By Celia Strong
So here we are at the last week of this year. I know it’s probably the usual to re-look at the best wines I’ve tasted this past year, but, if I’ve shared my info and new finds with you the way I should, we’re all drinking them anyhow by now. Really, if I’ve shown you all my new finds and favorites all along, that means I either have to repeat myself and bore you or contradict myself. And, since I don’t want to do either, you know what that means, don’t you? We get to move on to my next current favorite, deal or whatever, like there is nothing big changing this week. So, what we’re going to do is look at just another new wine, another good deal, something that would have been nice weeks ago but is just as good now. Let’s face it, another new year is another 52 weeks for new wines, new deals and new favorites. Yay!
For our wine this week we are going to look at one of my favorite everyday drinking varieties — Sauvignon Blanc. And, to add to the fun, a wine that I have a bit of personal history with and have lost track of over the years and found again.
So, here we go to the Loire Valley in France. Years ago, when I actually started studying wines, the Loire Valley was the only source for good Sauvignon Blancs. (Obviously you can tell by this that “years ago” means before New Zealand was a wine country with any wines considered worth drinking. and before Sauvignon Blancs were actually made around the world.) The Loire Valley is a wine region of France that runs from the Atlantic Ocean east for about 350 miles into central France. It starts at the ocean near the city of Nantes in the Muscadet area and goes upstream to the cities of Pouilly-sur-Loire (home of Pouilly Fume) and Sancerre. (This Eastern end of the river is very close to the region of Burgundy.)
As it flows from West to East, the Loire changes soils and grape varieties — starting with Muscadet at Nantes, then Chenin Blanc then Sauvignon Blanc, all whites. For red grapes, which are rarer for the Loire Valley, there are Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet France, Gamay and a tiny bit of Pinot Noir at the Eastern end of the river. Caught between a true southern climate and the northern colder climate of Bordeaux, Loire Valley wines have always been lighter, crisper and shorter-lived than their neighbors, sparkling wines from Chenin Blanc and Sauvignon Blanc have helped them save wines from colder (which means not always completely ripe grapes) vintages.
French citizens have always valued the sparkling wines from the Loire Valley when they could not afford real Champagne. (Way back in 1953 and 1954, when I lived in France for a year thanks to my father’s studying there, my family was introduced to these Loire bubblies. I, of course, was not of legal drinking age then, but what he learned my father passed on to me.)
In addition to an almost moderate climate, the Loire Valley also has some history that is interesting, and influential on its wines. Because it was located about a day’s horse-carriage ride southwest of Paris, during the days of French Kings and royalty it was the summer “go-to” spot. The river itself was lovely and cooling and calming, vegetables and fruit grew abundantly, there were plenty of fish and game to have, and — if you had enough money and power (like the King) — you could build your mistress a small chateau down the river a bit from your big one, see her fairly regularly, and your wife, in the big chateau, would never know. (Yeah, right.) All of this meant life along the river was active and very social. Good food and good wines developed together and became part of the French standards. (Many liqueurs also come from the Loire Valley — Grand Marnier and Chambord included.) Truly, the Loire is an interesting area.
Moving on to our grape for this week, Sauvignon Blanc. This variety’s origins are traced to the Loire Valley and Bordeaux. It is associated genetically with the Carmenere family, now of Chilean fame. At some point in the 18th century, Sauvignon Blanc was paired with Cabernet Franc to make a new variety — Cabernet Sauvignon. (A perfect example of two smaller parents making a really big kid.)
Along the length of the Loire River, there is a range of soil types. This accounts partly for the large number of different grape varieties that grow successfully there. Sauvignon Blanc is found mostly from the middle of the river around the city of Tours upstream to the great wines in the East — Pouily-Fume and Sancerre. White wine making in the Loire is characterized by a general avoidance of barrel aging and malolactic fermentation.
Baron Patrick de Ladoucette is the proprietor for our wine. He is well known for his superb Ladoucette Pouilly-Fume. But, through one side of his family, he was related to the Comte (French for Count) Lafond, a well known Sancerre. Both of these wines have been leaders in world sales for their appellations for years. The Baron took over running the family vineyards in 1972 when he was 20 years old. He is responsible for establishing their reputation for superior quality and has earned himself the “King of the Loire Valley” nickname. In 1992, he was my host for a tour of Chateau de Nozet, the family home in Pouily-sur-Loire, and the source for his great Pouilly-Fume wines and a lunch with many of his wines. (Imagine sitting at a Chateau dining room table with the Baron of the Chateau and asking him to pass you the salt.) After lunch, and coffee and cognac from his Cognac vineyards, we strolled outside for a photo of us in front of the Chateau, taken by his family photographer. Proof that I was there.
Moving beyond the wines of Pouilly-Fume and Sancerre, which can be a bit expensive, the Baron is now making a wine from his vineyards in Tours. The appellation here for white wines is “Touraine.” The soils are mainly limestone with some blotches of clay mixed in — perfect for Sauvignon Blanc. “Les Deux Tours” is the name on this wine, The Two Towers. The fermentation of this wine is temperature controlled in stainless steel tanks. This wine is pale golden-green in color and has citrus and floral aromas. There is a lively acidity in it, plenty of body, richness and roundness and a smooth finish. And completely different from New Zealand Sauvignon Blancs. Its usual price is close to $20 a bottle. But, as usual, we have a deal for you. At $13.97, you can try it for yourself. And like it. I’m going to sip through several bottles and remember my day with the Baron. Enjoy!