Although Saumur is the centre of the industry, sparkling wine is made through the Loire. From the Pays Nantais, where Gros Plant is often the majority grape, all the way to the Côte Roannaise and Côtes de Forez – made from Gamay or non-AC white varieties. As David wrote yesterday the sparkling wines from the Loire offer good value and frequently a very good price quality/ratio.
Perhaps having a base in the Cher Valley to the east Tours that I tend to drink the sparkling wines of Vouvray and Montlouis, especially the Pétillant. These are specialities of Vouvray and Montlouis plus to a certain extent elsewhere in Touraine. They have around 2.5 atmospheres compared to the more customary 4.5 to 5 for fully sparkling wines, so they are less fizzy. The Triple Zéro from Jacky Blot’s Domaine de la Taille aux Loups (AC Montlouis) I think is particularly successful. Its is called Triple Zéro because there is no sugar added at any stage in its production – initial fermentation, when bottled for the secondary fermentation nor at the final corking. This is because the grapes (Chenin Blanc) are picked at around 12% potential – very considerably higher than is usually the case in Champagne. There is also a Rosé version of Triple Zéro made using the same method.
Triple Zéro, like other good Loire sparkling wines, ages well gaining further complexity in bottle. Indeed I have occasionally had the chance to drink some very old sparkling wines from Domaine Huet – 1959 on at least a couple of occasions and very memorably the 1937 once with the late Gaston Huet during a press dinner in Amboise at the end of the last century to celebrate decades of Vouvrays that had been made in the years 7.
PetNats, short for Pétillants Naturels, have become very popular over the past five years or so in the Loire. All tend to be made without added sugar, customarily with native yeasts and frequently using the méthode ancestrale – the winter cold stopping the fermentation before the returning warmth of the spring restarts it. They vary very considerably in style. Some are bottled and released just after a few months retaining quite a bit of residual sugar, others spend a year or more sur latte and, are drier.
Château de l’Aulée, Azay-le-Rideau
Château de l’Aulée in Touraine Azay-le-Rideau is another of my favourite sparkling wine producers. They make both Crémant de Loire and Touraine Méthode Traditionnelle, which is slightly cheaper. However, as none of the Crémants (last time I was there) sell for more than 10€ it is worth paying a little extra for the additional quality. I am especially keen on the Brut Zéro and the 1856 – the year this estate was established.
From our tasting on Monday 2nd February it was interesting that the Crémants made with a predominance of Chardonnay were leaner and more vibrant than those where Chenin was in the majority – these tended to have more complexity. It was also notable that we had 42 Crémant de Loire samples (12 Chardonnay dominant/ 30 Chenin dominant) to taste against only 11 with the Saumur appellation. Although the Crémant de Loire appellation dates from 1976, it took a very long time for it to become really established. Only recently did the production of Loire Crémant surpass that of Saumur. That Saumur already had an established reputation was a factor but also the fact that the rules for Crémant were more strict – less juice per hectolitre, presses without chains, 12 months minimum sur latte compared to nine for Saumur etc. played a part.
Hervé puts his foot in it!
With one or two exceptions all of the samples we tasted should a good level of quality and were wines I’d be happy to open as an apéro. Not only do these Loire fizzes offer un bon rapport qualité/prix but they are less litigious than those from that large sparkling wine region to the North East of Paris, although two of the Saumur houses do have connections with that zone.
Some favourites from the tasting: