This past week whilst on vacation I spent a some time at the Loire Valley Fantasy Camp.  You see, I needed a theme to explore, and I had been building up a small supply of Loire reds and a week in the country seemed like a good time to drink them back to back.  The Loire valley is huge, on par with other great wine regions like Bordeaux, Burgundy, and the Rhone, but perhaps less well regarded and less well known.  Especially in the United States.  So for that matter it makes the Loire worth exploring, for there are many sub regions, producing reds and whites in many styles and from a huge variety of grapes.  There are many excellent producers throughout the Loire, and it has been home to some of the leaders in natural, organic, and bio dynamic wine production.  Another great thing about Loire wines, is that their prices remain relatively low and reasonable, especially in comparison to the other more well known areas (again Bordeaux, Burgundy, Rhone).  Being in a more northerly situation than Bordeaux or the Rhone, the wines tend not to be as full bodied as wines from those regions.  It lies to the west of the Burgundy and Beaujolais regions, so the more cooler climate affects what types of grapes are grown and how ripe they can get.  There are many great terroirs throughout the Loire, not all of which can be explored here, so I just chose to focus on a few smaller yet iconic producers.  The Loire Valley wines, I feel, are emerging more and more as people are discovering their great quality and character, and their attractive price points.  The Loire Valley, like many other areas has its own promotional vehicles in motion too, so for some more in depth details from the people bring you wines from the Loire, look here.

One of the most iconic and beloved producers in the Loire is Clos Roche Blanche.  They grow many varietals in the Touraine area of the Loire, but I happened upon the “L’Arpent Rouge” which is apparently made from the Pineau d’Aunis grape.  This bottle lived up to the Clos Roche Blanche reputation and signifies perhaps the greatest quality to value play out of all the wines.  I have had Clos Roche Blanche wines on a couple other occasions and it certainly confirms the wines consistently fine track record and fair pricing.  You can find out a bit more about this legendary Loire producer from the legendary Loire wine blogger Chris Kissack, a.k.a. the Wine Doctor, here.

Clos Roche Blanche is also well known from their Cot (aka Malbec).  In fact, as the vignerons Catherine Roussel and Didier Barrouillet have gotten on in years, they have sold or let parcels to others.  One such producer who is quickly gaining a name in her own right is Noella M0rantin who works a sizable chunk (about 20 acres/8.5 hectares).  She is gaining fans not just because of the excellent source of her fruit, but because of her wine making philosophy and the excellent wines she in turn produces.  You can read a bit more in depth on this fascinating young vigneron of the Loire here on Wine Terroirs.

Many of the great wines of the Loire can be found in the Louis/Dressner portfolio.  Clos Roche Blanche is represented, and so are Agnes and Rene Mosse, who are making wines in the Anjou region of the Loire.  A good friend, who happens to be English, but resides in France, brought me this bottle.  As soon as I saw the Louis/Dressner label on the back of the bottle, I knew this was going to be interesting.  Their Anjou Rouge is a blend of old vine Cabernet Sauvignon and younger vine Cabernet Franc.  The Anjou from the Mosse’s represented the darkest offering out of all the wines I tried from the Loire.  It reminded me not a little bit of some fantastic reds I have had from South Africa?

I also brought along a couple of wines that I had tried from the Loire that I had been saving since the Jenny & Francois Natural Wine Fair.  The Olivier Cousin Gamay is a must try, it is more animal and less fruit than a Gamay from the Beaujolais.  And the Grolleau is a must try simply due to is obscurity, but well worth it, as the wine is simply delicious.  I had a bottle of Anjou from Cousin along as well but it was broken before it could be tasted, what a tragedy.

Olivier Cousin is one of the leaders in the natural wine movement in the Loire, and in France.  While noted for many things, I think Cousin’s horse Joker, which he uses to plow his fields has become an iconic symbol for not only Cousin, but natural wine in general.  The Cousin wines are part of the fantastic all natural wine portfolio of Jenny & Francois.  Like a few other importers that I admire, a Jenny & Francois label on the back of a bottle is a guarantee to a great and authentic wine experience.   

Tasting Notes from Loire Valley Fantasy Camp:

Clos Roche Blanche 2010 “L’Arpent Rouge” Touraine  $19.99

This may be the finest expression of the Pineau d’Aunis grape on the market.  At least the finest I have encountered, not least of all because it comes from a stellar producer.  Medium garnet in color there is an exotic nose of boysenberry, and dark berries, with cracked pepper and a touch of smoked earth.  The mid palate is balanced and the finish just draws out.  This is not one of those wines that is in your face, rather, it is subtle and layered.  It’s memorable for how it keeps one guessing.  Purchased at Frankly Wines.  HIGHLY RECOMMENDED – MUST TRY

Noella Morantin 2009 “Cot a Cot”  $26.99

This Cot (as Malbec is known in the Loire) is special not only because of the source of its grapes (Clos Roche Blnche) but because it is worth trying to see what Malbec can be in the Loire.  Very different from Argentina’s expression.  Noella’s Cot is purple hued, and there is bright purple fruit with some sweet earth and lavender.  There is a tart attack with hints of pepper, and it clamps down a bit on the finish.  Its a bit of a straight shooter, but worth a try.  Purchased at Frankly Wines.  RECOMMENDED

Olivier Cousin 2008 Gamay  $20.99

The 2008 Olivier Cousin Gamay is a wonderful expression of the Gamay grape.  Perhaps a bit different than a Beaujolais expression, it has a vibrant nose of cracked pepper, lavender, plum fruit, spiced cherries, gun powder, and hints of animal.  There is a tart moderate acidity, and the second day the wine is even better, a promising sign, with the pepper and berry elements really singing.  Purchased at Astor Wines.  HIGHLY RECOMMENDED

Olivier Cousin 2009 Grolleau  $19.99

Grolleau is another more obscure variety from the Loire.  There is a real sweet round approachability to this wine.  It is has sweet cherries, fresh grapes, and a hint of black pepper.  The wine is not as complex as some of the others, but it has a subtle delicious factor that is hard not to like.  Purchased at Astor Wines.  RECOMMENDED

Agnes &  Rene Mosse – Anjou Rouge 2008  $21.99

This was the “biggest” of the Loire wines tasted here.  It was dark crimson purple with that unmistakable day after campfire smell.  There are notes of cracked black pepper, dark subtle fruits, and earth.  Yet the mouth feel remains bright and lively and it lingers on the palate.  A blend of the Cabernets (Savignon and Franc).  Available at Astor Wines.  RECOMMENDED