What France Can Offer America: Wines from the leisurely Loire Valley

Although most Americans are trying to boycott them, the French wine party is still hoppin’. Their braggart Bordeaux and Burgundy wines scream for attention and snooty Champagne rears its ego-filled head often, but the leisurely Loire (L’ WAHR) Valley is the shy wallflower hiding in the corner. Wake her inner wildcat and reap the rewards of refreshing whites perfect for summer.

The Loire wine region lies southwest of Paris, a place where kings and queens spent weekends. The region still produces delicious white and rosé wines after several centuries. There are four sub-regions in Loire Valley: Center Loire, Touraine, Anjou/Saumur and Nantes. Center Loire boasts the semi-famous Pouilly-Fumé (p’WEE foo MAY), made from the Sauvignon Blanc grape. Robert Mondavi borrowed the “Fumé” part to coin his California Sauvignon Blancs “Fumé Blanc.” Centre Loire’s Pouilly Fumé is generally medium-bodied and dry, yet ripe and perfumey.

Also in the Center Loire is Sancerre. If you remember anything from this column, remember that Sancerre (sahn SEHR) rocks. This region’s wineries produce crisp, flinty, green-grass Sauvignon Blancs, a perfect — albeit expensive — summer quencher. One good Sancerre experience and you’ll jones for it.

Chenin Blanc, the predominant grape in Touraine, remains a stepchild here in the States. But with Vouvray, Touraine has Chenin Blanc down to a science. Easily the most famous wine in the Loire, Vouvray normally features slight sweetness and a variety of fruit flavors — great for people who shun acidic, bone-dry wines. Touraine also produces two of Loire’s most famous red wines: Bourgeuil and Chinon, both made primarily from the Cabernet Franc grape.

If searching for fun, inexpensive wines, fill your stash with Anjou/Saumur rosés. Normally retailing for under $12, these dry to medium-dry fruities are fridge-fillers during the hot months. Called Rosé d’Anjou, they exemplify the best deal in the Loire for casual, slurpable wines with slightly sweet, smooth strawberry flavors. Saumur also does a great business in sparkling wine, an up-and-coming niche for Loire Valley. Made from Chenin Blanc, Loire sparklers are hard to find, but they’re worth investigating if you come across one.

Nantes, the westernmost Loire region, grows two grape varieties: Gros Plant, really obscure outside of France, and Muscadet. The word Muscadet encompasses the grape name and the wine, as well as the zone within Nantes where it is grown. Not particularly popular in the U.S., the wine is better consumed in France, where it can be drunk fresh. The grape has naturally low acidity, making it more prone to spoil than other wines. When you do find Muscadet on American shelves, look for recent vintages — within the last year — and the words “sur lie,” an aging procedure which gives wine freshness and a slight fizz.

Recommended Wines

Domaine des Hautes Ouches 2001 Rosé D’Anjou Like walking through a ripe strawberry patch on a warm spring day, the fragrant smell hangs out in your nose. The ever-so-slight sweetness in this wine makes it a spicy food friend. $10. 3 1/2 stars.

Marc Brédif 2001 Vouvray Slight sweetness nestles in this tart green apple and cool almond wonder. I never cease pondering how winemakers can bring out the unusual flavors. Fascinating. $16. 3 stars.1/2

Pascal Jolivet Sancerre 2001 Chateau du Nozay Oozing citrus with zesty grapefruit and tangerine grabbing at your tongue. Crisp, refreshing, mineral-y and absolutely gorgeous. $25. 4 1/2 stars.

de Ladoucette 2000 Pouilly Fumé Steely and limey like a snootful of Sprite. It has a tantalizing and lingering acidic aftertaste. Let it sit in the glass and soak up the air to release its best potential. $30. 3 stars.

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