels, to my distaste, and many reds which in other years were austere, had a lushness that was very appealing.

As there were a number of wines which hovered around a score of 8 on my scale (Muscadet is only occasionally great, sadly) and it takes me quite some time to transcribe my notes from a big tasting like this, I present below the highlights from the tasting, rather than my complete list of the 152 wines I tasted.

TASTING NOTES:

Sparkling
2000 Château la Touche "Grand Garde" Muscadet, Sevre et Maine. Score: 9.5. Cost: $24.
1999 Domaine des Herbauges "Sur Lie Le Legendaire" Muscadet, Cotes de Grandlieu. Score: 9.5. Cost: $15.

2001 Château la Tarciere "Sur Lie Cuvee l'Heritage" Muscadet, Sevre et Maine. Score: 9/9.5. Cost: ??.
2001 Domaine "Bid'gi" Bideau-Giraud "Sur Lie Acacia" Muscadet, Sevre et Maine. Score: 9/9.5. Cost: 6 Euros.
2005 Domaine des Herbauges "Sur Lie Château de Loriere" Muscadet, Cotes de Grandlieu. Score: 9/9.5. Cost: $12.

2005 Domaine des Herbauges "Sur Lie Clos de la Fine" Muscadet, Cotes de Grandlieu. Score: 9. Cost: $11.
2005 Domaine des Herbauges "Sur Lie Domaine de Bel Air" Muscadet, Cotes de Grandlieu. Score: 9. Cost: $11
2005 Domaine des Herbauges "Sur Lie Fief Guerin" Muscadet, Cotes de Grandlieu. Score: 9. Cost: $12.
2005 Domaine des Herbauges "Sur Lie Moulin d'Argent" Muscadet, Cotes de Grandlieu. Score: 9. Cost: $13.

2004 Château la Tarciere "Sur Lie Cuvee Prestige" Muscadet, Sevre et Maine. Score: 8.5/9. Cost: ??.
2005 Château la Tarciere "Sur Lie Cuvee Prestige" Muscadet, Sevre et Maine. Score: 8.5/9. Cost: ??.
2005 Château la Touche "Cuvee Choisie" Muscadet, Sevre et Maine. Score: 8.5/9. Cost: $19.
2004 Château la Touche "Hermine d'Or" Muscadet, Sevre et Maine. Score: 8.5/9. Cost: $18.

2005 Domaine des Herbauges "Sur Lie Le Clos de la Senaigerie" Muscadet, Cotes de Grandlieu. Score: 8.5/9. Cost: $11.


White
2002 Domaine des Quarres "Les Pierres Noires" Blanc, Anjou. Score: 9/9.5. Cost: ??.
2005 Domaine de Saint Pierre (Prieur Pierre et Fils) Blanc, Sancerre. Score: 9/9.5. Cost: $??.
2005 Le Prieure de Saint Ceols Blanc, Menetou-Salon. Score: 9/9.5. Cost: $??.

2004 La Morandiere Chinon Blanc, Chinon. Score: 9. Cost: 7 Euros.
2004 Domaine de Chatenoy "Dame de Chatenoy" Blanc, Menetou-Salon. Score: 9. Cost: $??.
2005 Domaine de l'Aumonier Blanc, Touraine. Score: 9. Cost: 4.3 Euros.
2002 Domaine des Quarres "Les Graviers" Blanc, Anjou. Score: 9. Cost: ??.
2005 Domaine Philippe Raimbault Blanc, Sancerre. Score: 9. Cost: $??.
2005 Château Favray Blanc, Pouilly Fume. Score: 9. Cost: $??.
2002 Domaine Laporte "La Vigne de Beaussoppet" Blanc, Pouilly Fume. Score: 9. Cost: $21.
2002 Domaine Laporte "Les Grands Rochoy" Blanc, Sancerre. Score: 9. Cost: $23.

2003 Château de Passavant "Mont Chenin" Blanc, Anjou. Score: 8.5/9. Cost: $22.
2004 Château de Thauvenay Vielles Vignes Sancerre. Score: 8.5/9. Cost: $??.
2005 Domaine de Chatenoy Blanc, Menetou-Salon. Score: 8.5/9. Cost: $??.
2004 Domaine de Chatenoy "Pierre Alexandre" Blanc, Menetou-Salon. Score: 8.5/9. Cost: $??.
2005 Domaine des Buissonnes Blanc, Sancerre. Score: 8.5/9. Cost: $16.
2004 Domaine de Chevilly Blanc, Quincy. Score: 8.5/9. Cost: $18.
2004 Eric Louis "Les Affaubertis" Blanc, Pouilly Fume. Score: 8.5/9. Cost: $??.
2005 Domaine Fouassier "Les Chailloux" Blanc, Sancerre. Score: 8.5/9. Cost: ??.
2004 Domaine Joseph Mellot "Le Rimonet" Blanc, Quincy. Score: 8.5/9. Cost: $13.
2004 Domaine Joseph Mellot "Les Thureaux" Blanc, Quincy. Score: 8.5/9. Cost: $19.
2005 Hubert Veneau "Domaine de Ormousseaux" Blanc, Coteaux du Giennois. Score: 8.5/9. Cost: $??.
2005 Hubert Veneau Blanc, Pouilly Fume. Score: 8.5/9. Cost: $16.
2005 Hubert Veneau "Cuvee S" Blanc, Pouilly Fume. Score: 8.5/9. Cost: $22.
2005 J. Mourat Pere et Fils "Collection J. Mourat" Blanc, Fiefs Vendeens-Mareuil. Score: 8.5/9. Cost: 3 to 4 Euros.
2005 Château Marie du Fou (J. Mourat Pere et Fils) Blanc, Fiefs Vendeens-Mareuil. Score: 8.5/9. Cost: 3 to 4 Euros.
2004 Jean Max Roger "Cuvee G.C." Blanc, Sancerre. Score: 8.5/9. Cost: $24.
2004 Le Prieure de Saint Ceols Blanc, Menetou-Salon. Score: 8.5/9. Cost: $??.
2004 Le Prieure de Saint Ceols "Cuvee des Benedictins" Blanc, Menetou-Salon. Score: 8.5/9. Cost: $??.
2005 Les Celliers de Ceres "Elegance" Blanc, Sancerre. Score: 8.5/9. Cost: $??.


Pink
2005 Château Marie du Fou (J. Mourat Pere et Fils) Rosé, Fiefs Vendeens-Mareuil. Score: 9.5. Cost: ??.

2005 Domaine de l'Aumonier Rosé, Touraine. Score: 9/9.5. Cost: ??.
2005 J. Mourat Pere et Fils "Collection J. Mourat" Rosé, Fiefs Vendeens-Mareuil. Score: 9/9.5. Cost: ??.

2005 Domaine de Beausejour Rosé, Chinon. Score: 9. Cost: 5.2 Euros.
2005 Domaine de Saint Pierre (Prieur Pierre et Fils) Rosé, Sancerre. Score: 9. Cost: $??.

2005 Couly Duthiel "Cuvee Prestige" Rosé, Chinon. Score: 8.5/9. Cost: $11.


Red
2003 Domaine de la Chevalerie "Busardieres" Rouge, Bourgueil. Score: 9/9.5. Cost: $??.
2003 Couly Duthiel "Clos de l'Echo" Rouge, Chinon. Score: 9/9.5. Cost: $20.
1996 Domaine de la Chevalerie "Busardieres" Rouge, Bourgueil. Score: 9/9.5. Cost: $??.
2003 Couly Duthiel "Cuvee Crescendo Clos de l'Echo" Rouge, Chinon. Score: 9/9.5. Cost: $40.

2003 Couly Duthiel "Baronnie Madeleine" Rouge, Chinon. Score: 9. Cost: $11.
2005 Domaine de Beausejour "Cuvee Angelot", Chinon. Score: 9. Cost: ??.
2004 Domaine de Chatenoy Rouge, Menetou-Salon. Score: 9. Cost: $??.
2004 Domaine de la Chevalerie "Vielles Vignes" Rouge, Bourgueil. Score: 9. Cost: $??.
1989 Domaine de la Chevalerie "Busardieres" Rouge, Bourgueil. Score: 9. Cost: $??.

2003 Domaine Wilfred Rousse "Cuvee Vielles Vignes" Rouge, Chinon. Score: 8.5/9. Cost: $??.
2003 Domaine de la Chevalerie "Vielles Vignes" Rouge, Bourgueil. Score: 8.5/9. Cost: $??.
2004 La Morandiere "Clos des Marronniers" Rouge, Chinon. Score: 8.5/9. Cost: 13 Euros.
2002 Domaine de la Chevalerie "Busardieres" Rouge, Bourgueil. Score: 8.5/9. Cost: $??.

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