Loire Valley Wine Country and Wine Bargains

loire valley vinyards

It is hunting season in the Loire and this little sign gives the okay to hunt in the vineyards

What a difference one week makes in the wine country of France. A week ago we were in Burgundy. The weather was absolutely wonderful, warm with little, puffy clouds for a picture-perfect day. We are now in the Loire Valley, lodging in a very quaint country home near the village of Chitenay. The weather did an about-face on us. The weather has been overcast with off-and-on rain the entire week. Despite the gloomy weather, we are enjoying the wine country and the amazing Chateaux of the Loire Valley. The Loire Valley is huge compared to Burgundy. The Loire Valley runs west to east for some 250 miles. It is also much wider than the Burgundy region. In Burgundy we were surrounded by vineyards. In the Loire Valley wine country, the vineyards are spread out and in between are beautiful forests, grasslands, cornfields and sunflower fields. In Burgundy the rows of vines are very close together and short in height. In the Loire Valley the spacing is much wider between the rows and the vines grow taller. Only two grapes are grown in Burgundy, Pinot Noir and Chardonnay. In the Loire Valley, there are many grape varieties.

Chateau Chenonceau

Chateau Chenonceau

The Wine Grapes of the Loire

Most wine folks know about the delicious Sauvignon Blanc wines coming from Sancerre and the crisp Chenin Blanc wines from Vouvray. But you may not know the Loire Valley has vineyards of Pinot Noir, Gamay, Cabernet Franc and Cot. What is Cot? It is the local term used for Malbec. Malbec is one of the Bordeaux varieties mostly used in small amounts for blending purposes. In Argentina Malbec is king. In the Loire it is mostly used in blending, but we did try a 100% Cot (Domaine Baron Touraine 2013). It was so much different than the Malbecs we know from Argentina. It was lighter and more acidic, but still tasty.

I believe these are Cot vines better known as Malbec in other parts of France

I believe these are Cot vines better known as Malbec in other parts of France

Also very popular in the Loire Valley is Crémant. Crémant is a delicious and wonderfully-refreshing sparkling wine. In the Loire, and in each AOC of the Loire, a Cremant must be made to specific regulations. If not, Crémant cannot be put on the label.

Our country rental home is in the AOC of Cheverny. On our first day we took a trip into the village of Cheverny and visited the wine shop Maison Vins de Cheverny. This is a wonderful wine shop that is run by the producers of Cheverny wines. There are 32 producers total in Cheverny and the AOC Cour-Cheverny. What is cool about this wine shop is that they have set up three circular stations with wines of each of the producers. For 4 Euros you can taste to your delight white wines, Rosés, and red wines. In the AOC Cheverny, no 100% wines are produced. They are all blends. We had one wine we very much enjoyed, and it turned out to be a blend of 80% Sauvignon Blanc and 20% Chardonnay. In contrast to the Burgundy region, we found the prices to be very reasonable. We spurgled once paying 24 Euros ($30), but most of the wines we purchased were under 12 Euros. ($15).

Great wine bar in Blois

We stumbled on this wine bar just by accident in the city of Blois. We were visiting Chateaux, as most visitors do when in the Loire Valley. Blois is a busy city and this Chateau was one of our favorites. The wine bar and restaurant is Vinomania. What a great name for a cave (wine tasting room). The food was fantastic; check out our salads in the photo. Followng lunch we tasted a few red wines from the Chinon appellation and the Bourueil appellation. These reds were 100% Cabernet Franc.

vinomania salad

salad-vinomania

When we return home, I will be more interested than before the trip in scanning the wine shelves for the wines from this region. On my list are Sancerre, Chenin Blanc, and Crémant wines. Although I did enjoy the Cabernet Franc wines of Chinon, I found them to be a bit acidic and floral for my taste. Oh yes, the Rosé wines are also very delightful and I will look for those as well.

For a very good overview of the wines of the Loire we recommend the Loire Valley Wine Bureau.

Our rental home in the Loire Valley is named La Menagerie. It is a very quaint and comfortable home in the country side of Cheverney.

La Mangerie Chitenay

Our rental La Mangerie

Finding Wine Values in Burgundy wines

Burgundy wine grower

Janelle and I with grower Guillaune Baduel and his mother. Guillaune produces a delicious Bourgogne wine which we purchased for $12 Euros.

Finding Wine Values in Burgundy wines

When we say Burgundy, we do not mean those gallon jugs labeled Burgundy. We mean finding values and bargains in the fine Burgundy wines of France. We are currently traveling in France and visiting the Burgundy region for one week and the Loire Valley for one week.

In Burgundy we have purchased wine at wine shops, caves (tasting rooms), grocery stores, and wineries. There are four official designations of Burgundy wines for both White Burgundy (Chardonnay) and Burgundy (Pinot Noir). These are: Bourgogne, Village, Premier Cru, and Grand Cru. We have been lucky enough to try wines from each designation. Burgundy is 88 miles long, and nearly 100% of the vineyards are Chardonnay and Pinot Noir.

For wine bargain hunters, the Bourgogne category and the Village category are where the values are to be found, both in France and the U.S markets. The Premiere Cru and the Grand Cru wines are very expensive wines ranging from 30 Euros upwards. Considered to be the very best Burgundy producer is Romanee Conti.  The Romanee Conti wines command prices over $2000 a bottle.

In the Bourgogne and Village categories, the White Burgundys are great values. According to Burgundy wine educator Pascal Wagner, the best White Burgundys come from the villages of Puligny Montrachet and the Meursault. Next are from the villages of  Pouilly Fuisse, and Chablis. Even in the lowest category, the Bourgogne category, the White Burgundys are wonderful. The most outstanding characteristic is the minerality of the wine. It makes the wine distinctive and sets it apart from all the Chardonnay wines in the world. These wines are aromatic and balanced with acidity and beautiful flavors. Most of the wineries use barrels to ferment and age the Chardonnay. Very few new oak barrels are used, perhaps one barrel is new among barrels that are two to five years old. You must give yourself the opportunity to try a White Burgundy. No California Chardonnays are anything like a fresh-tasting White Burgundy. See for yourself!

The Pinot Noir Burgundies are lighter in style than our Oregon and California Pinot Noir wines. Burgundys also have a distinctive earthy and mineral characteristic. Like with Chardonnay, most producers use few new oak barrels to make the wine. Reading a Burgundy label is a learning experience. For inexpensive Burgundies look for the word Bourgogne on the label. These wines can be all from one vineyard in the Bourgogne area or from several vineyards in the Bourgogne. There are bargain wines to be found in this area. This is where it is good to have a local wine shop where the proprietor knows Burgundy wines. Surely their inventory will have some very good value Burgundy wines.  A good resource for how to read a Burgundy wine label is at the Wine-Searcher Website.

In Burgundy the grower is more than likely also the winemaker. Winemaking is secondary to working the vineyards. “We grow our wine” is the motto of the Burgundy region.

Here is a versatile vineyard tractor that we see often throughout the vineyards of Burgundy. We wonder what the man in the side chair is doing. I would like to have a job like that. Click here if the video does not show.

Taste wine like a Burgundian

This is the best advice I have read, seen or heard on tasting wine. A quick exercise in wine tasting was given to me by wine educator and sommelier, Pascal Wagner. Pascal has been living in Burgundy for the past 18 years. Janelle and I are visiting … [Continue reading]

Catching the Crush in the Napa Valley

vineyard-management

I have been very lucky the last couple of trips to the Napa Valley. I was able to watch the harvest at two different vineyards in the Valley. I have also had the chance to see the sorting and crushing of grapes and the tanks filled with the … [Continue reading]

Two Cameron Hughes wines we like now

Balanced Chardonnay from Cameron Hughes

The two vintage years of 2012 and 2013 in California have been excellent both in terms of quality and quantity. Negociants like Cameron Hughes have benefited because growers have more grapes to sell and wineries have extra juice, more than they can … [Continue reading]

Whole Foods Olive Oil Tasting

olive-oils-wfs

I have been a participant in olive oil tastings, but never conducted one myself. The folks that do PR for Whole Foods Stores asked if I would like to do an olive oil tasting of Whole Foods brand of olive oils. I thought sure, why not, it sounds like … [Continue reading]