Reuilly might not be as fun or easy to say as Sancerre—the renowned Loire Valley appellation an hour east—but the white wines that come from this small AOC can be every bit as beautiful and pleasurable to drink. In many ways, the two appellations are not that different. To start, the white wines are both 100% Sauvignon Blanc. And, like in Chablis, both appellations have a substantial amount of Kimmeridgian limestone or marl in their soils. Despite its under-the-radar status, Reuilly is also endowed with a notable amount of ancient marine deposits. Unlike most of us, Denis Jamain of Domaine de Reuilly can walk out into his organically and biodynamically farmed vineyards and pick up pieces of fossilized seashells dating back 150 million years to the Jurassic period, inspiring this cuvée’s name. Les Fossiles is crisp and mineral, with notes of chamomile, green apple, and citrus. A wine doesn’t need to come from seashells to perfectly complement shellfish, but this gorgeous blanc—like your favorite Chablis—proves that it certainly doesn’t hurt.
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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