by Andrew Chalk
France’s Loire Valley is the breadbasket of French agriculture and one of its premier wine producing regions. The wineries along the banks of the river grow several grapes but perhaps the most notable is the sauvignon blanc. The wines from the area set a reference point for the grape, much as Burgundy sets a reference point for pinot noir. There are other admired styles of sauvignon blanc around the world (for example, New Zealand) but the Loire style is very much regarded as the original and something to be emulated.
Another grape that excels, but in much smaller quantities, is pinot noir. It is planted mainly in Sancerre, but also Menetou-Salon and Châteaumeillant. The reds tend to be light, reflecting the region’s climate on the cusp of grape cultivability. As a result, the grape lends itself to rosé.
The J. de Villebois collection includes both grapes, with an emphasis on sauvignon blanc. Ignoring the ‘Vin de France’ wine on the left of the picture above, the winery owns vineyards in all of the above areas. The second white, sauvignon blanc ($16), and the rosé ($16) are appellated ‘Vin de Loire’ indicating that the grapes could be grown anywhere in the Loire area (the Loire AOP specifies the exact boundaries). The three wines on the right come from three of the most famous appellations: Sancerre ($34), Touraine ($16), and Pouilly-Fumé ($28). All of the swines are from the 2018 vintage.
A useful exercise is to buy a bottle of each and compare them. They are all crisp, vibrantly acidic, and sterling matches for shellfish and fish, but there are subtle differences reflecting the individual terroirs. Personally, Sancerre is special to me, for its purity of fruit expression and its harmony with a lot of Asian food.
Importer, Vineyard Brands, has just brought these into the US market so they should be widely available in good wine stores. Check out a Loire wine today and introduce yourself (or reacquaint yourself) with the distinctive wines of the Loire.