Let’s hear it for the wines of the Loire – elegant summer drinking

3 Aug

When the Wine Wanderers were invited to a dinner matching wines of the Loire to Indian dishes at London’s Cinnamon Club, we had a couple of preconceptions to get our heads around.   First, that dry wines make good partners for spicy food – our natural choice would be a gewurtztraminer – and secondly that there was sufficient variety in Loire wines to get excited about.

 
Laurent Chaniac, the restaurant’s wine buyer,  changed our minds, at least to some extent, serving unexpected partners to the delectable dishes at this clubby Westminster restaurant which strives more towards haute cuisine than its rivals in the capital whose Indian food has earned a Michelin star.   But we didn’t love all the wines we tasted,  certainly not the Savennieres which came with our king prawns with cardamom and green mango-coconut chutney.  Chenin blanc is a difficult grape to get right, and we haven’t been able to embrace it since being put off by some horrible domestic vintages when we lived in California.

What the Loire is rightly most famous for is Sancerre, about as perfect a sauvignon blanc as you’ll find to accompany fish and seafood, so no complaints about the 2008 Sancerre Moularde by CC.   But when we followed the Cinnamon Club dinner with our own tasting of Loires on the high street, we realised there IS a better Loire white out there than Sancerre, our old favourite Pouilly-Fume, which Chaniac chose not to showcase at the dinner.   The “fume” is said to refer either to the flint in the limestone where it grows, or the early morning fog which often blankets the Loire, but either way, it’s just that much more rich and sumptuous than the more austere Sancerre.

We took bottles of both these queens of the Loire to a cottage in Cornwall, where the voluptuous Pouilly-Fume Les Charmelles from Waitrose made a super partner for home-cooked lobster with lemony butter, and we were also impressed by the Signature Poullly-Fume from Morrisons.     But a nice Sancerre from M&S wasn’t bad either – we tasted a couple from their selection, of which Le Mont is currently a great buy on a 25 per cent off promotion, bringing the price below £10, a rare opportunity.   Also on this promotion is Les Ruettes, which won Gold in this year’s International Wine Challenge.

Before leaving whites, it’s worth noting that cheaper than either Sancerre or Pouilly-Fume, Muscadet is another barely talked-about Loire which makes a great partner for seafood. although it inexpllicably fell out of fashion a couple of decades ago and has never really hit the radar since.   It’s invariably better bottled “sur lie”, which means straight from the tankm without filtering.  We  enjoyed a great bottle of Sainsburys Taste the Difference in this category, outstanding value at £7.

We had been excited about the prospect of tasting a pinot noir, one of our favourite grapes, at the Loire dinner, but were warned those made in this region could be deeply disappointing, and tasting a red Sancerre from M&S, we could see why.   Much more successfully cultivated in this region is the cabernet franc grape, the mainstay of both Chinon and Saumur appellations.

The Saumur-Champigny Cuvee Bruyn 2010 by CC was a great partner for Romney Marsh lamb with sesame-tamarind sauce,  but at home it’s a whole raft of Chinons from the high street we’ve really enjoyed with light meats like veal and chicken.   Notably Les Complices de Loire Les Graviers, though it’s only available in 17 branches of Waitrose, and the more widely available Domaine du Colombier from Sainsburys, a particularly nice drop at £7, two-thirds the price of Les Graviers.

Overall, we feel you can’t go wrong with Muscadet when summer shellfish is on the menu, but if you’re going to push the boat out, a Pouilly-Fume for around the same price as a Sancerre delivers extra richness.  And that Chinon can be a perfect summer red, so long as you appreciate that it’s meant to be light, elegant and slightly chalky and totally different from the rich, ripe fruity reds of the south.

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One Response to “Let’s hear it for the wines of the Loire – elegant summer drinking”

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  1. Let’s hear it for the wines of the Loire – elegant summer drinking | thewinewanderers - August 3, 2014

    […] Let’s hear it for the wines of the Loire – elegant summer drinking. […]

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