The annual Spring to the Loire trade and media tasting event organized by Loire Valley Wines took place several weeks ago on the gorgeous J. Parker rooftop. It was filled with flowers reminding me that despite the cold weather in Chicago, Spring is near and that there are more colors in the landscape than black and white.
The Loire Valley wines reminded me as well that there are more grapes in the world than Pinot Noir and Chardonnay (like Chenin Blanc, Sauvignon Blanc, Melon de Bourgogne and Cabernet Franc) although Pinot Noir and Chardonnay are grown in parts of the Loire as well.
The Loire river runs 620 miles from the center of the France in the Massif Centrale region flowing west to the Atlantic Coast. The Loire Valley flourished in the 15th, 16th and 17th centuries as the abundance of game and fruit and the beauty of the area attracted the nobility who built beautiful châteaux and castles, giving it the name “the Garden of France”.
The region is France’s fourth most popular tourist destination after Paris, Provence and the Riviera. It is France’s largest white wine region (it produces reds as well) that spans from the briny, salty, leesy Muscadets of the Pays Nantais region in the west which pairs so classically with oysters, to the dry and late harvest, chenin blancs of Savennieres in Anjou to the dry, late-harvest and botrytized sweet, pear and honeysuckle, delicate chenin blanc Vouvrays of Touraine to the crisp, discreetly herbaceous, mineral driven varying by the soil type, terres blanches (chalk/marl), silex (flint), and caillottes (limestone) of the sauvignon blancs of Sancerres in the Centre Loire, the land of delicious goat cheeses. There are many subregions and other white grapes in between all these as well and then a complementary and noteworthy group of red wines made from Cabernet Franc and Gamay among other red grapes in the Middle Loire appellations to Pinot Noir and Gamay in the Centre Loire.
The Loire has a solid group of artisanal and historic producers that are on the winelists of many sommeliers and have been written about in the wine world over the years. Nicolas Joly of Savennieres is listed in every wine students course book describing the Loire because of Joly’s monopole, Coulée de Serrant vineyard and his role as a leader of biodynamic wine making in France and in Europe. Other noteworthy wine domaines include: Olga Raffault in Chinon, Clos Rougeard and Guiberteau in Saumur, Domaine des Baumard Savennieres, Domaine Huet and Francois Chidaine Touraine, Domaine de L’Ecu Muscadet and Didier Dagueneau of Pouilly-Fumé to name just a few.
Even though I admittedly rushed through the tasting I was fortunate to start off with the wines of Domaine Pascal Jolivet and then I was even more fortunate to be invited to breakfast with Arnaud Saget of Saget La Perrière and the team from his importers Esprit du Vin . We went through a full tasting of some of his wines and learned about his wine estates and his hotels and his trendsetting father.
Imported by Frederic Wildman & Sons, Domaine Pascal Jolivet has produced artisanal wines in Sancerre and Pouilly-Fumé highlighting the different soils and their effect on the wines which give different points of view in the glass of the same appellation. My favorite was Les Caillottes which are grapes from 40 year old vines grown on limestone soil. It had a chiseled yet delicate mouthfeel and was very crisp with citrus and apple notes. One of the notes of a Sancerre wine for me, is that besides being super dry in the mouth, the aromatics of sauvingnon blanc, the grassy, green stalks which can be so loud in typical Marlborough New Zealand wines are very subtle yet present in Sancerres.
Saget La Perrière is on track to becoming the M. Chapoutier of the Loire. As I saw from the tasting at the Sofitel with Arnaud, they are producing authentic, quality, terroir driven wines across price ranges and are focused on making the Loire, a big L in consumer’s minds.
Arnaud’s family has been in the Loire Valley since 1709. He is the 9th generation and with his father, Jean-Louis and his brother Laurent who oversees wine production, their wines span across the Loire from Sancerre and now with their recent acquisition of Domaine Christian Pineau producing wines of the Muscadet Sévre et Maine Clisson AOC. This area is known for its granite soils and this Domaine was one of the founders of the Clisson Cru and is in its 5th generation of wine-making. So a great complement to the rest of Saget La Perriere’s wines of the Loire.
Arnaud’s father, decided to cellar wine under the water in the ocean in the 1990’s. At breakfast, Arnaud told us that the container broke that contained the wine and every few years he gets a call from someone who has found a barnacle encrusted bottle on the beach and wants to authenticate it. Ocean ageing is now a thing and is practiced in Italy and Croatia among other countries. But from what I have read, Arnaud’s father seems to be the first to try this outright, way ahead of his time.
We went through a full round of Saget wines at the Sofitel. The first group was Saget’s entry level, incredibly price friendly, think $10ish a bottle, La Petite Perrière label, sauvignon blanc, rosè (pinot noir) and pinot noir that I was astonished at the quaffability versus the price. These dry wines had some mineral and fruit notes and were good. They can be found at Mariano’s and Target in the Chicago area. Saget sells them under the Vin de France AOC. Arnaud admitted that the wines are sourced from at least 50% Loire grapes but that he does source grapes from the Languedoc as well. The Languedoc has gained much credibility in the wine world, so I look at this sourcing as the same situation when Napa vintners source from Lodi in California. For an incredible QPR wine, look for the La Petite Perriere label! The winemakers are Philippe Reculet and Laurent Saget.
The caves at Domaine de la Perrière, where they vinify two of their flagship wines, the Domaine de la Perrière Sancerre and their aged sauvignon blanc, hand-harvested, silex soils, Mégalithe wine, were naturally carved 200 million years ago. These Sancerres have floral and subtle grassy aromas and the wine backbone comes from the flinty soils. The Mégalithe had a really nice mouthweight and a beautiful finish. The Mégalithe was definitely not an every day wine. It showed the breadth of Saget’s winemaking prowess. Finally, Le Domaine Saget Pouilly-Fumé is made from a dozen hectares of vines grown on Kimmeridgian, limestone soils in Pouilly-Sur-Loire, home to the family’s original domaine and the winemakers are Bruno Mineur as well as Laurent Saget. The wine is aged on lees for 9 months and was more pear, peach and grapefruit. Before I move onto their wines of Anjou and the middle Loire, I do want to mention the Saget hotels in the Sancerre area.
Saget sees wine tourism as a growth area. Both of these hotels had good ratings on Trip Advisor and looked lovely from the photos. What I thought was significant was that Arnaud said he wants to offer the wines of different producers in the area at the bars of his hotel so locals as well as tourists feel comfortable visiting and his guests can taste the range of the Loire wines at his hotels. Saget looks at themselves as ambassadors of the Loire and want to encourage tourists to enjoy the visiting the area. Both hotels are in the heart of the Sancerre/Pouilly-Fumé wine region and a great home base to explore rest of the Loire from what I could see on the websites.
Here is a map of the full breadth of the Saget Domaines (they have more labels than I tasted at breakfast):
For the balance of the morning we tasted wines from their beautiful estate in Anjou, Château de la Mulonnière.
We tasted 3 wines made from 100% Chenin Blanc, Savennières L’Effet Papillon, M de Mulonnière Chenin Blanc and finally the late-harvest, hand-harvested Coteaux Du Layon Beaulieu, all made by Benoit Dufour and Laurent Saget. In these chenins we moved to the stone fruits, white peach, apricot with acid and balance. The Late Harvest wine was absolutely delicious!
Saget is focused on having Loire wines be on the “to buy” list of consumers. But as eating patterns change, less meat more vegetables and lighter foods, I think the wine consuming habits of the American consumer will change as well and the wines of the Loire are a good fit for the eat-lighter diet. As I sipped some of the wines at the Spring to the Loire event, and then at breakfast with Saget, it just reminded me how the wines of the Loire offer such variety, quality and deliciousness!