At a recent tasting of Loire Valley wines, my friend Susan (aka The Amateur) came with me (aka The Pro) so we could go mano a mano in tasting these complex, yet delicious, wines.
Do we get the same flavors and impressions? Will The Amateur appreciate these challenging cuvees? Does The Pro find every wine off the hook or is disappointment lurking?
Susan and I agreed not to discuss the wines while we were tasting, later selecting the most interesting to share with you. Susan’s comments are identified by Am, mine by Pro.
The wines are rated A to F for quality (C is average) and 1 to 3 for value, with 1 a wine that tastes better than its price, 2 is neutral and 3 is a wine that isn’t up to snuff for the cost. All prices are estimated retail.
So, without further ado:
Domaine du Vieux Pressoir Saumur Brut NV
This wine is 70% Chenin Blanc, 30% Chardonnay and crafted in the methode traditionelle. It is left for 15 months sur lie, an uncommon technique in the region, giving the wine its unique depth and texture. Rating: B1 Price: $21
PRO: For a relatively straightforward wine, this was quite enjoyable – a good quaff. It had bright flavors and was, truth to tell, a bit fluffy.
AM: This wine had a gentle fizziness, like a bubbling creek rather than whitewater rapids. I didn’t write anything else, so I guess it didn’t really make a strong impression on me beyond that.
Guy Bossard Muscadet Sevre-et-Maine Cuvee Classique
This estate lies on France’s Brittany coast and has been biodynamic certified (think organic on, uh, steroids) since 1986. Sevre-et-Maine is considered the best appellation for the Muscadet grape. Rating: A2 Price: $18
PRO: This is classic Muscadet – sharp, crisp and clean with a salty sea punch. Just perfect.
AM: Maybe I cheated because I tried this one with oysters, but how could I resist? It had a nostalgia-inducing smell of dying wisteria blossoms and tasted of peach and alcohol (more than most wines). Sadly, it finished quickly despite my wish for it to linger.
This is one of the oldest estates in the Loire. The wines are crafted exclusively from Chenin Blanc. Rating: A1 Price: $12
PRO: Very creamy and round, with delightful notes of white peaches and soft, white flowers. This wine was really delightful to drink.
AM: I found myself surprised that I liked the Vouvrays at this tasting more than the Sancerres, which is a wine to which I tend to gravitate. This Vouvray was no exception. Yum. The bouquet veered from straw to wildflowers. It tasted slightly sweet, like buttercups, and was like a polished marble floor – smooth and cold – despite the sweetness. I will go out and buy this wine.
Domaine de la Rouletiere Vouvray
This estate has 17 hectares of vineyards on slopes overlooking the Vouvray appellation. Wines are 100% Chenin Blanc. Rating: B2 Price: $15
PRO: Frankly, they served this wine a bit too cold so it lost some of its flavor and vibrancy. That said, it was very clean and crisp.
AM: This wine is like riding a tractor – OK, through the Loire Valley! It’s like cut hay and a seaside wind, with a faint whiff of gasoline. The finish was speedy. After I had written my description (secretly, of course), the young wine guy told us he had started at the winery at age 14, driving a tractor. Coincidence?
Chateau de Coulaine Chinon Bonnaventure
Chateau de Coulaine
This estate has been continuously operating since 1300. The vineyards are organically farmed, and planted exclusively with Cabernet Franc.
Rating: A1 Price: $22.50
PRO: The nose was perfumed with violets and fresh dirt – gorgeous. The flavors were similar, but there was a bit of a rubbery feel that was off-putting. I loved this wine, though, because each sip was different. It’ll be divine with food.
AM: It’s always fun to swirl a wine like this that has good legs that make pretty patterns. The color was almost an orangey-magenta which made it even prettier to look at. The initial bouquet was “horse,” but in a good way. It tasted like wild blackberries at the start, and built at the finish to a leathery, velvety taste and feel – really very horsey (still in a good way) at the finish, too!
Jean-Maurice Raffault Chinon “Les Galuches”
This estate, located near Tours, is one of the few in Chinon still using oak – they age this wine in older barrels from Bordeaux. Vineyards are planted with Cabernet Franc. Rating: A1 Price: $18.50
PRO: A great nose – lots of flowers and juicy, ripe dark fruits. Very easy to drink and quite sumptuous.
AM: With an almost-violet color and a bouquet of raw wood and sap, this jammy wine tasted of bright plums and strawberry. There was even stronger jam at the finish, but it was nutty, too – like a peanut butter and jelly sandwich without the bread.
Cabernet Franc Grapes
Chateau de Miniere Bourgueil
This wine is crafted with Cabernet Franc from vines averaging 45 years old, and is produced in stainless steel. The estate was built in the 16th century from the region’s hallmark Tuffeau stone. Rating: B2 Price: $18
PRO: This wine started out beautifully with notes of cherry, earth and tea. It was dark but not heavy. The finish was a bit short and disappointing, though.
AM: This berry-colored wine had an acidic bouquet that was belied by the soft, almost watery, mouth feel with which it opened. I was then surprised by the stronger, chocolaty finish.
Jean-Pierre Vacher & Fils Sancerre Pinot Noir
This family-owned estate comprises 25 acres of Pinot Noir and Sauvignon Blanc. Until recently, this wine has only been available locally. Rating: B1 Price: $19.99
PRO: Red Sancerre is hard to find, but worth seeking out. This one was earthy with soft floral notes, a little more rustic than a typical Burgundian Pinot Noir, but a lovely alternative especially for the price.
AM: Burned rubber, was the first thought I had when I smelled this wine. But it had a soft taste of strawberries with a hint of tree bark, and a careering finish – strong, then soft, then strong, then soft as the taste petered out.
Domaine des Baumard Quarts de Chaume
This estate was founded in 1634 near the town of Angers. These vineyards – the grape is Chenin Blanc – are farmed using sustainable practices. Rating: B2 Price: $73
PRO: A totally enjoyable dessert wine resplendent with flavors of hay, earth and fresh baked bread. It had lots of acidity that offset the sweetness and give this wine a nice bite.
AM: This dessert wine had hints of both loam and honeydew melon, and a bouquet of dandelion.