Archive for the ‘Loire Valley’ Category

47 white wine varietals

Friday, March 2nd, 2012

Here is a list of vine varieties with a description of the white wines made from them.

Aligoté French Poor man’s Burgundy. Pale, light, crisp wine. Not for ageing.
Alvarinho Portugal Produces Vinho Verde, very crisp, light with a slight prickle.
Auxerrois French Acidic, very dry and full-bodies, Chablisesque.
Bacchus German Silvaner, Riesling and Müller-Thurgau cross. Flowery, light Moscato bouquet, low acidity. Used mainly for blending.
Bual Madeira Sweet full-bodies fortified wine, burnt amber colour, fig-like bouquet.
Chardonnay French Ranges from crisp, apple-like flavours in cool climates to caramel, pineapple
and tropical tones in warm areas. Buttery, toasty or clove-like finish.
Ages well, usually in oak.
Chasselas E.
Light, crisp wine with delicate bouquet in Switzerland. Rather insipid elsewhere.
French Honeyed, high-acid wines in the Loire. Lots of fruit. Ages many years. California
model is much softer and fruitier.
Colombard French (French Colombard) Originally a cognac grape, now grown in California for soft,
flowery wines.
California High-yielding Muscadelle, Riesling cross. Aromatic, soft, fruity.
Californian name for Sauvignon Blanc or Sauvignon/Sémillon blend. Fruitier and
less grass than Loire model.
French Once a major grape in Cognac. High acid, not much character.
Furmint Hungary Principal grape of Tokay. Can be dry, off-dry or sweet. Apple or apricot and toffee bouquet, depending on style.
Gewürztraminer Italy (Traminer)
Spicy, exotic, rose petal and lychee bouquet. Can be dry (Alsace) or sweet (Germany, California).
Grüner Veltliner Austria Fresh, lively, fruity, dry wine for drinking young as in the “new” wine, Heurige.
Hárslevelü Hungary Spicy, full-bodied, aromatic. Good for sweet wines.
Jacquère French Light, very dry and brisk wine from Savoie.
Kerner German Red
Trollinger, Riesling cross. Spicy, fruity wines with good acidity.
Malvasia Greek Produces lusciously sweet dessert wines in warm climates and crisp dry ones in northern areas. The grape of the sweet Madeira, Malmsey.
Marsanne French Deep-coloured, high-alcohol wines blended with the more delicate Roussanne in the Rhône.
Morio-Muscat German Silvaner, Pinot Blanc cross. Full-bodied, fruity with spicy bouquet.
Müller-Thurgau German Riesling, Silvaner cross (or two clones of Riesling). Less acidic than Riesling,
soft and fruity. Lacks ageing potential.
Muscadelle French Perfumey grape used to add bouquet to some white Bordeaux (Sauvignon and Sémillon).
Muscadet French (Melon de Bourgogne) Light, pale, racy wines with lively acidity from the Loire.
Moscato Greek Perfumed, raisiny bouquet with a characteristic spiciness in dessert wines. Can also be made dry as in Alsace and Australia.
Palomino Spanish The grape of sherry. Neutral wine, low acidity.
Pedro Ximenez Spanish A very sweet white wine used in sherry, thought to be Riesling.
Picolit Italian Dessert wine grape of Friuli. Deep coloured, rich, slightly bitter.
Pinot Blanc French (Pinot Bianco/Weissburgunder) Relative of Chardonnay but with less character and ageing potential. Best from Alsace.
Pinot Gris E. Europe (Pinot Grigio, Ruländer) Full-flavoured, elegant wines capable
of ageing.
Riesling German (Johannisberg Riesling, Rhine or White Riesling)
Finest German variety, capable of making a range of wines from steely dry to toffee-sweetness. Floral nose, keen acidity.
Rkatsiteli E. Europe All-purpose grape producing ordinary table wines, dessert wines and fortified wines.
Sacy French The name suggests it all. Frisky, tart wine from Chablis region.
Savagnin French Makes Sherry-style vin jaune in the Jura region.
Sauvignon Blanc French Makes grassy, gooseberry, smoky wines in the Loire and accompanies Sémillon
in dry and sweet wines of Bordeaux. California model is rounder and fruitier and fig-like.
Scheurebe German Silvaner, Riesling cross. Aromatic, fruity with pronounced acidity. Best in dessert style.
Sémillon French Honey and apricot bouquet when affected by Botrytis (see page 22). Blended with Sauvignon Blanc for dry Bordeaux. Lacks acidity.
Sercial Portugal Produces the driest, lightest style of Madeira. Good acidity. Ages well.
Seyval Blanc French Hybrid.
Makes dry wines with a grassy, green plum flavour. Does not age well.
Silvaner Austrian Mild, neutral wine with good body. Useful for blending.
Trebbiano Italian (Ugni Blanc, St. Emilion) Pale colour, high acid, medium-body, shy bouquet.
Verdelho Spain Produces off-dry Madeira and soft, nutty table wines.
Verdicchio Italian Crisp, dry wines with a hint of bitterness.
Vidal French Hybrid.
Good fruit and acidity. Can range in styles from tart Sauvignon Blanc to Late Harvest and Icewine.
Viognier French Rich, elegant, full-bodied, floral-peachy wine especially in the Rhône.
Capable of ageing.
Viura Spanish (Macabeo)
Fruity aromatic wines with high acidity capable of wood ageing.
Welschriesling French (Riesling Italico, Laskiriesling, Olaszriesling)
Floral, zesty, versatile but not as elegant as Johannisberg (White or Rhine) Riesling.

On this website here is a list of red wine varietals.

Saving French wine during WWII

Tuesday, July 29th, 2008

Wine and war book coverThis post is based on a book by Don and Petie Kladstrup: ‘WINE AND WAR / The French, the Nazis, and the Battle for France’s Greatest Treasure’ (Broadway Books; May 2001).

Be it a Bordeaux or a Sauvignon, wine is a symbol of French culture. Yet while the consumption of wine is usually associated with festive, celebratory occasions, it has had a long relationship with warfare as well. Over the centuries, commanders have made sure that their troops had wine on the front lines to improve their moral and perhaps their performance. But during World War II, the combination of wine and war played out in a unique way when the French did everything in their power to keep their wine – and their national identity – out of the hands of the invading German forces.

Award-winning television correspondent Don Kladstrupand his wife, Petie – who together have written extensively about wine – offer a fascinating look at a side chapter of French history. Based on three years of eyewitness interviews and painstaking research, the Kladstrups’ book tells the remarkable stories of the daring men and women who risked their lives to save this precious symbol of France and a key part of the country’s economy.

The stars of WINE AND WAR are the prominent winemaking families from diverse regions of France: Pichon-Longueville, Comtesse de Lalande, which was owned by May-Eliane de Lencquesaing, Poniatowski of Vouvray, and Couly of Chinon, just to name a few. The main characters, in addition to Lencquesaing and Drouhin, are Bernard de Nonancourt of Laurent Perrier Champagne, the Hugel family of Alsace, and Gaston Huet of Vouvray. Ranging in geography from the south of France (which was kept somewhat free of German occupation during the war) to the Alsace region (which was annexed by Germany), each family encountered unique obstacles and advantages when struggling to save their wine and grapes from invaders. For example, Maurice Drouhin of Maison Joseph Drouhin, built a false wall to hide his prized bottles from the enemy.

However, not everyone in the employ of Germany was out to sack and pillage the vineyards of France. In WINE AND WAR, the Kladstrups explain the importance of the somewhat obscure position of weinfuhrer. Weinfuhrers were men appointed by Hitler to find good French wine, which then would be seized and sold by Germany on the international market for a tidy profit. However, the weinfuhrers were in the wine business themselves, and were well aware that someday the war would end and France and Germany would again have to do business as neighbors. With an eye to future cooperation, the weinfuhrers did what they could to minimize the damage to France’s wine industry.


Poniatowski buried his best wine in his vegetable garden. Gaston Huet of Vouvray drank his best wine with some of his men before surrendering to the Germans. “Foreau’s brother-in-law Gaston Huet used the natural caves of the Loire Valley to hide his stocks of wine. Then he planted weeds and bushes in front…” After he built his false wall, he also gathered live spiders in his cellar and placed them strategically around the wall to spin cobwebs in order to make the wall appear old.

Domaine Huet was to later buy the Clos du Bourg plot. The Kladstrups do not mention that Ch. Vavasseur was a Vichy collaborator and then owned Clos du Bourg. He made a small fortune supplying the German occupation forces with sparkling wine. (See “Marianne in Chains” by Robert Gildea, Macmillan, 2003, p338)

The gift of wine to a WWII soldier

The Kladstrups interweave their tales of winemaking heroism with historical information that gives these stories depth and context. They explain not only the state of French winemaking before and during the war, but also how the government’s actions affected the industry, the Germans’ methods of seizing wine and intimidating winemakers, and the details behind historical events like the taking of Hitler’s mountaintop home – known as the Eagle’s Nest – where bottles upon bottles of France’s finest were discovered in the cellar.
WINE AND WAR brings World War II France to life, clearly showing how part of the country prayed for its independence from the Nazis while fighting to retain its sense of national identity’ during the occupation. The interviews conducted by the Kladstrups with those who lived through this time and performed these acts of civil disobedience offer vivid testimony to the quiet heroism of these men and women, who did whatever necessary to carry on France’s great winemaking traditions.

Savennières: an overview

Monday, March 31st, 2008

Savennières is a difficult wine to understand. Its enigmatic quality may explain why writers often lapse into hyperbole when attempting to describe its properties. For Jacqueline Freidrich, Savennières’ elusive nature conjures up images of ballet dancers defying gravity. Remarking on a Baumard Clos du Papillon, Freidrich waxes: “It was Balanchine, Petipa…Les Sylphides in a glass.”

church in the Épiré villageThe problem begins at the beginning, when Savennières is released. Young Savennières is unyielding, offering a whiff of beeswax or lemon and a mouthful of structure that satisfies the intellect more than the palette. As an expression of Chenin, it is astonishingly different from the wines directly across the river. In the Coteaux du Layon, you reflect upon the wine’s “generousity” of the mouth-feel; in Savennières, you take note of the wine’s “attack”. The uninitiated may want to ease into Savennières by way of a demi-sec. Made only in the ripest vintages, demi-sec is hard to locate, but worth the effort. Chateau d’Epiré’s demi-sec, for example, is lovely; tasting it would provide a worthy introduction to the region.

In all likelihood, a sec will be your first encounter, and it is liable to be an austere one. The soil of Savennières is a hodgepodge of schists, volcanic veins (notably present in Clos de Coulée de Serrant), sandstone and clay; it makes for tough, age-worthy wines. Savennières can be unappealing to those acccustomed to more accessible whites like Chardonnay. It takes perspective to be convinced about Savennières, and a vertical tasting of older vintages can go a long way towards altering any misconceptions. After five or six years, the forbidding structure of a classic Savennières melts into the middleground, and ripe Chenin emerges. Older vintages can be profound, displaying characteristic orange marmalade scents and complex layers of minerals and quince. Given its scarcity, how can an American enthusiast experience the pleasures of mature Savennières? I advise purchasing and cellaring a case or two of the wonderful 2005’s that are coming on the market, waiting six years, then inviting us to dinner.

Better yet, go to Savennières yourself. It is charming , poised perfectly on the Loire; the towns are rich with stone architecture. Just under the bridge that connects the Coteaux with Savennières is the island of Béhuard which, we must, to our chagrin, label “enchanting”. No matter where or how well you live, you will fantasize about moving to Béhuard. While fantasizing, have lunch at Les Tonnelles, either on the terrace overlooking the Loire, or in the simple and charming room where we enjoyed a fine meal. Many vignerons recommend Les Tonnelles and count themselves among the “regulars”. The affection of the winemaking community is reciprocated – the wine list is superb and features fine examples of older Savennières, some by less well-known producers. Try a Clos du Papillon by Soulez, a penetrating, intense example of a demi-sec, with tiers of tangy fruit, lemon, and a long, long finish spiked with minerals.

Savennières, like most Loire regions, harbors its share of eccentric vignerons. One of them, Nicolas Joly, presides over the seven-hectare Clos de la Coulée de Serrant (which is actually a separate appellation) and Savennières parcels in Roche-aux-Moines. For better or worse Joly is the most famous winemaker in the Valley and displays a hernia of press clippings to prove it. Joly’s application of Rudolf Steiner’s bio-dynamic agriculture is controversial in all of France. Joly took over Clos de la Coulée de Serrant in 1976 and by 1985 he had purged the soil of all chemical additives and pesticides, entrusting only a rare breed of Nantais cow to create the fully organic compost. This is considered a positive thing (although most producers find it extreme). But, did I forget to mention that Joly weeds the fields when the Earth’s position is under the influence of the constellation Leo? Being a “fire” sign, Leo promotes growth in bio-dynamic soil. And what is that we hear about a Stonehenge-sized rune Joly had dragged onto his land to strategically reflect “energy” over the vineyards?

Read another report on Nicolas Joly at Bertrand Celce’s.

Ms de Lessey’s Closel vineyard also makes an excellent example; her Cuvée Spéciale from Clos du Papillon exhibits supple fruit and crisp, lemony acids.

Pierre Soulez’s line-up is quite fine; his “Cuvée d’Avant” Moelleux coats the mouth with delicate flavors of almonds, minerals and honey. Alas, there are only about 4000 bottles made with no US distribution in sight.

Anjou wines: an overview

Tuesday, October 16th, 2007

Anjou is a sprawling region that begins near Chinon and rambles west along the southern bank of the Loire for over fifty miles. Angers, the area’s major city, is a worthy place for an afternoon visit. The main attraction is a remarkable artwork dating from the 1300’s called the Apocalypse Tapestry. It has been recently installed in a stunning exhibition hall at the Chateau d’Angers – a formidable medieval structure that dominates the city’s center. Your Michelin Guide will give you the details, but let us state: for anyone even vaguely interested in the arts, the Apocalypse Tapestry is mandatory.

Skeleton with arms of René d'Anjou, by pantuflaThe wines of Anjou are the most diverse and satisfying of the Loire. Anjou is a godsend for afficionados of sweet white wine, there are numerous small producers making delicious, balanced and potentially long-lived Grains Nobles Chenin Blancs. I visited farmers with holdings of four or five oak barrels of richly sweet Coteaux du Layon mulling away in the backshed. Some of these vignerons, like Jo Pithon and Patrick Baudouin, and Philippe Delesvaux quickly sell out their wines.

The ‘95 and ‘96 vintages at well-known domaines such as Domaine des Baumard produced brilliant sweet and demi-sec wines – in copious amounts. Baumard’s most important vineyard, in the microclimate called Quarts-de-Chaume, produces an exotic sweet Chenin that has to be tasted to be believed. In relation to its counterparts in Alsace and Sauternes, Quarts-de-Chaume is both underrated and underpriced.

By way of contrast, we found a manifestation of the eccentric and grand side of the wine industry at Chateau des Fesles; this vast property was owned by the highly regarded Boivin family and was sold in 1991 to the legendary (in France, anyway) Gaston Lenôtre. Lenôtre, a renowned pastry chef and restaurant entrepreneur, attempted to create a wine merchandising empire. He amassed a wonderful portfolio of vineyards – but four years and a gazillion francs later, he ditched them. The sugary remnants of Lenôtre’s pastry museum were still scattered throughout the winery’s main building and tasting rooms when we first visited there in 1996. Now, it has been magnificently restored by the Bordeaux-based Germain group, who have effectively rejuvenated Chateau des Fesles’ venerable status.

This estate has holdings in the appellation of Bonnezeaux, another tiny and undervalued source of delicious, earthy, sweet Layon; along with Quarts-de-Chaume, it is of cru status; to qualify as Bonnezeaux, wines are required to reach 230 grams of natural sugar. In other parts of the Layon, recent law allows for any vigneron in the Layon to use the designation Selections de Grains Nobles (S.G.N.) provided they declare their intent before the harvest and the wines are judged to be of natural sugar equalling or exceeding 298 grams of sugar per liter. The application of this label is becoming popular, but some producers still print vin liquoreux (critics of this style of densely sweet wine discuss the “Selections de Grains Nobles” designation disparagingly. As one producer of the nervier Bonnezeaux put it: “With alcohol and sugars levels so high, they should just call liquor, liquor”).

Vendange tardive devotees will discover a rich cache in the Anjou, but fans of dry whites should visit Savennières, a small appellation to the north of the Loire river – just across from the Coteaux du Layon.

Anyway, there is much to discover in Anjou and here at I try to describe a few of the highlights. Please read my article on Loire sweet wines and subscribe to the site feed to be noticed of the upcoming article on Savennières.
For details on the classification and the geography The Wine Doctor is a good resource.