Perfect White Wines for Spring: The Loire Valley
As spring fully blossoms in the southern United States I find myself reaching for mineral-driven white wines over and over again. Of course, this tends to be a favorite category for me year-round. But the bounty of spring produce – lettuces, radishes, baby turnips – just seems to beg for a pairing partner like bright, fresh white wines. Yes, I am speaking in broad strokes here – to be more specific, wines that lean more towards wet stones in their flavor profile than the fruit basket palate. And to be even more specific, I am thinking of white wines from the Old World.
For those of you who are just starting your wine journey, have no fear of this slightly stodgy phrase – Old World. Yes, it sounds rather Lord of the Rings! But really it’s just referring to all of Europe (where winemaking pretty much began) – in contrast to the New World (North America, South America, Australia, etc.).
Wines from the Old World tend to be balanced more towards earth than fruit, and the white wines often have this very mineral-water-esque quality to them! I can think of no better place to start your Old World white wine education than the Loire Valley.
The Loire is an extremely varied region that's major unifying point would be the Loire River. This is France's longest river and runs from central France to the Atlantic Ocean. Along the way, we will find several sub-regions – each with its own distinct personality. Here’s a brief intro to some of the star sub-regions that showcase excellent, mineral-driven white wines for your spring imbibing.
This is a sub-region located in the inner reaches of the Loire. Here, we find Sauvignon Blanc and Pinot Noir. Yes, there are red wines here! But the Sauvignon Blanc is what I am reaching for these days as the best examples are refined and elegant – having very little in common with the flashier New World Sauvignon Blanc that tastes like a grapefruit cocktail! Look for producers like Hippolyte Reverdy (pictured here) and Vacheron for the very best experience.
As we move west along the Loire River we see Sauvignon Blanc less frequently and begin to run into my favorite white grape – Chenin Blanc! You will see Chenin Blanc starring in the Touraine sub-region and also in Anjou, which lies even further west from Touraine. “Anjou Blanc” means there is Chenin in the bottle and it tends towards a more lean, laser-like style than other sub-regions where it has more opulence. I love Chenin because of its inherent prettiness (think white peach) but with the potential for many layers of complexity (think chamomile tea and even parmesan cheese flavors). Thibaud Boudignon (pictured here) has become one of my favorite producers but also look for Arnaud Lambert (his Clos de Midi is a steal).
Finally, poor old Muscadet – a region, not a grape, and one that is somewhat understood in my corner of the world. See, the word “Muscadet” looks a lot like the word “Muscadine” – a native grape to the southeastern United States that can be used to make icky-sticky-sweet white wines. (Full disclosure – my grandfather made Muscadine wine!)
The region of Muscadet and its stony, elegant white wines have zero in common with the Muscadine grape. But I spend a lot of time assuring folks that Muscadet is dry, dry, dry! The French swear these are the wines to pair with raw oysters as their inherent acidity acts just like a squeeze of fresh lemon.
To clear things up further, Muscadet is actually the region – not the grape, which is Melon de Bourgogne. And it is located right on the Atlantic Ocean – perhaps good reason for its loveliness with seafood.
The best thing about Muscadet? The top ones cost around $20! These are seriously some of the best valued, high quality wines in all of France. Look for Jo Landron’s Amphibolite (pictured here) and other star producers like Pepiere and L’Ecu. You are in for a definite treat!