The Vines of Summer :: Loire Valley Wines at Fenway Park
The Boston stop of the Loire Valley Wines event took place on a perfect day for baseball: A sunny afternoon in April, with the venue being nothing less than the EMC Club at Fenway Park, an elegant space overlooking the field. The class of fine French wines together with the city’s celebrated sports culture may not seem an obvious match, but given that Fenway Park is now in its centennial, what better fit could there be? (In a twist, the event’s second, and final, stop in the U.S. was slated for two days later, in New York--the home city of the Red Sox’s greatest rivals.)
Fifteen Loire Valley estates were at the event with samples of their wares on hand--far too many for even the most tireless of palates. One needs to plan carefully under such circumstances, and I had a few minutes to spare in any case while waiting for my husband to join me. Looking over the event’s booklet gave me a chance to refresh my Loire Valley wine lore prior to sampling the vintages.
The booklet noted a few points of interest regarding the Loire Valley and its vineyards. The valley contains the Loire River, "the longest river in France and the last wild river in Europe," the notes read. "It rises in the south, not far from the Mediterranean coast, and empties into the Atlantic Ocean in the northwest of the country. Along the way, it flows through France’s longest and most diverse wine region," with vineyards stretching for some 300 miles along the river’s length, which wends through "several distinct climates and a wide variety of soils," a geographic characteristic that results in "five distinct regions, each with its own characteristic varietals and wine styles."
The wines of the Loire Valley are made with familiar varietals such as Sauvignon Blanc, Chenin Blanc, and Pinot Noir, and Malbec, not to mention Gamay, Grolleau, and Romorantin, among others. The region produces more than 72 appellations, wines with distinctive characteristics derived from the climate and soil of the locale where the grapes are grown. Among them are better-known sorts of wine such as Anjou, Pouilly-Fumé, Cheverny, and several kinds of Muscadet.
There were also appellations I’d never tried. The event was going to be an education, and I kept an eye to the unfamiliar as well as beloved appellations as I strategized. Sancerre? Mais oui! Saumur Blanc? Yes, please! Crémant de Loire? Well, maybe not. Sparkling wines aren’t really my thing (unless it’s New Year’s or a special occasion, and those call for Veuve Cliquot)... though, as it turned out, I did sample a few at this event.
Suddenly I heard a bright ripple of laughter from near the door. My husband had arrived, and was charming the staff. He’s a Scotch man, my husband is, but he was game to try out the Loire Valley wines with me and offer his input.
I had chosen nine checkpoints for our Loire Valley wine trawl, based mostly on the varietals used by the different producers. Our first stop was the table of Benoit Daridan, where wine rep Jeanne Delattre poured from a bottle of Cour-Cheverny Blanc, Vendangé à la Main, 2010.
"We can produce dry white wines, or also sweet," she told us of the family-owned vineyards that cover a 14-acre estate.
The Cour-Cheverny Blanc, made with 100% Romorantin grapes, was a little of both, with a dry nose and a flavor that boasted first a palette of walnut with a touch of olive, before shading into citrus notes and an aroma of honey in the finish. The overall effect was light, bright, and just acid enough to lend the wine a bit of a kick. Jeanette informed us that this was a wine that could be cellared for up to a decade and would age well.
The second glass Jeanette us was Cheverny Blanc, 2011 made from 80% Sauvignon Blanc and 20% Chardonnay. This was a very different wine: The aromatic nose announced the citrus up front, and an earthy minerality characterized the flavor. Jeanette pointed out that the vines grow in a siliceous clay soil.
The third glass she poured was a delicate red, so light and fruity that is was more like a rosé wine. This was the Cheverny Rouge, 2010 made from 80% Pinot Noir and 20% Gamay. The red fruit and berry was bolstered by an undercurrent of earth and iron.
Caves de Pouilly sur Loire
Christophe DeNoel greeted us as we stopped by the Caves de Pouilly sur Loire table, where five wines waited to be sampled.
"There is always a good acidity in this wine," DeNoel said, as he poured Domaine Crochet, a crisp 2011 Pouilly-Fumé that carries a touch of oak and notes of apple over a healthy minerality. As DeNoel said, the acidity was in excellent balance here.
The other four Caves de Pouilly sur Loire wines were also Pouilly-Fumés from 2011. The Clou de Pierre was still too young, though it already had an intriguing, dark flavor--a hint of walnut. "This wine will not be too interesting before Christmas," DeNoal reckoned.
The La Bergerie Pouilly-Fumé was a deeper, more complex wine in which a dry, crisp, apple character carried notes of vanilla and honey.
Less complex, but just as crisp, was the Arpents Bleus: Once more, the wine had a definite taste of apple, but in this case there was also citrus, which took this dry white to a slightly different place on the palate.
The Viellottes Pouilly-Fumé offered both a citrus character and a slight sweetness. Though dry, the wine also had a slight effervescence. All of these wines were made with 100% Sauvignon Blanc grapes, which made for fascinating tasting; each glass was distinctive, though the appellation and the grapes used were the same. DeNoel pointed to the different soils as a major factor for the variations. The grapes used for the Viellottes grew in a sand-clay soil, for instance, whereas the grapes used in the Bergerie grew in a "calcaire," which is to say, limestone, soil.