We shall continue our tour of Middle Earth, I mean Middle Loire, moving further east into Touraine. If you haven’t read about Middle Loire’s Anjou-Saumur region(s), make sure to take a pitstop there first.
Again, I find a compelling quote to introduce this region from the Oxford Companion to Wine: “This is ‘the garden of France,’ and Loire chateau country par excellence.” Let’s find out what makes this particular piece of wine country so excellent…
Note: For a simplified look at the Loire Valley, please see Loire Valley Regional Round-Up and Wine Review and Pop Quiz(es): Loire Valley. (More appropriate for those studying for their Level 3 exams.)
Let’s start by recognizing, that, being further inland, the influence of the Atlantic somewhat wanes in this region of the Loire Valley. While the western portion, which contains the infamous Bourgueil (pronounced Bor-goy), St-Nicholas-de-Bourgueil, and Chinon, receives notable moderating influences from the Atlantic, as we travel inland, more toward Vouvray, and certainly as we snuggle up against the boarder of the Central Vineyards (not covered here), the climate becomes increasingly continental.
As the climate varies from place to place, as does the soil composition—clay, sand, tuffeau, and gravel can all be found.
So it stands to reason, the region can, and does, entertain a variety of grapes, though the two most notable will be Cabernet Franc for red and Sauvignon Blanc for whites.
Touraine AOC encompasses a wide range of wines including white, red, and sparkling. But it is Touraine Blanc, made predominantly of Sauvignon Blanc, that is the regional hero. These wines can be blended with up to 20% Sauvignon Gris only. Touraine Rouge is, of course, made predominantly of Cabernet Franc and can be blended with Cot (the local name for Malbec) and it’s noted that Gamay is also allowed. When it comes to rosé, a wide range of varieties can be used, including Gamay, Cot/Malbec, Grolleau Noir, and both Cabernet Franc and Cabernet Sauvignon.
LABEL FACT: In addition to the basic Touraine AOC, producers can add the name of one of the six sub-zones. Doing so signifies a point of regional difference, reflecting what is grown locally. My text gives the example of Touraine AOC Amboise Blanc. In Touraine-Amboise, the locally grown white grape is Chenin Blanc not Sauvignon Blanc, explains the Oxford. These subzones can also set their own max yields—which will also affect aroma/flavor intensity and profile, I assume.
The next three appellations are those found on the western end of Touraine. And I love this defining descriptor from The World Atlas of Wine (8th edition) “Very broadly, Chinon is the most charming of these Loire reds, Bourgueil the most structured, and St-Nicholas-de-Bourgueil the lightest.”
Chinon AOC, called a “significant red wine appellation” of the Loire by the Oxford, where the principal variety is Cabernet Franc (the local name is Breton) but up to 10% Cabernet Sauvignon can be blended in. The region also produces some rosé and “satisfying dry white from Chenin Blanc.” (the Oxford).
The region produces two styles of red wine: 1) A more structured, age-able expression from grapes grown on the clay and tuffeau limestone slopes in which winemaking includes long maceration periods (between 2 to 3 weeks worth of skin contact); wines are not released until up to two years following the vintage; these are rich, sometimes spicy and, I’ve read, include “animal” aromas like leather and/or fur. 2) A lighter, fruitier expression, typically from the grapes grown in the sand and gravel-based vineyards nearer the river in which winemaking utilizes just a short maceration period (6 to 8 days) and are intended for more immediate consumption with tasting notes that include red berries and licorice.
Bourgueil AOC again specializes in red wine made from Cabernet Franc and in which up to 10% Cabernet Sauvignon is allowed. The Oxford notes that more than half the vines are planted on south-facing slopes of limestone and gravel, producing medium-bodied wines that are said to be more powerful and slightly more tannic than the red wines of Chinon.
It’s also noted that a bit of dry rosé is also produced here.
St-Nicolas-de-Bourgueil AOC produces a lighter style of Cabernet Franc, due to the fact that the majority of its vineyards sit on lighter soil types. My text notes that the style and price of these red wines are similar to Saumur-Champigny AOC—this makes sense if you look at a map. The two regions are neighbors and share similar sandier tuffeau soil types.
These next two appellations are further inland, more toward the center of the broader Touraine region. “Everything royal and romantic can be summed up in the middle stretch of the immense river centered on Tours—a land of renaissance chateaux, ancient towns, and beguiling white wines.” (the Atlas)
Vouvray AOC is the most important white wine appellation in Touraine. “Vouvray is Chenin Blanc and, to a certain extent, Chenin Blanc is Vouvray.” (the Oxford) Note, though, that the “official” rules state that the wines be made from a minimum of 95% Chenin Blanc, as up to 5% of the local Menu Pibeau is allowed in the mix.
The Oxford notes that the range in quality of Vouvray produced varies enormously—and is oft times entirely indicative of the vintage: “The influence of the Atlantic meets that of the continent here; the weather varies enormously from year to year, as do the ripeness and health of the grapes.” As my text points out, the best vineyards are those located on the slopes overlooking the Loire, where “the soils are flinty, clay, and limestone over tuff,” and the grapes can enjoy good sunlight with the river also acting as a moderating influence on temperature. Conversely, those planted further away from the river sit in soils with increasing percentage of clay inclusion, meaning soils are colder (not to mention vines are further away from the reflected warmth and light from the river itself which further decreases temperatures), and thus slow down the ripening process.
Dry Vouvray, as well as sparkling, is made every vintage. The Oxford notes that winemaking is intended to showcase the pure fruit expression, thus neutral vessels (including old oak casks and stainless steel) are typically used. “This is one of the few wine regions of the world of little commercial interest to the cooperage business.” (the Oxford). Following that theme, ML is generally avoided, and the best expressions are expected to age—slowly—in the bottle, slowly overcoming the grape’s innate high acidity.
Demi sec/medium dry wines are also produced in most years. But sweet wine is rare—a point of difference to Anjou where sweet wines are made almost every vintage. LABEL FACT: Unless clearly marked on the label, it can be difficult to know whether a Vouvray is dry or sweet.
Montiouis-sur-Loire AOC—FUN GEOGRAPHCIAL FACT: This region faces Vouvray from across the south bank of the river, making very similar wines from 100% Chenin. As the Atlas notes, “The terroir is very similar (even locals can find the wines difficult to differentiate), although Montlouis lacks the perfect sheltered, south-facing situation of the first rank of Vouvray‘s vineyards along the Loire.”
It is because of that latter point that wines can have a bit more “tension” than their across-the-street neighbor.
Footnote: A significant number of vineyards are farmed biodynamically, due to an influx of new growers and producers to the region within the last 30 years.
Wine Case Study: Domaine Huet Vouvray Sec Le Haut Lieu 2019
About the Wine:
From the winery: “The original Huët vineyard is nearly 9 hA. It has the richest soils of the domaine’s three crus—a deep limestone-clay —and the wines are generally the estate’s most approachable. In some vintages, small quantities from nearby estate parcels may be added to Le Haut-Lieu.”
Price: $38.99 (wine.com)
Appearance: Pale lemon
Aroma: Medium aromatic intensity: apple, pear, honeysuckle, blossom, agave nectar, nectarine, tangerine, lemon, lime (and their zests).
Palate: Dry (perhaps off-dry), high acid, medium bodied, medium (+) level of intensity: all of the above, with apple juice being the first thing to taste. Then lime, lime zest, and those floral notes lingering in the background the whole time. There is a touch of texture, which makes me wonder about lees aging as well as a smokey undertone and some vanilla notes that makes me wonder about some time in oak as well.
Also, as a note, I do think that this wine is perceptively dry, but I wonder if there’s not a small amount of R.S. (I’m thinking somewhere between 2 to 5 g/L), as I do get a lingering “stickiness” on the tongue.
The finish is just shy of long at a medium (+).
Conclusion: This is a very good wine. I do find it well-balanced. Those fresh fruity tones are highlighted by the very present acidity. The texture on the tongue and those smokey tones add a level of intrigue and complexity to the tasting experience. Although, for me, the intensity of the aroma didn’t shine through, I found the palate quite assertive and so I am going to give it a point for intensity. The slight evidence of R.S. was also well-balanced with the high level of acidity and also contributed to the wine’s overall medium body and smooth mouthfeel. However, the finish did fall short of long at a medium (+), leaving that “stickiness” on the palate in place of flavor. So I cannot mark this wine as outstanding.
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