Article By: Sandy Block, MW
Of course, the French drive us a bit insane with how inconsistent their wines remain despite the supposed guarantees of the AOC system, and Loire Sauvignon is no exception. But when a Sancerre or Pouilly-Fume hits its target there is something so clean and penetrating about its flavors that whatever bother it takes to find the right ones all seems worth it. Because when one of these wines is right there is nothing better. Nothing. And the Loire is still a place where you can find stunning value.
Why do they remain values, even as the dollar has been in free fall against the Euro? Because, at least in my opinion, outside of aficionados the wines are totally overlooked. This is easy to do since their attraction lies in their elegance and balance, subtlety and understatement, rather than dramatic flavor impact. Unlike your typically flamboyant Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc, the fruit rarely explodes from the glass. And yet, although the wines have been around seemingly forever, they are still waiting to be discovered in the US. The time is ripe. As fashions change and our collective palate shifts toward greater appreciation for wines with vibrant acidity to balance the fruit (a transformation confirmed at numerous public tastings I've conducted over the past few years) Loire Sauvignon Blanc is an obvious choice.
There's a seasonal, perhaps ephemeral element too. Warm weather generally suggests a lighter diet, more fish and vegetables, less rich sauces. The Loire is a region where you can find un-oaked Sauvignon Blanc with the right profile to complement these dishes and leave your palate refreshed. Although price may put them out of the range of most everyone's picnic wines, they are wonderful choices for summer dinners on the deck. And there's a bittersweet quality to the wines too: although you'd like to see how they change in the bottle and put some away for a years, the results are generally disappointing. They're so good young they generally have nowhere to go but down after an appropriate period of perhaps 3 or 4 years after bottling. So buy enough for current consumption and then buy again next year.
My list of current finds, selected in blind tastings over the past few months, are in ascending order of preference, with cost not a consideration. (For comparative purposes, prices quoted are average retail.)
Fournier, Pouilly-Fume "Vieilles Vignes," Grande
Chatelain, Sancerre, 2OO2
de Maimbray, Sancerre, 2OO2
du Salvard, Cheverny, 2OO3
Dagueneau, Pouilly-Fume "Pur Sang,"