6 Unique Gites in the Heart of the Loire
It would be fair to say that New World wines have now been around for long enough to not really be considered new anymore and that they are well established in terms of quality and reputation with some very highly regarded vineyards. Indeed the way England's wine industry is progressing it may soon be regarded as the new world in wine terms! However many people would be firmly of the opinion that it is the Old World wines that are truly the best and that the ultimate King of them all is French wine.
Within France there are many wine producing regions and nobody could argue that the Loire Valley can more than hold it's own in terms of quality. Most people with any knowledge at all of wine will have heard of Sancerre and Pouilly Fume — both regarded as a premium Sauvignon Blanc white wine. Both are from the Loire Valley and, most interestingly, from opposite banks of the Loire — literally almost directly opposite each other — Sancerre comes from the west bank while Pouilly Fume is just a few miles upstream on the east bank.
The village of Sancerre itself sits upon a rocky hillside overlooking the Loire River and many of the best vineyards are quite steep and scattered with rocks. In fact the village is actually on an outcrop of chalk that runs from the white cliffs of Dover — no wonder English wine is starting to make a name for itself !!! — down through Champagne and Chablis. The wine producing area of Sancerre, which encompasses the village, lies at the eastern end of the Loire Valley, where the river changes direction and heads south.
The geology of the area is very diverse with a series of small valleys cutting through the chalk each with their own soils and microclimate. Towards the west and north the soil is gravelly which gives a fruit driven wine. In the centre and south west the soil is more chalky which makes for a heavier more aromatic wine and at the eastern end the soil is flinty which gives a very mineral driven wine.
Pouilly Fume is produced around Pouilly-sur-Loire but not to be confused with another white wine produced in the same area and actually called Pouilly-sur-Loire, but made with a different grape variety. Pouilly Fume is made purely from the Sauvignon Blanc grape while Pouilly sur Loire is made from the Chasselas grape. Pouilly Fume is tightly focused around two villages — St. Andelain and Les Loges — on south-west facing slopes. The terrain is slightly undulating due to the path of the River Loire and so is much gentler and less rugged than Sancerre but it still has the same three basic soil types although there is more flint which gives rise to the characteristic struck gunflint "fume" aroma.
As with many alcoholic beverages the roots of Pouilly Fume are religious — Benedictine monks commenced development of Pouilly Fume in the Middle Ages as Sacramental wine was traditionally white and therefore less prone to staining.
Pouilly Fume has an unusual flavor for a dry white wine — a strong flavor of musk and smoke i.e. "Fume". It is a little bit different to Sancerre — a thicker, deeper, more structured wine. The Pouilly Fume "appellation" is approximately half the size of that of Sancerre at approximately 1200 hectares.
Sauvignon Blanc is not known for its complexity or depth of flavour — no matter how ideal the vintage and how skilled the winemaking, a Sauvignon-based wine will always be slightly limited in its complexity. As a result a number of producers started introducing an element of oak into their Pouilly Fume wines in the 1980's — either via barrel fermentation or barrel maturation, or both. This resulted in more aromatic and textured wines than the standard unoaked wines. These are also better-suited for mid-term cellaring and most modern Pouilly Fume will improve in bottle for between three and six years.