In my last column, I suggested that the best wine to drink is usually a light red, and I praised Sancerre Rouge. But we have our own tastes, and we crave variety, too. Light red isn't always in order. So where to turn?
Easy. From Sancerre, just start walking west.
The Loire region of France, I wrote in February, is a "large, diverse wine constellation ... studded with great wines and famous winemakers." But it offers more than expensive, sacred bottles. In fact, the Loire offers wine for almost all palates, in all price ranges and of many types. There are so many reasons to buy Loire wine that it's best to dispense with introductions—you've got to swing by the wine shop, hurry home, throw dinner together—and count the reasons to drink it.
PRICE Loire wines remain mysteriously, but delightfully, underpriced. Many delicious wines from the region cost substantially less than $20, and great ones are available under $30. You can buy Domaine de La Pépière's quenching Muscadet for $13.99 at Raleigh Wine Shop. (But spend $3 more for Pépière's bracing, limpid Clos des Briords. These wines are widely available in the Triangle.) And if you want to splurge, throw down for a Cabernet Franc by the great Clos Rougeard or Nicolas Joly's Coulee de Serrant from the tiny Savennières area.
VARIETY The Loire has it all: bone-dry whites such as Muscadet, opulent dessert wines from the Vouvray region, light reds of Sancerre and deep Cabernet Francs from Chinon. Not only that, but the Loire remains the homegrown standard-bearer for some grapes that have gone global. It's hard to top the Sauvignon Blancs from Sancerre and its neighbors. Don't miss the extraordinary wines made in the Loire from Chenin Blanc, which might be the greatest uncelebrated wine grape in the world. Chenin's spiritual home is in the Vouvray region—again, from stingingly dry to unctuously sweet—and Vouvray is cheap. Try its neighbor, Montlouis-sur-Loire, too.
UNIQUENESS The Loire puts its stamp on all the wine it makes. Its Chenin Blanc, Gamay, Malbec and Pinot Noir are notably different from iterations of those grapes elsewhere. Also, the Loire has grapes seen almost nowhere else, including Melon de Bourgogne, which makes Muscadet. Romorantin is a virtually lost white grape that survives only here, through the efforts of a few devoted (crazy?) growers. Try François Cazin's Cour-Cheverny (about $18), a rich, dry, heady bottle—or, again, toss a few bucks more at his Cuvée Renaissance (about $20), which is a touch sweet, is deeply concentrated and can age for many years. Speaking of aging:
LONGEVITY The majority of wine purchased in the U.S. is consumed within 24 hours, and cellaring wine is considered snobby, impractical or self-denying. But you're missing out if you forgo the pleasures of well-aged wine. It doesn't have to be expensive, and it's not that hard to age. Just throw it on its side, keep it out of excessive heat and humidity (your mid-70s thermostat setting won't mess it up), protect it from rapid changes in temperature and try to forget about it for a few years. Some Loire wines should be drunk young, but others (including the good-when-young) will do amazing things over time. The best Muscadets will easily last 20 years, and Bernard Baudry's mid-priced Chinon Les Grezeaux ($26.99 at Cave Taureau in Durham) improves after five or 10.
SOBRIETY Loire wines tend to be lower in alcohol than the often-boozy stuff from the rest of the world. This is partially because the climate of the Loire, one of the northernmost winemaking regions, is cool and subject to the mistral winds, which are cold and dry. These factors keep grapes from reaching the overripeness conducive to high-alcohol wines. Wines in the 12–13 percent range, once the norm, are now rarer, but you'll find many of them in the Loire. These wines have better balance, and you can drink more glasses yet get less drunk.
GO WELL WITH FOOD High-alcohol wines should be avoided, especially with dinner. Alcohol dulls the palate and overpowers subtle flavors (including those in the wine). With their alcoholic restraint and prominent acidity and minerality, Loire wines pair wonderfully with all sorts of food. (Try Muscadet with oysters, Sancerre Blanc with goat cheese—both famous matches—and Chinon with roast chicken.) Also, Loire winemakers tend to use little or no intrusive oak, focusing on the purity of the fruit itself. The Loire is full of vignerons of great rectitude, respect for tradition and stewardship of the land. The watchwords here are purity, authenticity and integrity. In the words of Triangle importer Thomas Meunier, whose Authentique Vin company is Loire-heavy: "With these wines, you cannot lie."
AVAILABILITY Meunier is one of many local purveyors of Loire wines. The Durham distributor Centerba carries the Loire-laden portfolio of Louis/Dressner, and retailers and restaurants in the area are flush with Loire wines, many of them in limited supply in the U.S. The Triangle is a respected consumer market for these wines and gets some scarce bottles, often from older vintages.
This article appeared in print with the headline "Loire of the land."