Saturday, August 26, 2017

Touring Bordeaux and Loire By The Bottle

A recent Cellar 55 class focused on two premier French wine regions: Bordeaux and Loire. That’s a lot to cover, but as it turns out, we were quite thirsty!

Unraveling The French Wine Mystery

Perhaps nothing is more enigmatic to a wine lover than French wine. Like most Old World countries, wines are labelled by their region – not the grape from which they are made. It’s up to the wine consumer to know the style and grapes that are used in a particular AOC (appellation d’origine controlée). France has one of the largest wine industries in the world, so it can be a daunting task. The rewards, however, are great.

Two of our favorite – but very different – French wine regions were highlighted by a recent class at Cellar 55 in Fuquay-Varina, NC, conducted by Certified Specialist of Wine Sara Doom. It was 50% education, 50% tasting and 100% enjoyable.

Yes, There Is White Wine In Bordeaux

Bordeaux, in southwestern France, is among the world’s most famous wine regions. We dig it for the superb red Bordeaux blends, primarily driven by Merlot or Cabernet Sauvignon. Oenophiles shouldn’t overlook Bordeaux’s white wines, though.

White Bordeaux wines are primarily Sauvignon Blanc, often blended with Sémillon. We started the evening with Barton & Guestier 2016 Bordeaux Blanc, an 80%-20% Sauvignon/Sémillon blend. We like B&G as a dependable pick for quality French wines on a budget – this bottle costs under $10. There are notes of citrus and vanilla in a refreshing glass. This has much less acidity than a New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc and we wished for a touch more.

We next “visited” St. Émillon, which is on Bordeaux’s Right Bank. Right Bank wines are dominated by Merlot, while Left Bank Bordeaux usually is Cabernet Sauvignon based. The 2014 Chateau Picau-Perna offers blackberry flavors and a bit of cola swirled with oak.
There are some nice drying tannins. This retails for under $20 and would make a great partner for a lamb entrée.

The highlight of the evening for me was the 2014 Chateau Haut-Bailly La Parde de Haut-Bailly, a Grand Vin de Bordeaux from Pessac-Leognan on the Left Bank. This is a blend of 56% Cabernet Sauvignon, 40% Merlot and 4% Cabernet Franc. Deep ruby in the glass, it has luscious notes of cherry and graphite. There is a delightfully long finish and velvety tannins. Worth every cent of its $40 price.

What About Aging In Loire?

We were ready to plunge into Loire, the region along the banks of France’s longest river. Loire is known for crisp white wines, light red wines and rosé.

There were a number of questions about oak aging in Loire. That’s natural, since we often picture barrels of French wines aging away in musty caves. Loire requires a different mindset. These are wines focused on light and fresh flavors – designed to be consumed within a year or two of release. You won’t find anything here to rival a heavily oaked Napa Cab.

We opened with a pair of whites: the Paul Buisse 2015 Touraine and the Marc Bredit 2013 Vouvray. The Touraine is a Sauvignon Blanc that spent two months on the lees. The Vouvray is Chenin Blanc and is demi-sec, offering some sweetness. Although we are fans of Vouvray, I wasn’t won over by this one. It was a bit sweet for my taste (but you may love it) and there was a slight musty flavor, not uncommon for Chenin.

Chinon is a “go to” wine for me when ordering wine for a board of directors dinner. Like Vouvray, Chinon is also in the Touraine region of the Loire Valley. Chinon wine must be at least 90% Cabernet Franc and is considered the most elegant red wine in the Touraine appellation.

We sampled the Vignoble du Paradis Clos de la Niverdiere 2016 Chinon. This is a light bodied Cab Franc, and didn’t have the peppery flavor found in some cooler climate regions. There were threads of earthiness, floral flavors and tastes of blueberry. It retails for $19.

Yes, indeed. There’s too much wine in Bordeaux and Loire to cover in an evening. Luckily for us, there is no rush. We suggest you begin your own tour of these great regions by picking up a few bottles. Thanks Sara and Cellar 55 for “schooling” us!

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