ON WINE: Upper Loire offers high-quality Sauvignon Blancs from classic and emerging districts

ON WINE: Upper Loire offers high-quality Sauvignon Blancs from classic and emerging districts

In the eternal search for the white wine that can rival Chardonnay, Sauvignon Blanc has always been the front-runner. Our own search for high-quality, affordable Sauvignon Blancs has led us to the Loire Valley, where producers from established and emerging districts now ship their Sauvignon Blanc wines to the United States.

The Upper Loire—the eastern part of the valley, closest to Paris—is the center of production for Sauvignon Blanc. Millions of years ago the ocean covered this area, and it left the soil rich in many minerals, including flintstone, quartz and silica. Today the chalky, limestone hills and the cool, temperate climate provide a classic growing environment for this grape.

In addition to Sancerre and Pouilly-Fumé—the best-known regions of the area—lesser-known Sauvignon Loires are Ménétou-Salon, Quincy, Reuilly, Coteaux du Giennois and Touraine Sauvignon.

Sancerre is the largest and most renowned Loire area, and its whites are famous around the world. The region’s white wines are medium-bodied, crisp and fresh, with green-grass and citrus aromas and flavors, as well as a minerally smokiness in some wines. They are usually unoaked and wholesale for about $136 to $192 per case.

Across the Loire River from the town of Sancerre is the smaller Pouilly-Fumé district. Pouilly-Fumé is not quite so herbaceous and spicy, and it often has a distinct flinty aroma. It’s also generally fuller-bodied and rounder than Sancerre, with softer acidity. Wholesale prices for Pouilly-Fumés range from $160 to $300 per case.

WINE OF THE WEEK

2005 Henri Bourgeois Quincy “Les Victoires” (Loire Valley)

This wine is dry, medium-bodied and crisp, with concentrated grapefruit and herbal flavors. It would be a great match with shellfish or trout, and it’s a terrific value.

Wholesale price per case of 12, $120.

The Ménétou-Salon zone is south of Sancerre, and the ten villages in the area produce 60 percent white Ménétou-Salon and 40 percent red and rosé from Pinot [2] Noir. White Ménétou-Salon wines are perhaps closest in style to Sancerre, although usually less expensive—about $132 to $144 per case.

About five years ago, it was difficult to find any Quincy wines in the United States, but they’re here now and are exceptional bargains. Quincy produces only white wine that is very fresh and lively, with ripe citrus aromas and flavors. Wholesale prices range from $96 to $120 a case.

Like Quincy wines, white Reuilly is lighter-bodied than Sancerre and Pouilly-Fumé, and it usually has more pronounced acidity and assertive herbal aromas. White Reuilly is also a real bargain, wholesaling for $108 to $160 per case.

Coteaux du Giennois, north of Sancerre, received AOC status only in 1998. About 70 percent of the area’s wines are red or rosé but the white wines are all Sauvignon Blanc. The white is a lighter-bodied version of Sancerre and is probably the most difficult Sauvignon Loire wine to find in the United States. One producer sells a case for a bargain price of $108.

The Touraine area is a fertile area, and the Sauvignons here tend to be light, aromatic and a bit riper in flavor than those of the Upper Loire. They are also less expensive, wholesaling for $80 to $120 per case.

Sauvignon Blanc wines are best when young, including these Loire whites, most of which should be consumed within two or three years of the vintage. The one exception is the costlier, oak-aged Pouilly-Fumés, which are still fine after five or six years. All of these wines are wonderful with goat cheese. Other great matches with Loire Sauvignons include seafood, especially oysters and trout. Fuller-bodied Pouilly-Fumés go well with white meat entrées.

Although Sancerres and Pouilly-Fumés are the most available Loire Sauvignon Blanc wines and are consistently good, we find that some of the most exciting—and affordable—wines come from Quincy, Reuilly and Ménétou-Salon.