My Love-Hate Relationship with Loire Whites – French #Winophiles
Warning: This is a rant, but it does have a happy ending. I hope you’ll read on.
One-Two Punch Knocked Me Out
In preparing for our French Winophiles virtual visit to Touraine in the Loire, I was hit by a double dose of love-hate for Loire Valley whites. First, I must say two things:
- I’m a fan of natural wines in all their forms. I love traditional AOC wines made with minimal intervention. Low impact farming, careful cellar work, bravo! I’m even a fan of the weirder approaches, which usually are labeled as Vin de France or table wine, as they buck the classification system. Even if funky, they are fun to experience.
- I am a fan of sweet wines, especially as apertif or dessert.
Unfortunately for me, I collided head on with unexpected examples of both in preparing for our Winophiles dinner.
Wine #1 – Natural Wine Surprise
Pierre-Olivier Bonhomme Sauvignon Touraine AOC 2014 ($22 from Henry and Son)
I was so excited to try this wine. Imported by Louis/Dressner, highly regarded for their natural vineyard work and minimal impact cellar approach. The wine was marked as “contains sulfites”, so I knew it shouldn’t be risky, and it was Touraine AOC. An AOC wine must follow strict rules to fulfill the classification requirements.
When I opened the wine, all I could smell was burnt matches, nothing else. The wine was very cloudy (not usually a problem at our house), but also petillant/fizzy. Julie, our house devotee of all things Sauvignon Blanc took one smell and taste and said – no way. She wouldn’t touch it. I was confused as I searched through the reviews and found only high praise. Oh well, every once in a while you get an “off” bottle. Is that more likely with a low-sulfur natural approach? Maybe… Did this bottle ferment a second time? I put a stopper in the bottle and decided to return the wine. Time to pull out the emergency backup: Francois Chidaine Vouvray, a safe bet.
Francois Chidaine Vouvray AOC 2005 ($24 at Sunfish Cellars)
Ooh, I hadn’t realized it was a 2005. I was even more excited to open this bottle, as Loire whites are known to have an excellent capacity to age beautifully. Whoops! The wine poured a deep honey color with a lovely sweet nose. Demi-Sec (at least)! No! Not a wine for the dinner table. After a little research, I found the classic style for Vouvray is demi-sec, so there is no AOC requirement to label the wine as such. The label listed 13% alcohol, so no hint of sweetness there. When you choose a Vouvray, you can get bone-dry, barely off-dry or sweet, even botrytis affected. This one was actually my fault, I should have known what a roll of the dice Vouvray can be. My previous experience was that off-dry versions would be labeled as demi-sec, alas, not required.
Natural Wine Redemption
A few days after the incident, I returned the Touraine wine to Henry and Son. After a nice conversation with the staff member, I decided to take my chances with another bottle of the same wine, promising to keep it no matter what. To my relief, bottle #2 was a thing of beauty, a new favorite Loire Sauvignon Blanc for me! It poured perfectly clear, with a unique but pleasant nose. It was a little riper than many Sauvignon Blancs, but retained excellent acidity. Loved it! (click on any photo to see full size slide show. Escape to exit)
There was absolutely nothing wrong with the Chidaine Vouvray except it was sweeter than I had anticipated. I suspect it had some botrytis influence as it had this lovely citrus & orange peel flavor that was so pretty. This wine would be perfect with a not-too-sweet dessert with cream and citrus. It was also a nice finish to the meal all by itself. Over the next few nights I finished it off as an after-dinner treat.
Moral of the Story: Don’t Judge a Vouvray by its Label!