When we were living in the Bay Area and first discovered the wines of Kermit Lynch, one of the first mixed cases we compiled was made up entirely of wines from the Loire Valley. If there’s a single region in France whose stylistic bent is geared towards wines of “thirst” (vin de soif), we decided early on this is it. The whites can be highly nuanced, crisp without being bracing, and somehow deeply supple too, and the reds as chillable and refreshing as the whites but with an abundance of fruit and herbs that never tire the palate.
Since that idyllic time of drinking the Loire in San Francisco, a new generation of intrepid wine importers have made available to us a new cast of characters from the Loire coming not only from other wine regions but other walks of life.
THE REDS Part 1: Anjou
Nicholas Reau was a rugby-playing blues and jazz pianist who did a one-eighty after nearing the end of his business studies. He dropped his briefcase and scraped together the funds to buy a vineyard, Clos des Treilles, and immediately started getting his hands dirty. Even though Nicolas had studied in Bordeaux, there was something about Anjou which drew him in—as with Benoit Courault, who also started in a more mainstream region (Burgundy) only to find a sense of in-authenticity that left him seeking truer mentors elsewhere (causing him to spend a couple years working with Eric Pfifferling of L’Anglore in Tavel, as well as learning how to make a horse his vineyard manager from the likes of Olivier Cousin).
If there’s a way to describe both the jazz musician’s and the equestrian’s approaches to vineyard tending and winemaking, it would be natural improvisation. While Nicolas harvests from the older vines he found already in his Clos des Treilles vineyard, allowing the resulting grape juice to turn itself into wine auto-poetically through a path that starts in cement, then used oak, and finally settling into the bottle without any fining/filtering/sulfuring or other interferences, Benoit converted the old farm house on his six hectare property into a winery and decided to create his own living inhabitation directly in the vineyard itself with a trailer, not fussing with the soil (but allowing his horse Norway to take care of that) so that the itinerary from harvest to cuvaison is entirely ecosystemic. He also uses an old apple press from Brittany that is then gravity fed so that only the earth’s native forces enable the wine to come into its own.
When you drink both Nicolas’ and Benoit’s wines, their versatility will allow you to improvise too, in the kitchen, as the structure of these wines are wound differently—Nicolas Reau’s Pompois Anjou Rouge 2010 at a looser coil, with boisterous vibrancy, and the Benoit Courault Les Rouliers Vin de France 2010 more densely woven in a way that your own letting it be will be rewarded with a good, long decantation.
Part Two: Touraine
Further inland along the river valley is Touraine, home to one of our favorite of the greatest small appellations in France, Cheverny. Less people live in Cheverny than in Fort Greene but the wine scene there is beyond urbane. Christian Venier, one of seven siblings, took over his family’s domaine as the only child who took up the winemaking call, and makes nearly a dozen single parcel wines. With trouble just picking one (we cherish them all!) we’ve decided to give you one of his reds, “La Pierre aux Chiens,” a lovely filigreed and potpourri’d pinot noir. This is natural winemaking at its most balanced, ripened to only 12% alcohol. Also on offer is Philippe Tessier’s Cheverny Blanc, which is by law a blend of Sauvignon Blanc with at least 20% and no more than 25% of another grape (candidates being either Chardonnay or Menu Pineau, Tessier opting for the former), a wine that many of you have been ordering second glasses of at THIRSTBARÀVIN.
To complete the bag is a dry bottle of classic Vouvray from Catherine and Pierre Breton, who were one of the earlier pioneers of biodynamics in the region after Nicolas Joly and Domaine Huet. Enjoy!
Have an indoor picnic! Spread your best table cloth on the floor and pair these wines with rillettes, spicy tripe sausages, and an assortment of goat cheeses.
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