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TN: Notes from a Loire tasting

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Rough notes from last week's tasting, which was devoted exclusively to wines from the Loire valley. Thinking back on it sets my mouth watering, a sign of both the overall high level of winemaking in the region these days and the refreshing, food-friendly quality of Loire wines as a group. They also remain astoundingly affordable.

All bottles are currently available at the SAQ. Most are recent arrivals; a few, especially the 2005s, have been around for longer and are nearly sold out. Prices include sales taxes (13%) and are in Canadian dollars (at parity with the U.S. dollar these days but probably between US$0.90 and $0.95 when most of the wines were purchased and priced).

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  1. >Muscadet Sèvre et Maine 2008, Expression de Granit, Domaine de l’Écu ($21.80, SAQ code No.: 10282873)
    100% Melon de Bourgogne from a 3-ha biodynamically farmed vineyard.
    Leesy on the nose with chalk, wax and pear scents. Rich yet rainwatery on the palate, the fruit more lemon zesty. Long, stony finish. If there’s a better Muscadet, I’ve yet to taste it.

    1. >Cheverny 2008, Domaine du Salvard ($15.90, 00977769)
      85% Sauvignon Blanc, 15% Chardonnay. Sustainably farmed.
      Textbook Sauvignon nose: cat pee, lime, wet grass on rocks. Bright on the palate. Full of crunchy – though very dry – fruit. Less weight and cut than most Sancerres but clean and refreshing with lingering minerals and a hint of jalapeño.

      >Cheverny 2008, Domaine des Huards ($17.00, 00961607)
      A 50–50 blend of Sauvignon and Chardonnay. Biodynamically farmed.
      Wet cotton-wool with hints of tropical fruit and spice. Richer, rounder, sweeter than the Salvard. Pure and balanced. Fruity, acid-bright attack gives way to a long, minerally finish.

      >Cheverny 2008, Cuvée Clos des Cendres, Domaine de Montcy ($19.20, 00919191)
      Another 50–50 blend of Sauvignon and Chard. Sustainably farmed.
      Dominated by the Chardonnay. Butter, caramel, lemon, oats. Richer and weightier on the palate but with sufficient acid. Noticeable residual sugar on the attack but dry on the finish. Pleasant.

      All three wines offer great QPR. The Salvard gets my vote for the bargain wine of the last few months.

      1. >Saumur 2007, Coulée de St-Cyr, Domaine de Saint-Just ($23.05, 10272608)
        100% Chenin. Sustainably farmed. Matured in 10–15% new oak barrels.
        Fruity, bright and “tendre” (not bone dry). Beeswax, fresh herbs and canned mandarin oranges, with spiced peach notes. Not a lot of depth (though aerating hints at hidden reserves) but tons of immediate appeal.

        >Anjou 2006, La Chapelle, Château de Fesles ($26.95, 856674)
        100% Chenin. Aged on lees for 4–6 months.
        Pear and quince with a rubbery note segueing into something herbier. Pure and long with some nuts joining the minerals on the finish. Elegant though lacking some of the vibrancy of the other wines in the flight.

        >Savennières 2006, Les Genêts, Damien Laureau ($27.00, 10750059)
        100% Chenin. Aged on lees for 24 months and given partial malo.
        Surprising nose: honeyed apple strudel topped with sour cream. Bland yet rich, minerals but not much upfront fruit. A bit hot on the long finish.

        >Savennières 2007, Les Vieux Clos, Nicolas Joly ($42.75, 10985878)
        100% Chenin. Biodynamically farmed by the man who wrote the book on the subject.
        The most serious wine of the flight, maybe of the tasting. On opening, the nose was dominated by alcohol (15% abv); after an hour’s exposure to air, the alcohol had disappeared, giving way to ash, wax, minerals, straw and a pungent, volatile herbiness. Rich, weighty and layered on the palate, yet also closed and austere. Dry. Very long. Obviously age-worthy. Continued evolving over the course of the evening. Fascinating.

        The Domaine de St-Just is a definite buy, a versatile wine that just about everyone would enjoy. Far from a charmer, the Joly’s appeal is more intellectual; if I opened another bottle at this stage, I’d carafe it for several hours. Both wines overshadowed the 2006s, a function of vintage?

        1. >Saumur 2007, Domaine Guiberteau ($23.15, 10516465)
          100% Cabernet Franc. Organically farmed. Native yeasts. No chaptalization. No added sulphur.
          Earthy plum and raspberry with notes of rubber, animale, mint and ink. Notwithstanding the light tannic rasp, smooth and fluid. Juicy red fruit shot through with green sap.

          >Chinon 2005, Theleme, Pascal et Alain Lorieux ($25.00, 00917096)
          100% Cabernet Franc. Sustainably farmed. Vinified in stainless steel.
          A mouthful of plum, spice and green pepper. Richer than the Saumur, with quality tannins providing a velvety texture and acid keeping things lively. A gamey note adds wild appeal. A classic Chinon.

          >Chinon 2005, Château de la Bonnelière ($25.05, 10986029)
          100% Cabernet Franc. Organically farmed. Native yeasts.
          Spicy plum and animale. Approachable and engaging, with upfront, remarkably pure fruit and no greenness. Fine tannins. Supple texture, more silk than velvet. Very classy.

          Excellent examples of the Loire’s leading red grape. Even confirmed Cab Franc haters were coming around by the end of the flight. The Bonnelière showed particularly well. That said, like many Chiantis, Loire Cab Francs tend to show better at table than they do at tastings.

          1. >Menetou-Salon 2007, Domaine Philippe Gilbert ($27.95, 11154988)
            100% Pinot Noir. Biodynamically farmed.
            Initial barnyard followed by sourish red berries, foliage (some of it composting) with a briny, minerally undercurrent. Supple and silky. Pure fruit and crushed leaves. Refreshing acidity. Light but long finish. A wine of remarkable focus and clarity, especially for this price point.

            >Sancerre 2005, La Demoiselle, Alphonse Mellot ($74.00, 10275788)
            100% Pinot Noir. Biodynamically farmed.
            Fabulously complex nose: red berries and stems, earth, graphite, magic maker, iodine, leather and more. Vibrantly fruity, with a sweet earthiness reminiscent of beets and cola/coffee-like flavours, yet nimble, poised and elegant. Pure, balanced, structured and complete. A dazzler.

            This flight was something of a revelation. Loire Pinot Noirs have a not undeserved reputation as being Burgundy’s poor cousins. But both these wines could easily hold their own against similarly priced Pinots from France or the New World. In fact, I don’t recall the last time I had a sub-$30 Burg that offered the Menetou-Salon’s combination of freshness, purity and typicity (“ça pinotait” as the French say). The Sancerre knocked off several pairs of socks around the table. Most definitely Pinot Noir but marching to its own drummer. Few if any of the tasters considered it overpriced and at least a couple said they were planning to raid their piggy banks to buy a bottle or two. It was easy to see why.

            1. >Vouvray moelleux 2007, Clos du Bourg, S.A. Huet ($49.50, 10389793)
              100% Chenin Blanc. Biodynamically farmed.
              Crème brûlée and fresh cheese, wax and honey on the nose. Pear, quince and honey on the palate, over a minerally/chalky, herby/vegetally substrate. Lightly sweet. Rich, satiny texture. Animating acidity. Long. A sweet caress of a wine.

              1. Just reading the title has made my mouth water. They are such great wines for spirng.