My colleagues and I used to stack large volumes of wine for our consumption in the naturally cool, pebbled cellar below our Beaune office on Cour des Chartreux—a bygone luxury now that I live in a studio in Brooklyn. We’d order Minet’s Pouilly-Fumé by the case as an alternative to the Bourgogne blancs we’d become accustomed to. Grown in Kimmeridgian soil and made from 100% Sauvignon Blanc, Pouilly-Fumé will never shake the comparison to neighboring Sancerre. But I find Minet’s to be unmistakably Burgundian: less pungent and creamier than Sancerre, with the refined mineral texture of polished stone.
One could consider Régis Minet the Loire Valley’s answer to an action hero, a man of brooding intensity on an insatiable quest for adventure. It may just be in the blood. His grandfather, Robert, was an artisan tonnelier, or barrel-maker. He kept a mere three hectares of vines in Pouilly-sur-Loire—just enough to make the family’s wine. He, too, was very independent, living autonomously off his own livestock and fresh vegetables from his farm. When he passed away in 1976, Régis left his studies to continue the work of the domaine without giving it a second thought. Since then, he has made this tiny farm a full-time domaine, adding an eight hectares of vineyards. His love of his native terroir certainly translates into his wines.
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.
When buying red Burgundy, I think we should remember:
1. Big wines do not age better than light wine. 2. A so-called great vintage at the outset does not guarantee a great vintage for the duration. 3. A so-called off vintage at the outset does not mean the wines do not have a brilliant future ahead of them. 4. Red Burgundy should not taste like Guigal Côte-Rôtie, even if most wine writers wish it would. 5. Don’t follow leaders; watch yer parking meters.
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