As you probably know if you’ve been reading my blog for awhile, I enjoy wines that are a little (sometimes a lot) unexpected, different, or surprising. I discovered a couple of new favorites that fit that description – one white and one red – at a tasting of wines from France’s Loire region last month.
“This Can’t Be Sauvignon Blanc … Can It?”
The first was a fascinating sauvignon blanc from Quincy (pronounced kan-SEE). I was surprised to learn that Quincy was the first AOC in the eastern Loire, beating out its more famous neighbor, Sancerre, by a few months.
The example we tried was the 2014 Domaine Trotereau “Vieilles Vignes,” chosen for import by the inimitable Kermit Lynch. I say this wine was fascinating because it was nothing like the sauvignon blancs I usually taste. And I mean that as a compliment!
Sauvignon blanc often produces wines with a lot of green characteristics – grass, asparagus, green peppers, that kind of thing. (When wine nerds talk about “pyrazines,” this is what we mean. Pyrazines are the chemical compounds that create those green flavors and aromas.) Sauvignon blanc can also have notes of grapefruit and ammonia (some people refer to this as cat pee on the nose … not as bad as it sounds, but not my favorite characteristic either!).
The Trotereau had almost none of those typical sauv blanc markers. I detected traces of green bean on the nose and palate, but that may have been only because I was looking for them. The dominant notes for me were honey, white flowers, and even lemon candy. From that description, it sounds like the wine might be a bit heavy and cloying, but it had great acidity to balance out those richer notes.
This is a beautiful wine! It would appeal to a broad spectrum of wine drinkers, being complex and challenging but also highly drinkable and refreshing.
I took a bottle home from Tim’s Wine Market in Orlando after the tasting, and since I found it so unusual, I decided to share it with some of my wine friends – blind – to see if they would agree.
Sure enough, only one of them correctly called it sauvignon blanc. Others guessed chenin blanc or gewürztraminer (because of the floral characteristics) and riesling (possibly because of the lemon). One friend ran through all the white grapes he could think of and finally said, “This can’t be sauvignon blanc … can it?”
I love when a wine can surprise like that!
A Brief Note on Pyrazines
Before I go any further, I should say that by no means am I biased against pyrazines in wine. Sometimes I quite like them – they’re a great foil to the richness and heavy fruit qualities of Napa cabs, for example.
I just don’t like it when those green notes overwhelm the wine – when all you smell is grass or all you taste is green pepper.
As with wine itself, pyrazines are good … in moderation.
A Kinder, Gentler Chinon
The Chinon region in central Loire is most famous for red wines made from cabernet franc. That grape is known mainly as a blending agent in Bordeaux-style reds; wines from Chinon provide a great opportunity to try it all by itself.
Cab franc is another grape that normally has a lot of green qualities, primarily bell pepper aromas and flavors. Chinon reds also tend to be high in tannins and fairly astringent – sometimes too much so for my taste.
That leads me to the surprise that the 2011 Charles Jouget Chinon “Clos de la Dioterie” had in store. This wine – another Kermit Lynch import – has just enough of those pyrazine notes to be characteristic, but they’re very understated. The dominant quality I picked up was cherry, with a beautiful dusting of cocoa powder on the finish. The wine is well structured, with good acid and plenty of tannins, but it’s so well balanced that neither the tannins nor the green notes dominate.
This is an excellent wine – incredibly complex, yet smooth, balanced, and highly drinkable.
The Jouget is indeed surprising, but not in the same manner as the Trotereau sauv blanc. It has all the characteristics of a Chinon, and I think most wine enthusiasts would have no trouble calling it a cab franc.
It is unexpected – for me at least – because it’s so much softer and more balanced than so many of the Chinon reds I’ve tried.
It’s a great reminder of the importance of balance in wine … and of the fact that you should never write off an entire grape varietal, region, or type of wine. If you keep an open mind, you will always, always find the exception to the rule.