Do yourself a favor and give this gem a taste. It might be the most unusual, most delicious, and least expensive top-quality sweet wine you have ever tried. A pure Chenin Blanc, hand picked from a special selection of late-harvest grapes in the tiny appellation of Jasnières, this cuvée was made in miniscule quantities. It showcases an awesome combination of smooth, pure, decadent Chenin fruit and super-complex terroir—smoke, peat, exotic spices, and volcanic stoniness. Serve it as dessert, in and of itself, or as a palate-stimulating apéritif. We in the U.S. haven’t acquired the French habit of serving a sweet wine to start the evening, but it is worth a try. It works, especially with a knockout winner like this.
Pascal Janvier never planned on becoming a vigneron. Though his parents had vineyard land of their own, they did not make their own wine. He went to school to learn butchery, but made a sudden about-face at the age of thirty and decided to study winegrowing. His decision was anything but a whim. Starting slowly, he has mastered his craft with focus and passion, contributing to the revival of the small appellation of Jasnières, the most northerly (and coldest) of the greater Loire region. The once proud appellations of Jasnières and the Coteaux du Loir are now all but extinct, with less than one hundred and two hundred hectares still respectively under vine. Pascal is doing his part to remind everyone what Jasnières is capable of.
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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