Friday, February 23, 2007

A Tasting of Young Loire Reds

BrooklynLady and BrooklynBaby, a few good friends, a little something tasty to eat, 6 bottles of wine, young red wine from the Loire cannot really do much better than that on a Thursday night, or any night, I daresay.

There are many appellations in the Loire Valley and several grapes are used to make red wine. My beloved Pinot Noir is the one in little known Menetou-Salon, which has generated more attention for its whites made from Sauvignon Blanc than it has for reds. They use Malbec, Gamay, and even Cabernet Sauvignon in Muscadet, Anjou, and Saumur. But the dominant red grape in the Loire Valley, the grape that is used to craft the finest of its red wines is Cabernet Franc, known there as Breton.

With age these wines can be quite complex, offering tobacco, flora and earthy flavors, dark fruits, and herbal qualities, and a strong mineral presence - think graphite. The top cuvees crafted by the stronger producers can compete favorably with wines from the right bank of Bordeaux, those that rely heavily on Cabernet Franc. And at a fraction of the price.

When young the wines are all about green hills, flowing rivers, and picnic lunches - pure pleasure. They are rich and juicy with lighter raspberry and darker plummy flavors. But they are more complex too - they can be funky with barnyard and leather, and positively herbal and vegetal, but in a good way. Usually kind of grippy with astringent tannins. These wines can be slightly chilled and paired with most any food to great effect. That's probably why every cafe and bistro in Paris lists one or more of them on the menu.

Last night our crew tasted five young wines and one moderately mature impostor from Chinon, Bourgueil, and Saumur-Champigny, the strongest red wine appellations in the Loire Valley. We tasted only four of these wines blind (with kids, you sometimes get there later than you mean to, and your wine isn't bagged in time). We were all pretty impressed with the overall quality of the wine, and the scoring at the end reflected the fact that each was well received - three of the four wines tasted blind received first place votes. Several of us were struck by the intense vegetal character of some of the wines - so odd and different from anything else out there. And yet, so enjoyable.

The one thing we all agreed on was that Deetrane's impostor simply walked away with the tasting. But that's because Deetrane cheated. He brought a wine from the 2000 vintage,a bit more mature than the others, and a top cuvee at that, unlike the "entry level" wines from the other producers in our tasting.

For our purposes, a 1st place vote is worth five points, a 2nd place vote is worth three points, and a third place vote is worth one point. Two of our tasters did not participate in the voting, as they had to devote some attention to squalling babies. Here are the wines tasted blind, and some notes:

2003 Domaine du Colombier Chinon Vieille Vignes, $17.
Ruby colored with pink rims. Lovely nose of strawberry and raspberry with complex floral and vegetal notes. A lighter nose than the others, more elegant. Palate is not as strong as the nose, a little bit disjointed, but delicious with red fruit and grippy tannins, some flowers. Adam, who brought this wine, the winning wine, wrote "spicy green pepper nose with some alcohol -- excellent!" in his notes. This wine got two 1st place votes (one of which was mine), a 2nd and a 3rd, for a total of 14 points. Interesting too, because 2003 was a very tough year, much hotter than usual, and many producers made baked and jammy wine. Not this one though...

2005 Chateau de Hureau Saumur-Champigny, $13.
Dark Garnet color with clear rims. A reserved nose, not giving much at all, even after an hour open. But a smooth textured palate of cherries and cocoa, silky spices, and plums. Very nice indeed. Other notes included "well rounded, light, leather, cooked fruit, and bitter finish." This wine got one 1st place vote, two 2nd place votes, and one 3rd place vote for a total of 12 points. This wine is clearly a $15 beauty.

2005 Domaine Bernard Baudry Chinon Les Granges, $15. One of my favorite Loire producers, ever since we visited the Domaine a few years ago. Check out the Wine Doctor's profile of Baudry here. This is Baudry's entry level wine. I was really looking forward to this wine, as '05 was a great year in the Loire and Baudry is such a great producer, but as Amy, the manager of Prospect Wine Shop warned me beforehand, the wine is not yet really ready to drink. Green pepper nose, vegetal. Grippy tannins, some leather, reserved bright red fruits. Has potential because the individual flavors are quite nice, but they are all out of whack right now. Other notes include "weedy, excellent blackberry taste, chalky, and balanced acidity."I will taste this again in a few months. This scored a 1st place vote, two 2nd places, and a 3rd place vote for a total of 12 points.

2005 Domaine de la Chanteleuserie Bourgueil, $13.
This wine was clearly the least preferred of the wines tasted blind. My notes say Dark garnet color, herbal nose with alcohol, not much fruit. Smooth texture, plums and spices, herbal finish. Other notes include "Not that wine (when BrooklynLady was asked for her favorite), raisins and prunes, short ribs (!), and mild berries." This wine scored but one 3rd place vote for a whopping total of 1 point.

We also tasted the 2004 Domaine de Pallus Chinon, $19. This is a new producer in the Loire Valley, I believe, and the wine was certainly different. Downright odd aromas of vegetables and some smoky wood. I found the nose to be off-putting. But the palate was quite nice, with bright and sweet red fruits and fine, grippy tannins. Not my favorite style, but I might have to give it another shot, although for $19, there seem to be better values in this class of wine. Amy at Prospect Wine Shop believes in this wine though, and she knows her Loire reds, so maybe she'll throw in a comment that can add to our understanding...

Deetrane's impostor was the 2000 Domaine des Roches Neuves Saumur-Champigny La Marginale, $36 (but he paid $12 on the secondary market, as he is known to do). I wrote about this wine before, and I am a big believer in Roches Neuves. Thierry German, the vigneron, makes three cuvees, Marginale is the top. I loved his 2005 Saumur-Champigny ($15), and the 2004 Terres Chaud ($20) was great too. I strongly recommend these wines if you're interested in dipping your toe into the Loire red pond.

The 2000 Marginale showed much better this time than before. It had a wonderful nose of sweet and brambly black fruit, and a little bit of tobacco. Well balanced and smooth, with sweet fruit and earthy undertones, stong minerality too. Still quite grippy on the finish, it seems as if the wine, contrary to my previous assessment, might continue to improve with some cellar time.

So that's it, our partially blind tasting of young Loire reds. C'mon in folks - the water is warm! The Loire is waiting for you...


Dr. Debs said...

Thanks for these notes, Neil. I have an 04 of the Chateau de Hureau and am now really looking forward to tasting it!

Joe said...

So, you get to be the quirky Loire red guy, while I get to be the Madiran geek?
Anway, your raving about Loire reds has finally pushed me off the fence - I just ordered a few online. While none of your selections were available here, I found a newer vintage of the Marginale. It will take some time before I get to these, but I will get back to you once I do. Thanks!

Brooklynguy said...

Hey Y'all - so glad to be of service. I never tried the 04 Hureau - tell us how it is when you taste it. And the 03 Marginale should be awesome, really big and rich though from the heat. Looking forward to hearing about that one too. And if you can find Roches Neuves plain old Saumur Champigny, I honestly think it is one of the best $15 wines in existence. Have a good rest of the weekend.

Anonymous said...

Great to see a rundown of Loire reds, as they don't get enough appreciation in the US. I'm planning a cab franc list myself to put up in the next couple weeks, so a couple of these bottles are currently sitting on my shelf. Can't wait to open the Hureau in particular.

I am a little disappointed that the Chanteleuserie didn't make a better showing. I like that wine quite a bit - definitely preferred it over the Breton Trinch! you wrote about previously - but I do think it's much better as a food wine than a stand-alone drinking wine, so I can see how it could fare poorly in a tasting like this one. Or were you trying these while eating? Oh well. Great notes nonetheless.

Brooklynguy said...

Hi Seb,
I agree, these wines are not as well know as you would think here. We ate, but not while blind tasting, so I might have to give the Bourgueil another go sometime. Where will you put up your list? I cannot click on your name to get to your site, if that's what you meant.

Thanks for your comments.

Anonymous said...

I suppose I should have guessed that Blogger wouldn't willfully allow a Wordpress blog to be linked from a Blogger comment, what with Wordpress playing Stephen Tanzer to Blogger's Wine Spectator and all.

Brooklynguy said...

Cool, thanks. I've been enjoying reading your writing - good stuff. Thanks for stopping by, and I'll see you around.

Anonymous said...

About the 2004 Domaine de Pallus's, in my opinon, a rather atypical Chinon, or Loire Cabernet Franc for that matter. When I tasted it blind, I thought the aroma and palate impressions reminded me of the more obscure Pinot d'Aunis. The aromas reminded me of white pepper and horseradish -- two things I like -- along with not superripe pomegranate. On the palate the wine recalled for me, also, some qualities I've sometimes found in Arbois rouge....Along with somewhat tart red cherry, pomegranate, black raspberry, there were notes of roots, potting soil, cracked white pepper, a hint of sun-dried tomato. It's a wine that really needs food -- I've yet to experiment with it in combination with various foods, but I'd bet on duck or other game birds as a good match (perhaps with some turnip purée -- but with plenty of butter and/or cream). The wine will probably become more integrated, less edgy, over the next few months -- though its definite acidity will continue to give it some edge, I'd think, as it integrates. There's also a kind of dustiness in the feel of this wine. I have a predilection for this kind of wine -- I sometimes like wines that recall roots and herbs and non-animal earthiness along with subtle wild-woodsy fruit -- and that aren't "saturated" or extremely extracted. They're not for everyone, or for every occasion, but I find them kind of intriguing and mysterious and pleasing for not being "easy." It's not that this is a "difficult" wine, but it's perhaps more a rangy young deer than a cuddly calf.

Brooklynguy said...

Hi Amy!
Thank you so much for your thoughtful and incredibly descriptive comments. It sounds like when you taste wine, you are experiencing things at a whole other level. I want to taste wine with you! Sounds like I have to try this wine again in a few months, and when I do, I will be thinking "rangy deer," definitely not "cuddly calf." Thanks again for stopping by.