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WINE AND FOOD WEDNESDAY
04/27/2011
Wine and Food Wednesday
Loire Reds—-Vive la Difference

By Stephen Eliot

A couple of weeks back, we sat down to a decidedly meaty meal and worked our ways through a number of lighter red wines from France’s Loire Valley, and, while blinding epiphany was hardly the result, there were plenty of pleasant surprises of a more quiet type.

Hosted by the Loire Valley Wine Bureau at San Francisco’s Café Des Amis, and directed by bureau-spokesperson, Jessica Engle, the event aimed to bring a bit of attention to the oft-overlooked red wines of a region principally praised for its whites. Yes, the Loire Valley makes a fair bit of red wine from varietals ranging from Gamay to Pinot Noir to Malbec and Cabernet Franc. They are, for the most part, cast in a somewhat lighter style than those of the Côtes d’Or, Bordeaux and California, et al, and, while not on the big and bold side, they nonetheless proved to be fine companions to a succession of fairly full-flavored dishes this evening.

The simple fact that they are “lighter” and less obviously ripe is enough, I suspect, to win high praise from those conspiracy-obsessed critics of richer wines (yawn) who seek new recruits for their “counter-trend” movement, but these wines were interesting because they have character as well. Not all were successful, and, for me the fresh and aromatic Pinots seemed a bit thin and drawn on the palate. More appealing and downright delicious with both a tasty prime-rib carpaccio and roasted squab, several bottlings of Gamay hit the mark with the juicy, well-filled 2009 Gamay de Touraine “Le Bois Jacou” from Jean-Francois Merieau and the rather more substantial 2009 Vinifera Gamay de Touraine Henry Marionnet being favorites.

Several Cabernet Francs followed as partners to a rare loin of lamb, and, while deeper and weightier as the grape predicts, they too showed a certain aromatic freshness that set them apart. The nervy, herb-scented 2008 Chinon Vielles Vignes Pithon-Paillé and slightly richer 2009 Saumur-Champigny Domaine Roches Nueves are fine cameos of Loire’s way with the grape, and the 2005 Chinon Clos du Chênes Vert from what many (yours truly included) regard as Chinon’s finest producer, Charles Jouget, stood out as the deepest and most complex of the lot with plenty of dark fruit laced with subtle shadings of spice and herbs.

If, in fact, the evening was meant to show off just how tasty these Loire Reds could be at the entrée table, then it should be tagged as a success. It is also worth noting that as a group the wine’s afforded outstanding value, and but for Jouget’s single-vineyard offering which is priced at a very reasonable $35.00, most all of the evening’s wine were $20.00 or less at retail.

More than a few of those attending made the comment that the wines, while wonderfully aromatic, were a bit stiff for solo sipping and showed their best when paired with food. That might be the case with the leaner Pinots and more structured Cabernet Francs, but the Gamays invite drinking with or without food, and I must admit that I continued to sip Jouget’s involving Clos du Chênes long after the plates were cleared.

Comments

Okay but...
by Samantha Dugan
Posted on:4/27/2011 6:35:18 PM

Stephen,

Fantastic to see some of my most beloved wines here, half the time I feel like I don't know what the heck you people are talking about round here. Loire produces wines that are directly up my alley and they are the wines, both red and white, that I drink most often, almost daily most weeks. We've been working on our customers for years and now those wines are some of the most purchased and asked for at The Wine Country....freaking love it!

So my question to you sir is this, if someone drinks those "thin and drawn" Pinots regularly then might it be easy to see how many new world Pinots might taste or feel too rich or full?

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