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Back to France Part 1– The Loire Valley, Vouvray and the Wines of Clos du Gaimont

Clod du Gaimont LabelWhen I first started to get seriously into wine some twenty years ago, the wines of France were instrumental in igniting Logo 2-15-2016 Segoe Black Centeredthe passion. There were several reasons for this. One was that they have always had a reputation of being the best. Names like Bordeaux and Burgundy are known to all, even those not interested in wine in the least. There is a somewhat mythical aura surrounding the words French and Wine when used together. So we turned to French wines to enhance our education.

There is also the first real revelation I had with wine, which involved a Cru Bourgeois from Bordeaux from an unheralded vintage at a restaurant. It was the 1997 Chateau Potensac, and was on a list of bin clearance wines marked down substantially. The description said it was “perfectly aged Bordeaux” when we ordered it in 2001. I didn’t have a great grasp at the time on what that really meant, but it sounded good. So we ordered it, and I was astonished to find a core of fruit that mesmerized me. It was clear and pure and ran through the middle of the wine, not overly exuberant but unmistakably there. This was amazing. This also started my early obsession with Bordeaux.

Since then we have had many amazing wines that make that 97 Potensac seem far less great. Still, it opened my eyes to what could be. Now we search relentlessly for what can be, and it exists everywhere at various price ranges and you never know when it will come around a corner and smack you. When it does it is wonderful. We’ve encountered it with wines from all over the world.

Still, France started the obsession, and I think it’s about time we turned back to the wines of France for some in depth investigation and reflection. This is likely to take a while, involve close looks at many producers across the fabled wine landscape and also require the opening of many, many bottles. We will suffer through this as best we can.

We start in the Loire Valley.

France-SWE-Map-2016The Loire runs across France, carving a long semi-circle through the landscape. From the heartlands of the country the river flows north to Sancerre, then turns west to on its journey to the sea. Sancerre sits on the eastern edge of the Loire wine country, and the vineyards continue to the west. The area is an integral part of every aspect of French history, serving as the seat of Kings during hard times and as their summer homes during good times. It was the retirement home of Leonardo da Vinci and was occupied by the Germans during WWII. Frequently the river has become a barrier to invasion and a stronghold for the French armies. It is known for its marvelous castles, or chateaux, and for its wine. Wine has been part of the culture here for many centuries since being transplanted into the region by the Romans.

Loire RegionsThe Loire is generally divided into four areas from a wine perspective, and these regions have relatively little in common. In the Pays Nantais the Melon de Bourgogne grape is made into the white wine Muscadet. Elsewhere throughout the Loire whites are dominated by Chenin Blanc and Sauvignon Blanc. Anjou-Saumur produces reds from Cabernet Franc and whites from Chenin Blanc, sparkling wines, rosés, as well as wines from the Gamay grape. In Touraine the Vouvray region produces wines from Chenin Blanc, and Chinon provides reds primarily from Cabernet Franc. Further east in the Upper Loire the iconic vineyards around the towns of Sancerre and Pouilly-Fume use Sauvignon Blanc. The Sauvignons generally are crisp, although in Pouilly-Fume the term smoky is frequently used. The Chenin Blancs can be dry to sweet. There is clearly a lot to consider, however we have limited time and a finite amount of wine.

You can learn much more about the Loire Valley at experienceloire.com/.

We start our visit to French wine in Touraine, the A.O.C. of Vouvray, with the wines of Clos du Gaimont.

Clos du Gaimont

Touraine MapClos du Gaimont is a parcel of the esteemed Clos du Nouys vineyard situated in the heart of Vouvray. Vouvray itself is in the middle of Touraine, starting at the eastern edge of Tours  and extending through seven communes on the right bank of the river. They have been cultivating wine grapes here for a very long time. The current owner and winemaker, Francois Chainier, purchased the property in 1997. The vines average 35 years in age, grow in chalky and clay soils and have prime south – southwest exposure. Actually, vines in the Loire were planted in the valleys until the 15th century, when it was determined that they produced better results when planted on the slopes.

Vineyards are maintained according to a sustainable agriculture philosophy, keeping the overall ecosystem in mind. In keeping with sustainable practices, the weeding is minimal and vines are regularly inspected to minimize potential need for treatments. Pheromone applications are used to control insects naturally.

The Chenin Blanc grapes are hand harvested with great care taken from vineyard to cellar. The wines are aged in oak barrels 963701-2-2or stainless steel tanks, which are stored in ‘troglodyte’ caves, or old cave dwellings that were carves into the rock surface of the landscape. The caves provide ideal, constant temperatures year round in which the wines mature. This is all about Chenin Blanc here, and they produce two varieties: the Vouvray and the Vouvray La Monaco Demi-Sec. Demi-Sec means semi-dry, or off dry, although in French wines that frequently translates into semi-sweet or medium sweet.

The wines are imported by Cape Classics, who graciously provided the samples. You can visit their website here: http://www.capeclassics.com/index.cfm.

Let’s see what we have:

2012 Clos du Gaimont Vouvray La Monaco Demi-Sec – again, this is marked semi-dry, so we expect noticeable sweetness in the wine. The residual sugar is 20 grams per liter, or 2%. Since the threshold for most people to notice a sweet sensation is about 0.8 to 1%, this is definitely not going to taste dry. Again the IMG_1988vines are an average of 35 years old, and the handpicked grapes went through a gentle, long pressing followed by 24 hours of settling. Fermentation occurred over a month and a half with the lees stirred every ten days, The wine was racked and then aged in stainless on its lees for four months in the caves.  Our thoughts:

Light straw in color, the wine showed long legs on the glass. The big nose was sweet apple and other ripe, rich fruits, with apricot seeming to poke out. It is noticeably sweet but not overly sweet.  The sugar is beautifully offset with bright acidity. This is the same balance you can get in a lot of Rieslings. Clean throughout, the wine has nice texture, some body and a long, satisfying finish. It really is a beautiful wine. We had it with a spicy pork and peppers dish and it worked well. You can sip this all day, but it stands up to food easily. Suggested retail $19.99 and a quality wine.

2014 Clos du Gaimont Vouvray – this wine comes from vines which average 30 years. Also all from handpicked grapes which were quietly pressed. Here fermentation takes place in a combination of stainless tanks and oak barrels, IMG_1989again for a month and a half with ten day lees stirring. After racking it was aged in 3-year old Cognac barrels on its lees for four months.   Our opinion:

The wine is light straw in color and brilliant. The nose brings citrus, floral notes and I swear a wonderful creaminess. This must have been an artifact of the time on the lees but it was unusual and excellent. It almost reminded me of a very good vanilla ice cream. That seemed to fade away, but it was great while it lasted. On the palate this wine is dry, with maybe just a ghost of sweetness lurking in the background. The citrus flavors come through cleanly on the palate, and the wine is pure throughout the long finish. Wonderful balance here. Expertly made, very high quality and delicious wine. Also suggested retail of $19.99.

In the $10-$20 range these wines go on our Value List.  This is just the start of a look into the wide expanse of French wine regions and wines. We’re not sure exactly where it will go or where it ends up, but we can say this is a great way to begin. Both of these wines are delicious and extremely well made. Don’t discount the off dry La Monaco in these times of dry wines and brisk acid. It is a great wine with or without food.

Next we’ll stay in Touraine, but move about 25 miles east of Tours to the Montrichard commune, and the wine of Domaine Paul Buisse.

You can read the next installment of the Back to France series by clicking here.

A votre santé!

3 comments to Back to France Part 1– The Loire Valley, Vouvray and the Wines of Clos du Gaimont

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