Category Archives: France – Loire Valley

Bouvet Ladubay, Loire Valley (France) Rosé Excellence, Brut NV

($16):  Bouvet Ladubay, one of the Loire’s largest producers of sparkling wine, is back under Monmousseau family control since 2015, after having been run by a succession of corporate enterprises.  This mid-weight rosé, made exclusively from Cabernet Franc grown in the Saumur region of the Loire Valley, delivers spice with a hint of sweetness.  This energetic wine would be a good match for spicy food or sushi and a superb way to welcome guests this Thanksgiving.
88 Michael Apstein Nov 10, 2020

Langlois-Chateau, Sancerre (Loire Valley, France) 2019

($25, Vintus):  Langlois-Chateau, though best known for their sparkling wines, also makes noteworthy still wines, such as this Sancerre.  The appealing bite of Sauvignon Blanc is apparent, but it speaks of minerals and chalk rather than overt fruitiness.  Fresh, bright and clean, it’s a refreshing and graceful expression of that grape.
90 Michael Apstein May 19, 2020

Langlois-Chateau, Crémant de Loire (Loire Valley, France) Brut NV

($23, Vintus):  Edouard Langlois and Jeanne Chateau founded their eponymous company in 1912 and has been a leading producer of Crémant de Loire ever since.  This, their standard NV Brut, is a blend of Chenin Blanc (at least 60%), and roughly equal parts of Chardonnay and Cabernet Franc.  Yes, you read that correctly.  Just as Champagne producers use black grapes (Pinot Noir and Pinot Meunier) in their blend, Loire producers use one of their indigenous red grapes in their sparkling wines.  It’s taut and focused, with bright and refreshing acidity without harshness.   A great aperitif, it will also cut through things like grilled swordfish so don’t be afraid to take it to the table.
90 Michael Apstein May 19, 2020

Couly-Dutheil, Chinon (Loire Valley, France) “Les Chanteaux” 2018

($30, Cynthia Hurley French Wines):  White wine from Chinon is unusual since 95 percent of the appellation’s output is red.  Couly-Dutheil, one of Chinon’s top domaines, consistently produces a fabulous example of white Chinon along with their stellar range of red Chinon wines.  Made exclusively from Chenin Blanc, white Chinon combines the fruitiness of the grape with a distinct mineral component that growers there attribute to the chalky soil.  Couly-Dutheil’s 2018 Les Chanteaux is stunning, delivering subtle peach-like nuances with bracing acidity that amplifies the wine’s charms.  Refreshing and uplifting by itself, it’s also a great foil for roast pork or a spice-coated roast chicken.
92 Michael Apstein Apr 28, 2020

Joseph Mellot, Sancerre (Loire Valley, France) “La Chatellenie” 2018

($29):  To my mind, authentic Sancerre delivers more than simply Sauvignon Blanc bite and grassy fruitiness.  And this one does just that.  Though not as mineral-y as some — I suspect because of the ripeness of the vintage — a lovely chalk-y mineral component still peeks through and is especially apparent in the finish. Its sturdiness makes it a fine choice for a roast chicken.
89 Michael Apstein Mar 24, 2020

J. de Villebois, Sancerre (Loire Valley, France) 2018

($26, Vineyard Brands):  Joost de Willebois, a Dutch financier, knows a business opportunity when he sees it.  In 2004, he found a small Loire winery owned by someone who had no successor and he bought it with the idea of transforming it into something larger.  J. de Villebois now makes a bevy of wines from Sauvignon Blanc, including this Sancerre and a Pouilly-Fumé (also reviewed this week.)   Lovely by itself, this Sancerre becomes more fascinating for those of us who really want to understand the difference Sancerre and Pouilly-Fumé, which is made from the same grape, just grown across the river.   This clean and bright Sancerre has energy and an attractive mouth-cleansing bite.  Not aggressive, it awakens the palate.
88 Michael Apstein Feb 11, 2020

J. de Villebois, Pouilly Fumé (Loire Valley, France) 2018

($26, Vineyard Brands):  People often ask what is the difference between Sancerre and Pouilly-Fumé.  Regulations require that both wines are made exclusively from Sauvignon Blanc.  Sancerre is on the west bank of the Loire while Pouilly sur Loire, the town that gives the wine its name, is about 10 miles away on the east bank of the river.  Since J. de Villebois makes both wines consumers can compare and see, or in this case, taste the difference. Villebois’ Pouilly Fumé is slightly more suave than their Sancerre. Though it has a fraction less electricity — making it a touch more subdued — by comparison, it still has a great cutting edginess to it.  It’s a good trade-off.
88 Michael Apstein Feb 11, 2020

Vignobles Gunther-Chéreau, Muscadet Sèvre et Maine (Loire Valley, France) “Les Vergers” Sur Lie 2016

($20):  This wine shows that Muscadet, especially those from the subregion Sèvre et Maine, can develop with bottle age.  Most often, consumers think Muscadet should be consumed young with shellfish or other seafood.  And that’s correct.  Muscadet is a delightful — and affordable — wine for seafood.  But, as this one shows, a few years of bottle age add depth without reducing its vibrancy.  Still energetic, this wine has developed and conveys subtle mineral-like flavors.  It’s another great choice for sushi.
90 Michael Apstein Feb 11, 2020

Château Yvonne, Saumur Blanc (Loire Valley, France) 2017

($52, Oz Wine Company):  Most of the wine made from Chenin Blanc, the primary white grape in Saumur, went into sparkling wine or non-distinguished still wine.  That has changed over the last couple of decades, with talented and focused producers, such as Château Yvonne, and others.  Château Yvonne’s tightly-wound 2017 displays enormous energy and a dazzling interplay of Chenin Blanc’s subtle citrus fruitiness and minerality.  I’d put it in the cellar for a few years, but if you’re drinking it this summer with spiced Asian fare or sushi — combinations I highly recommend — open it a couple of hours in advance.
92 Michael Apstein Aug 27, 2019

Domaine Guiberteau, Saumur Blanc (Loire Valley, France) Clos de Guichaux 2016

($41, Becky Wasserman & Co.):  Domaine Guiberteau is one of Saumur’s top producers.  As much as I hate to say it because it diminishes my role as a critic, I will:  It’s hard to go wrong just picking their wines blindly.  Their Clos de Guichaux, located within a stone’s throw of the hill of Brézé, the most revered portion of the appellation, has the same tuffeau (sandy limestone) soil that allows Chenin blanc to express itself clearly.  And similar to wines from Brézé, it displays a stone-y edginess that complements the subtle fruitiness of Chenin Blanc.  A long and penetrating zesty citrus finish amplifies its qualities.  I’d give this youthful wine a few more years to open, judging from the way it blossomed the next day.
94 Michael Apstein Aug 27, 2019

Couly-Dutheil, Chinon (Touraine, Loire Valley, France) “Les Chanteaux” 2017

($25):  Though the vast majority (>95%) of wine from Chinon is red and made from Cabernet Franc, noteworthy and distinctive whites made from Chenin Blanc also carry that appellation.  This is one of them.  Couly-Dutheil is one of the top Chinon producers, making a bevy of easy-to-recommend reds year after year, so it should come as no surprise that they can make this stellar white wine.  Cutting acidity in the finish balances and amplifies its peachy nuances.  A lush texture and even the barest hint of stone fruit bitterness adds complexity and allure.  It reminds us the Chenin Blanc planted in the right place and make into wine by the right people makes one of the world’s great wines.
92 Michael Apstein Aug 6, 2019

Domaine du Landreau, Crémant de Loire (France) “Volage” Rosé Brut Sauvage NV

($28):  This wonderful sparkler is not your typical Crémant de Loire Rosé.  Made entirely from Cabernet Franc, it has all of the allure of the grape with power and depth.  It’s been aged on the lees for 36 months, which imparts a lovely texture.  Beautifully balanced, its spine of acidity keeps it fresh. This rosé cries for food — grilled bluefish or tuna, because the heft of the wine will support it.  It’s a great buy.
93 Michael Apstein Jul 9, 2019

Pascal Jolivet, Pouilly-Fumé (Loire Valley, France) 2016

($23):   Although made entirely from the Sauvignon Blanc grape, as required by regulations, Jolivet’s v never screams that grape.  Sure, you sense a bite, characteristic of the varietal, but the overall impression is one of a minty minerality with an enlivening citrus finish.  Clean and refreshing, it has substantial depth, which makes it perfect for steamed clams or hearty seafood.
90 Michael Apstein Mar 19, 2019

Bouvet-Ladubay, Crémant de Loire (Loire Valley, France) “Brut Excellence” 2015

($17, Kobrand Wine & Spirits):  Taittinger, a top Champagne house, has owned Bovet-Ladubay since the mid-1970s and that likely explains, at least in part, the wine’s elegance and focus.  A blend of Chenin Blanc and Chardonnay, this bubbly is steely, crisp, and refreshing.  The spine of acidity makes is a great choice to bring to the table after you have a glass or two as an aperitif because it will cut through whatever flavors are on the plate.
90 Michael Apstein Aug 28, 2018

Claude Branger, Muscadet Sèvre et Maine Sur Lie (Loire Valley, France) “Le Fils des Gras Moutons” 2016

($13, Vintage ’59 Imports):  Claude Branger along with his wife, Thérèse, and son, Sébastien, run this family property, also known as Domaine Haut Févrie.  They are an exceptional team, insisting on hand harvesting, which is unusual in Muscadet, and committed to converting fully to organic production.  They make a range of Muscadet, from this one blended from a variety of vineyards, to more substantial ones from individual plots.  This is an excellent and well-priced introduction to their style. It delivers unusual — for Muscadet — concentration and a flinty quality without sacrificing the vibrant and lively signature of Muscadet Sèvre et Maine Sur Lie.  It’s another fine choice for August’s heat and humidity.
91 Michael Apstein Aug 14, 2018

Aimé Boucher, Rosé d’Anjou (Loire Valley, France) 2017

($13, Vintners Alliance):  Rosé d’Anjou always has a hint — sometimes more — of sweetness since regulations require a minimum of 7 grams of residual sugar per liter.  In my mind, the residual sugar in this rosé does what it does in German Kabinett wines: it amplifies the fruitiness without imparting a cloying sweetness because of the wine’s inherent vibrant and balancing acidity.  This ying and yang make it a fine choice to accompany spicy Asian cuisine because the delicate sweetness acts as a counter-point to the heat in the food.
88 Michael Apstein Aug 14, 2018

Domaine du Petit Clocher, Anjou (Loire Valley, France) 2016

($13, Misa Imports Inc): Sooner or later, consumers will discover the joys of red wine from Anjou.  And of course, then the price will go up.  But for now, stock up on this mid-weight red.  Pleasantly austere, this Cabernet Franc-based wine focuses on herbal notes as opposed to just ripe fruity one.  It’s not for sipping before dinner, but it’s definitely for drinking when you take the meat off the grill.  Refined and polished tannins mean it’s great this summer, but it will easily retain its charm over the next few years.  A lovely juicy finish makes you return for another sip.  A superb value!
93 Michael Apstein Aug 14, 2018

Clos de Nouys, Vouvray (Loire Valley, France) Sec 2016

($22):  Vouvray is potentially one of the world’s great wines.  Made from Chenin Blanc, a grape that, like Riesling or Chardonnay, can transmit the flavors of the site beautifully.  But sadly, buying it is tricky and can be frustrating because it has a wide range of styles, from sweet to dry and riveting.  Discerning the difference from the label is often impossible.  Thankfully, Clos de Nouys, one the great, established producers in Vouvray, makes a range of styles, from dry (this one) to sweet that are clearly labeled. Steely dry, this Vouvray has glorious acidity that amplifies the wine’s delicate hints of white peaches.  The ying/yang combination of subtle fruitiness and zingy acidity makes it a versatile wine for anything from spiced Asian fare to pork loin.  Long and refined and bursting with energy, it will convert you to a Vouvray lover.
95 Michael Apstein Jul 10, 2018

Les Maisons Rouges, Jasnières (Loire Valley, France) “Sur le Nez” Sec 2016

($25, AP Wine Imports):  Jasnières, a tiny (161-acre) appellation, is well away from the river and the Loire’s northern-most outpost.  Similar to Savennières, another lesser-known Loire appellation, Jasnières uses only Chenin Blanc to produce its steely, impressive white wines. Les Maison Rouges, founded almost 25 years ago, in 1994, has rapidly become one of the area’s top producers.  This cuvée, Sur le Nez, named because it comes from two plots, one of which was planted over 100 years ago and a “younger” planted only 80+ years ago, that sit under the “nose” of the local rock formation.  Dry and mineral-y, it has a texture that coats the mouth without being heavy.  It’s a wonderfully pure and clean expression of Chenin grown on chalky/limestone soil.  It’s deeper and richer than their other very fine cuvées, all of which frankly, are delicious and worth the effort to find.  This is a producer to remember.
94 Michael Apstein Jul 10, 2018

Château Moncontour, Vouvray (Loire Valley, France) “Le Grand Reserve, Cuvée Prédilection” 2014

($20):  Three years aging on the lees of this Chenin Blanc-based sparkling wine explains its enormous depth and refinement.   It’s a lovely expression of Vouvray, with a perfect balance of lively fruitiness backed by a firm spine.  Elegant and long, it’s a good choice for simply grilled fish this summer.   Just don’t drink too much of it while your grilling or you’ll need to open two bottles.
92 Michael Apstein Jul 10, 2018

Thierry Germain, Domaine des Roches Neuves, Saumur (Loire Valley, France) “L’Insolite” 2015

($40):  Thierry Germain is one of the most talented and enthusiastic winemakers in the Loire.  He makes small quantities of outstanding individualistic reds and whites that are always worth the search.  Take this one, for example, L’Insolite (unusual).  Made from 95-year-old Chenin Blanc vines planted on silex, it conveys a hint of white flowers, minerals combined with freshness and verve. It’s both dry and riveting with the barest hint of fruitiness — an unusual combination that makes for a thrilling wine.  It’s a perfect choice for those occasions there’s a variety of food on the table because everyone has ordered something different.  Or if you just want something truly great to drink.
95 Michael Apstein Jul 3, 2018

Joseph Mellot, Sancerre (Loire Valley, France) “La Chatellanie” 2016

($26):  The wonderful thing about really good Sancerre is that, though made from the Sauvignon Blanc grape, it doesn’t taste like most Sauvignon Blanc, which can be raspy and vegetal.  Good Sancerre, such as Mellot’s, has a chalky minerality underpinning the bite provided by the grape.  A vivid finish thanks to its brilliant acidity keeps it fresh.
90 Michael Apstein Jul 3, 2018

Couly-Dutheil, Chinon (Loire Valley, France) “Les Chanteaux” 2016

($25):  The vast amount (95%) of wine made in Chinon, one of many picturesque villages in the Loire Valley, is red.  Although limited, the amount of white, made from Chenin Blanc grapes, is increasing because of its immediate appeal to consumers.  Couly-Dutheil, one of Chinon’s top producers and no newcomer to the region, has been making this delicious one for decades.  Subtle peach-like notes buttressed with firm and bracing acidity create an intriguing interplay.  A mouth-coating texture and the barest hint of sweetness in the finish make  it an excellent choice with sushi or spiced Asian fare.
92 Michael Apstein May 8, 2018

Domaine du Closel, Savennières (Loire Valley, France) Clos du Papillon 2016

($50):  An extraordinary wine from an obscure area, the Domaine du Closel’s Savennières is thrilling in the best sense of the word.  Thrilling because you don’t expect it.  As in, where did this come from and why haven’t I heard about these wines?  Well, Savennières is a tiny appellation in Loire that produces some grand dry white wines from Chenin Blanc, but has limited visibility and availability.  The wines, in the best producers’ hands, such as Domaine du Closel, are extraordinary and worth the effort to find them.  This one, for example, delivers power and weight, without a trace of heaviness (nor any oak) with elegance and persistence.  Focused and mineral-y, it expands on the palate and seemingly lasts forever.  This is definitely not a frilly Chenin Blanc-based wine for sipping on the patio in the summer.  It calls for a regal meal because it’s a regal wine.  Think of it as a Le Montrachet equivalent at a tenth the price.
97 Michael Apstein Apr 24, 2018

Domaine du Grand Mouton, Muscadet Sèvre et Maine (Loire Valley, France) “Sur Lie” 2016

($21, Vintage ’59 Imports):  Wines from the Muscadet area, the far west of the Loire Valley, especially those from the sub-region Sèvre et Maine, are fabulous with simple seafood, such as oysters or steamed clams.  Louis Métaireau’s Grand Mouton is a “go-to” Muscadet Sèvre et Maine for just such fare.  The Sur Lie designation means that the wine was aged on the ‘lees’ (dead yeast), which imparts freshness and the extract zing for which this category is known.  The 2016 Grand Mouton delivers plenty of the mouth-cleansing zesty character with a welcome density.
89 Michael Apstein Apr 24, 2018

Domaine de la Grenaudière, Muscadet Sèvre et Maine Sur Lie (Loire Valley, France) 2016

($10, North Berkeley Wine):  Recommending a wine for summertime consumption with the thermometer in single digits and a foot of snow of the ground may be a new definition of optimism.  But the quality/price ratio here makes me want to buy this wine before it disappears. Muscadet is overlooked, often for good reason because of the vapid ones, as a wonderful source of bright zesty light white wine.  This one should be on everyone’s radar because it has good concentration and depth along with verve and energy.  To be sure, there are not layers of flavors and opulence, but look at the price!  Its lively cutting profile makes it perfect for shellfish, such as oysters or steamed mussels, and simply grilled fish.
88 Michael Apstein Jan 23, 2018

Sébastien Brunet, Vouvray (Loire Valley, France) “La Rocherie” Brut NV

($21, Savio Soares Selections): Though Vouvray is usually thought of as a fruity, zesty still white wine, plenty of sparkling wine comes from that appellation as well.  The Chenin Blanc-based bubbly is dry and cutting, not exactly the profile you’d necessarily expect from that usually fruity grape.  Its almost austere quality is particularly refreshing and makes it a perfect match for a pork loin in a cream sauce.
88 Michael Apstein Nov 15, 2016

Lucien Crochet, Sancerre (Loire Valley, France) “Le Chêne” 2014

($30, Neal Rosenthal): This is the real deal.  Sancerre has become so popular that some producers over crop to keep up with demand.  As a result, many of the wines carrying that appellation are uninteresting, tasting like a Sauvignon from, well, anywhere.  Crochet’s has a burnt gunflint and mineral-like character with a laser-like, cutting edge.  It enlivens the palate without being aggressive.  Despite the Le Chêne (literally, the oak tree) moniker this wine has had no oak or any wood aging.  Its purity of place is what is transfixing.  The combination of minerality and acidity make it a very versatile wine.  I had it over several hours with an omakase dinner at Uni, a high-end and excellent, Japanese restaurant in the Boston where it was a beautiful match to everything from delicate Japanese sea bream to sea urchin to foie gras-topped spicy tuna.
92 Michael Apstein Oct 18, 2016

Vigneau-Chevreau, Vouvray (Loire Valley, France) “Cuvée Silex” 2014

($21, Michael Corso Selection): I love Vouvray.  My frustration with the wines is that it’s often difficult to tell the level of sweetness before pulling the cork.  Thankfully, this one, labeled Sec, accurately describes the wine.  It captures the tension — the steely dryness combined with a delicate fruitiness — that makes Vouvray so invigorating.  Its energy is both amplified and offset by a lacey fruity flowery aspect that the Chenin Blanc grape conveys.  A perfect summertime wine, it’s a great choice for roast pork this fall or the you-know-what at Thanksgiving.
93 Michael Apstein Aug 23, 2016

Jo Landron, Muscadet Serve-et-Maine Sur Lie (Loire Valley, France) “La Louvetrie” 2014

($13, Martin Scott): Muscadet remains one of the great bargains for white wines because it still has a down-market image despite the work and talents of producers, such as Jo Landron who, along with this wife, owns the Domaine de la Louvetrie.  To be fair, over the years there’s been a lot of innocuous Muscadet on the market, which accounts for its lowly image.  But that has changed, in part because of Landron’s efforts.  Still, the price has not caught up with the quality.  This Muscadet, from Serve-et-Maine, considered by many to be the best sub-region, is a great introduction to the appellation for those who are leery of it.  It’s also a great wine for those who already know the charms of Muscadet.  The sur lie designation means the wine aged on its lees, a technique that adds body and texture to this clean, cutting wine with a scintillating bite.  The zesty lemon-like finish makes it perfect for steamy August days or as an accompaniment to oysters at any time of the year.
91 Michael Apstein Aug 23, 2016

Clau de Nell, Anjou (Loire Valley, France) Cabernet Franc 2013

($47): Anne-Claude Leflaive, the late famed Burgundy producer, and Christian Jacques, her husband, acquired Clau de Nell in 2008.  Similar to Domaine Leflaive in Burgundy, the vineyards at Clau de Nell are farmed biodynamically.  People can — and do — argue whether biodynamic philosophy is hocus pocus or whether it is responsible for superior wines.  There’s no argument about the quality of either the wines from Domaine Leflaive or Clau de Nell. They are stunningly good.  There’s a Burgundian sensibility to this wine — not surprising considering who owns the estate — with deceptive power despite lightness on the palate.  The Cabernet Franc is lusciously ripe, avoiding vegetal flavors that sometimes plaques this variety.  Yet the wine is not heavy.  A leafy, savory quality balances the red fruit notes.  A crystalline purity makes you eager for another sip.  This is a wine that will transform you idea of Cabernet Franc and Loire reds. 93 Michael Apstein Feb 23, 2016

Domaine de la Robinière , Vouvray (Loire Valley, France) “Bel Air” Sec 2013

($15): The Vouvray appellation is home to an array of fabulous under-valued white wines.  A major impediment to their more widespread popularity is the confusion regarding the level of sweetness.  Domaine de la Robinière (a.k.a. Vincent& Julien Raimbault) help the consumer by labeling their “Bel Air” cuvée as Sec — and it is dry with exhilarating green apple-like freshness that enhances its bracing minerality.  This is a perfect summertime wine either as a stand-alone aperitif or with grilled swordfish.
91 Michael Apstein Jul 21, 2015

Domaine d’Orfeuilles, Vouvray (Loire Valley, France) Les Coudraies 2012

($16, Jeanne-Marie de Champs Selection): The Vouvray appellation is home to an array of fabulous under-valued white wines.  A major impediment to their more widespread popularity is the confusion regarding the level of sweetness.  Here’s yet another example.  There’s no indication on the front label regarding level of sweetness.  The back label says, “medium dry,” a term which is impossible to quantify or define.  The wine, however, is easy to recommend because it’s an impeccable balance of fruitiness and invigorating energy.  Fresh and lively, it cleans your palate with each sip.  A waxy texture and a lingering, almost honeyed — yet not sweet–richness adds to its appeal.  It’s guaranteed to freshen the most sultry summer day.
92 Michael Apstein Jul 21, 2015

Château de Montfort, Vouvray (Loire Valley, France) Demi Sec 2013

($16): It’s worth repeating: The Vouvray appellation is home to an array of fabulous under-valued white wines.  A major impediment to their more widespread popularity is the confusion regarding the level of sweetness.  And this wine is a perfect example.  The label reads “Demi-Sec,” which implies sweetness.  But it’s not really a sweet wine because electrifying acidity creates a wonderful tension and edginess.  Fruity… yes.  Sweet… no.   This is a great choice for flavorful dishes — either Asian influenced or something like fettuccine and pesto.  You’ll get a lot of enjoyment for the price.  Don’t miss it.
92 Michael Apstein Jul 21, 2015

Domaine du Clos Naudin, Vouvray (Loire Valley, France) Moelleux 2011

($53): Philippe Foreau and his family-owned estate, Domaine du Clos Naudin, is one of the stars of Vouvray.  The Domaine consists of just under 30 acres of Chenin Blanc vines, from which Foreau makes a stunning range of wines.  This one, Moelleux, which means sweet, has apricot nuances and an invigorating freshness.  A vibrant and cutting crispness supports the richness so the wine is not cloying or heavy.  This rich and precise wine would be great as dessert.  I avoiding pairing sweet wines with sweet desserts because I think they fight.  But it would be a great choice with a cheese course.
94 Michael Apstein Jul 21, 2015

François Pinon, Vouvray (Loire Valley, France) Brut Non Dosé NV

($23): This sparkling wine from François Pinon, one of the leading producers in Vouvray, dazzles with its mineraly chalky signature. The limestone and flint soil gives it real character and structure.  It conveys a pleasing firmness without being aggressive because the inherent fruitiness of Chenin Blanc balances its moderate fizziness.  Lending to harmony is use of a local traditional method of making sparkling wine:  Corking the bottle before the primary fermentation has been completed so the yeast still have a touch of sugar to ferment, in contrast to the method in Champagne in which a full secondary fermentation occurs in the bottle.
92 Michael Apstein Jul 21, 2015

Chinon: Burgundy in the Loire Valley

Chinon as Burgundy? At first glance, it is an unlikely comparison. Chinon growers use Cabernet Franc almost exclusively for their reds, while Burgundians use Pinot Noir. And Cabernet Franc is no winemaker’s Holy Grail, unlike Pinot Noir. Few consumers are passionate about Cabernet Franc, nor do they search for it the way they clamor for Pinot Noir. Cabernet Franc’s widely recognized downside is that it can convey an unpleasant vegetal character, reminiscent of cooked green beans or asparagus, when it doesn’t ripen fully. Many California producers combat this tendency by harvesting it very ripe and producing a robust red wine that is usually oak-aged and focuses more on power than delicacy. By contrast, however, producers in Chinon have managed to produce graceful wines without a hint of under-ripeness while keeping alcohol levels in check. Continue reading Chinon: Burgundy in the Loire Valley

Domaine des Baumard, Savennières (Loire Valley, France) 2010

($22): Savennières is an often-overlooked appellation in the Loire.  Here the Chenin Blanc grape produces steely stony wines without a trace of sweetness, a characteristic usually associated with that grape.  Without doubt, Baumard is one of the top producers of Savennières.  The first whiff of Baumard’s 2010 Savennières, a hint of white flowers, is deceptive because on the palate the wine is steely pure with a clean cutting edginess.  This precise white is a great choice to cut through a cream sauce.  Indeed, it will cut through most anything.
93 Michael Apstein Nov 4, 2014

Clau de Nell, IGT Vin de Pays du Val de Loire (France) Grolleau 2012

($57, Wilson Daniels): The Oxford Companion to Wine notes that Grolleau, a local red grape of the Loire, “produces extremely high yields of relatively thin, acid wine and it is to the benefit of wine drinkers that it is so systematically being replaced with Gamay and, more recently, Cabernet Franc.”  Indeed, Grolleau is held in such low regard by regulators that it is not allowed in appellation wines.  The authorities will want to reconsider their regulations after tasting this superb bottling.  I assume the quality and excitement this wine delivers is from a combination of old vines (60 to 90 years) and the talents of Anne Claude Leflaive.   With leafy undertones and hints of ash in the nose, it suggests Cabernet Franc.  On the palate its firmness and tannic structure is reminiscent of Cabernet Sauvignon, but without the power of that grape.  The combination makes it a wonderfully complex and harmonious wine that intrigues you with its “not just fruit” character.  I think it would show best in another couple of years as the tannins round out.
92 Michael Apstein Aug 26, 2014

Clau de Nell, Anjou (Loire Valley, France) “Cuvée Violette” 2012

($57, Wilson Daniels): Here is an example of a wine that far exceeds the reputation of its appellation.  Though there are well known appellations for red wines in Loire — Bourgueil and Chinon spring to mind — Anjou is not one of them.  But this wine, and its stable mates made by Anne Claude Leflaive and her husband Christian Jacques, shows what talented producers can do even in areas considered down market.  Though mostly (70%) Cabernet Franc, the Cabernet Sauvignon (30%) in the blend makes its presence known with firm tannins and broad shoulders.  At this stage, the lovely leafy character of Cabernet Franc is in the background, but I suspect that with a few more years of bottle age the marriage will round out nicely.  Juicy acidity keeps it fresh and you coming back for more.  It would be an excellent choice for a hearty beef dish this winter.
89 Michael Apstein Aug 26, 2014

Clau de Nell, Anjou (Loire Valley, France) Cabernet Franc 2012

($57, Wilson Daniels): Anne Claude Leflaive, who runs Domaine Leflaive, perhaps the most celebrated producer of white Burgundy, and her husband, Christian Jacques, purchased this domaine in 2008.  It’s remarkable to see how a woman who made her reputation making some of the world’s greatest wines from the Chardonnay grape excels with Cabernet Franc.  In a very un-French twist, the appellation, Anjou, is relegated to back label whereas Cabernet Franc is highlighted on the front.  The labeling may be unconventional, but the taste is Cabernet Franc at its best.  Fully ripe, it conveys the alluring hint of leafy essence that is the hallmark of Cabernet Franc.  This mid-weight wine delivers an intriguing herbal character without a trace of greenness.  The flavors and tannins caress the palate, they don’t bombard it.  The overall suaveness allows you to enjoy it now — perhaps with turkey at Thanksgiving — but its balance suggests further development with cellaring.
92 Michael Apstein Aug 26, 2014

Domaine de la Tourmaline, Muscadet Sèvre-et-Maine Sur Lie (Loire Valley, France) 2013

($12, Cognac One): Open the trunk of your car and load in a case of this wine to combat the heat and humidity of August.  As expected from Muscadet, it is bright and fresh with an almost prickly acidity that is truly mouth cleansing.  Unexpectedly, it has more weight and body than many Muscadet, which makes it a great choice for steamed clams or simply grilled fish.  An unbelievable value. 90 Michael Apstein Aug 12, 2014

Domaine FL, Anjou (Loire Valley, France) “Le Chenin” 2010

($19, Daniel Johnnes Selection): Domaine FL, short for Fournier-Longchamps, has threaded the needle with this wine made from Chenin Blanc.  (French appellation laws generally prohibit grape names on labels.  Hence, Le Chenin is the proprietary name of the wine.)  The wine conveys the fruitiness and roundness–almost a hint of sweetness — that Chenin Blanc delivers supported by a lovely line of acidity that prevents it from being sweet.  A refined combination, it’s a great choice as a stand-alone aperitif, and an excellent choice for spicy fare.
90 Michael Apstein Aug 12, 2014

François Chidaine, Vouvray (Loire Valley, France) “Les Argiles” 2012

($25, Beaune Imports): Vouvray is often shunned because the consumer can’t discern the level of sweetness from the label.  Well, there’s no reason to shun Chidaine, one of the leaders in Vouvray.  His 2012 Les Argiles is fruity, yet dry, and pleasantly piercing, which makes it positively mouth cleansing. It’s a brilliant combination of delicate peach-like nuances and riveting acidity.  Fresh, clean and invigorating, it would be the perfect choice for turkey this Thanksgiving.
90 Michael Apstein Nov 26, 2013


Jean-Maurice Raffault, Chinon Blanc (Loire Valley, France) 2011

($17, The Country Vintner): The vast majority of wines from Chinon, likely more than 95%, are red, so you don’t see many on retailers’ shelves. If you see this one, buy it. Made from Chenin Blanc, it’s entirely dry with vibrant stone fruit-like nuances. A cutting edge balances its good weigh and makes it a perfect choice for highly flavored Indian or Asian food.
90 Michael Apstein Apr 16, 2013

Couly-Duthei, Chinon (Loire Valley, France) “La Coulée Automnale” 2011

($15, Cynthia Hurley French Wines): I don’t have enough experience with Chinon to say that Couly-Dutheil is the area’s best producer.  But I can’t think of producer whose wines are consistently better. Couly-Dutheil produces a variety of bottling reflecting the diversity and individuality of their vineyards. Their wines rarely disappoint. This one is made from Cabernet Franc grown on hillside – read, better – plots and vineyards located on more fertile, flatter land.  With good ripeness, this Cabernet Franc-based wine conveys an engaging mixture of delicate red fruit with just a touch of herbal or leafy notes.  It shows the charm of Chinon.  Ready to drink now, this mid-weight red delivers far more complexity than you’d expect at the price.  It’s an ideal choice for summertime drinking.
91 Michael Apstein Apr 9, 2013

Domaine de Villalin, Quincy (Loire Valley, France) “Grandes Vignes de Villalin” 2011

($20, Polaner): Quincy, a small (400 acre) appellation in the Loire, is a good source for Sauvignon Blanc-based wines, especially as the prices of its more famous neighbor, Sancerre, escalate.  This one has a milder, but still enticing, bite of Sauvignon Blanc supported by minerality and invigorating acidity.  Try it with simply grilled fish.
88 Michael Apstein Mar 5, 2013

Moulin Touchais, Coteaux-du-Layon (Loire Valley, France) 1985

($65, Polaner): You read the vintage correctly.  The Touchais family, which has owned vineyards in the Coteaux-du-Layon appellation since the 18th century, produces sweet wines from extremely ripe Chenin Blanc grapes that concentrate their sugars by drying on the vines (as opposed to being affected by Botrytis).  After fermentation, they cellar the wines for at least a decade before releasing them. The 1985 Moulin Touchais has developed an extraordinary mixture of nutty and apricot-like flavors without being cloying.  Vibrant acidity keeps it fresh and lively. It would be a superb choice to serve with a cheese course or by itself as dessert.
94 Michael Apstein Mar 5, 2013