I usually time my annual visit to the Loire Valley to coincide with spring, which happens to be white asparagus season in the central Loire. Few things marry better with the tender white shoots served with well-mastered mousseline sauce than Denis Jamain’s rosé-hued Pinot Gris and his Reuilly Sauvignon Blanc. His Pierres Plates bottling is from his best Sauvignon Blanc vineyard, named after all the “flat” fossil-encrusted limestone rocks in its soil—soil he has worked organically for many years. Reuilly is located about halfway between Cheverny and Sancerre along the route des Sauvignons de la Loire as you head east, near the ancient city of Bourges. If you are looking for classic French Sauvignon Blanc at excellent value, look no further! An intriguing onion-skin quality to this bottling rounds out all of its angles of acidity and makes it an even better food companion. –Dixon Brooke
When tasting the wines of Denis Jamain, it is clear that the appellation of Reuilly is experiencing a renaissance, moving far beyond its former status as the “poor man’s Sancerre.” Phylloxera ravaged the majority of the vineyards in the late 19th century, but Camille Rousseau (Denis’ maternal grandfather) had faith in the future of Reuilly. In 1935, he planted his first vines here, in addition to farming a large oak forest on the outskirts of town. Denis shares his grandfather’s passion. Though he studied in the US and speaks excellent English, he wanted nothing more than to return home to take over the family domaine. In 1990, Denis began adding to the family holdings. Today, he farms 17 hectares in the heart of the appellation.
The defining feature of the Loire Valley, not surprisingly, is the Loire River. As the longest river in France, spanning more than 600 miles, this river connects seemingly disparate wine regions. Why else would Sancerre, with its Kimmeridgian limestone terroir be connected to Muscadet, an appellation that is 250 miles away?
Secondary in relevance to the historical, climatic, environmental, and cultural importance of the river are the wines and châteaux of the Jardin de la France. The kings and nobility of France built many hundreds of châteaux in the Loire but wine preceded the arrival of the noblesse and has since out-lived them as well.
Diversity abounds in the Loire. The aforementioned Kimmderidgian limestone of Sancerre is also found in Chablis. Chinon, Bourgueil, and Saumur boast the presence of tuffeau, a type of limestone unique to the Loire that has a yellowish tinge and a chalky texture. Savennières has schist, while Muscadet has volcanic, granite, and serpentinite based soils. In addition to geologic diversity, many, grape varieties are grown there too: Cabernet Franc, Chenin Blanc, Sauvignon Blanc, and Melon de Bourgogne are most prevalent, but (to name a few) Pinot Gris, Grolleau, Pinot Noir, Pineau d’Aunis, and Folle Blanche are also planted. These myriad of viticultural influences leads to the high quality production of every type of wine: red, white, rosé, sparkling, and dessert.
Like the Rhône and Provence, some of Kermit’s first imports came from the Loire, most notably the wines of Charles Joguet and Château d’Epiré—two producers who are featured in Kermit’s book Adventures on the Wine Route and with whom we still work today.
Every three or four months I would send my clients a cheaply made list of my inventory, but it began to dawn on me that business did not pick up afterwards. It occurred to me that my clientele might not know what Château Grillet is, either. One month in 1974 I had an especially esoteric collection of wines arriving, so I decided to put a short explanation about each wine into my price list, to try and let my clients know what to expect when they uncorked a bottle. The day after I mailed that brochure, people showed up at the shop, and that is how these little propaganda pieces for fine wine were born.—Kermit Lynch
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