The Loire Valley Produces Delicious Wines
by The Wine Guys, Tom Marquardt and Patrick Darr
Arnaud Saget knows the challenge of getting wine consumers to adopt the Loire Valley as their favorite wine growing region. Even those consumers who enjoy sauvignon blanc may not know it’s a primary grape grown for centuries in the Loire Valley. But amongst the growers in this region of France, Saget’s family has done well in promoting the family brand, Saget la Perrière.
For the last 40 years, the company has operated under Jean-Louis Saget and, now, his two sons Arnaud and Laurent. In the last two years, the sons have embarked on a program to upgrade the winemaking facility and expand the vineyards. Over the years, the family has acquired vineyards across the valley and now has estates in all wine-growing regions.
We recently caught up with Arnaud, who handles the sales and management of Saget la Perriere, to taste several of his wines from the portfolio. This label represents nearly half of Saget la Perrière’s production. His father acquired the 111-acre property in 1996.
The Loire is known primarily for its white grape varieties: sauvignon blanc, chenin blanc and melon de bourgogne. The Chinon appellation is known for its cabernet franc but more recently pinot noir has been shown more promise as climate warming has favored the Loire. Arnaud said quality winemakers have been reducing yields to improve the pinot noir, but we have found few pinot noirs from this region that we like.
Saget la Perrière is comparatively large with its 750 acres of planted vineyards, but Arnaud finds this a strength.
“When we took over, we had the choice to use our properties to create a big brand or make sure we keep all of our estates independent of one another,” he says. “It’s more demanding (to keep the estates independent) because you don’t target the same markets. But we represent the diversity of the region.”
Here are the wines we liked:
La Perrière Sancerre 2019 ($44). Only natural yeasts are used to make this premium sauvignon blanc. “We want something as pure as possible,” Arnaud said. It has floral and peach aromas and citrus, orange rind flavors. Balanced acidity and long finish, it will improve with age, according to Arnaud. Austere upon release, it is fermented and aged in stainless steel to preserve the fresh fruit appeal.
La Perrière Blanc Pouilly de Fume 2018 ($35). Using the original name for this appellation – one of the oldest in the Loire – this wine is made entirely of sauvignon blanc. It has great structure and generous citrus, mineral aromas. It reflects the chalky soil more than the sancerre.
La Petite Perrière Sauvignon Blanc 2018 ($14). A great value, this simple but pure sauvignon blanc uses grapes from Loire and south of France. Because of the broad region for grapes, it is classified Vin de France. Simple citrus and peach notes with a touch of minerals.
La Perrière Megalithe Sancerre 2016 ($68). The estate’s iconic wine introduced in 1998, the Megalithe represents the potential of the region. Made entirely of sauvignon blanc, half of it sees oak barrels to give it more concentration and depth. Green in color, it has ripe pear and citrus flavors with herbal aromas. Even with this much bottle age, it shows the potential to age. Arnaud says the 2003 version of this wine is showing well now.
We love the wines from Rioja because they often over-deliver for the price. They can range from the simple and juicy crianzas to the complex and layered gran reservas.
Ramon Bilbao has it all. Established in 1924 in the Rioja Alta region, the producer draws grapes from 445 acres of vineyards and buys grapes from another 2,224 acres.
Here are a few of the wines we liked:
Ramon Bilbao Gran Reserva 2012 ($39). Enticing black fruit aromas with ripe black cherry and raspberry flavors and hints of cocoa powder, vanilla and toffee. Full bodied and round tannins. It is blended with a bit of mazuelo y graciano.
Ramon Bilbao Rosada 2020 ($18). Garnaca and viura grapes go into this crisp and easy rose. Strawberry notes dominate with a bit of citrus.
Ramon Bilbao Crianza 2017 ($19). Aged in American oak, this medium-body tempranillo has oak-influenced notes of vanilla and nutmeg. Floral aromas and red berry flavors.
Ramon Bilbao Mirto 2013 ($65). The additional bottle and oak aging give this blockbuster density and richness. Made entirely of tempranillo riojano grapes grown on old vines, it has juicy plum and dark fruit flavors with aromas of licorice and spice. Aged for 19 months in new French oak.
Sicily’s odd grapes
In another recent column we reviewed Sicilian wines and subsequently tasted two more distinctive Sicilian wines to share with our readers.
The first features zibibbo, a grape that is usually the last in any alphabetical listing of grape varieties. Officially known as muscat of Alexandria, this aromatic grape is usually suited for table use, raisins, or wine making.
The moderately priced Alcesti Terre Siciliane Zibibbo 2018 ($12) is a versatile white wine offering peach and floral notes that combine in an easy quaffing drink -- perfect for the summer.
Sicily also produces an outstanding array of dessert wines as well. Marsala, most often used in cooking, is probably most well-known. Cantine Intorcia produces a special marsala that is meant to accompany dessert or bold cheeses. The Cantine Intorcia Marsala 1980 Superiore Riserva 3 Gen ($30-375ml) is a fortified wine made from the indigenous grapes grillo, inzoli, and catarratto. This 19 percent wine offers scents and flavors of dried fruit, roasted nuts and a very sherry-like experience. Semi-dry this complex wine is a real treat.
JUSTIN Sauvignon Blanc 2020 ($16). A perennial favorite of ours, this sauvignon blanc has herbal and citrus notes with refreshing acidity.
Querciabella Chianti Classico 2017 ($30). This pure sangiovese from the heartland of chianti has effusive cherry and mint aromas followed by rich black cherry and raspberry flavors.
Castiglion del Bosco Rosso di Montalcino Gauggiole 2018 ($35). Vibrant cherry and plum fruit flavors with generous violet aromas and bright acidity.