Sunday 22 October 2017

Loire Terroir

Saumur castle and Loire River, Loire Valley, France
Saumur castle and Loire River, Loire Valley, France

I honeymooned in the Loire 18 years ago, and even though it was the beginning of April, we were lucky enough to head into some beautiful spring weather in this land of Disneyesque castles, epic history and fragrant wine.

This was a good thing, as we were driving around in our Morgan, a diminutive sports car the design of which dates to the 1930s. They say a convertible has a top that you can put down when you want to, while a Morgan has a top that you could put up if you had to. We never had to during that trip, and despite the car's compact size we managed to stash 36 bottles of wine in the available pockets of space as we headed off into our rose-tinted years of wedded bliss.

The river Loire is the longest in France, and the diverse styles of wine produced in the region are predominantly "cool climate" wines, a style of wine that has become increasingly fashionable for its crisp freshness and generally lower level of alcohol. They're perfect for summer.

Crémant de Loire is a refreshing sparkling wine; the crisp whites call out for sunny days, grilled fish and picnics; the light reds are delicious slightly chilled; and if you like dessert wines, there are some very good examples.

The red grapes grown in this region are Cabernet Franc and Gamay and the whites are Sauvignon Blanc, Chenin Blanc and Melon de Bourgogne. If you're wondering what Melon de Bourgogne is, it is the grape used in the unfashionable Muscadet wine produced south of Nantes in vineyards close to the mouth of the river. If you tried the biodynamic Domaine de L'Ecu I recommended a few months back (stocked by Fields in Skibbereen and Manning's Emporium in Cork, €17.70) you'll have discovered that good Muscadet is a style worth revisiting.

The classic crisp, grassy Sauvignon Blanc wines of Sancerre and Pouilly-Fume, which come from the stretch in the middle of the river as it turns towards the south, are probably the best known of the area (and they are wonderful with the local Chavignol goat's cheese), but it is well worth trying some of the more complex Chenin Blanc white wines of Vouvray, Anjou, Montlouis and Savennières, which combine acidity with a honeyed overtone that allows the wine plenty of ageing potential.

Earlier in the summer, Emmanuel Ogereau of Domaine Ogereau, was in Terroirs in Dublin's Donnybrook holding a tasting of the wines his family has been producing in the western part of the Loire, south of Angers, for five generations. It was open to anyone who happened to drop into the shop. Chatting with the wine producer as you taste their wines is always interesting, and considering that their 25 hectare estate, located in the heart of the Coteaux du Layon, is made up of 30 different parcels of land with different types of soil, there are great variations between the different wines.

The harvest is hand-picked and although the wines are not certified organic, the producers have applied organic farming principles since 2008.

The Ogereau family creates a number of Anjou red and rose wines from Cabernet Franc and Cabernet Sauvignon, but Chenin Blanc is a key grape for them. Historically, the wines made from the Chenin grape in this appellation have been sweet, but more recently the Ogereau family has been producing more dry-style Chenin Blanc wines under the Savennières appellation.

The bottles at the tasting, two of which I have reviewed here, ranged from a refreshing Crémant de Loire, to a rosé, a classic Cabernet Franc from Anjou Villages, and a number of superb Chenin Blanc wines.

If you're thinking of doing a wine course, Ely Wine Bar's excellent four-week wine appreciation course starts on Tuesday August 29, and the last course of the year begins on Tuesday October 24. Both courses start at 7pm and cost €240 per person. For great mid-week wine bargains, dip into the wine list at Suesey Street where every Wednesday, diners get to select from the Wine Wednesday list which has amazing wines at half price and less. Malbec Vista Flores, Bodegas Catena 2014 will be reduced from €44 to €15 or splurge on Puligny-Montrachet Les Folatières Alain Chavy, reduced from €120 to €49.

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