By Eric Asimov
For longer than I can remember, Loire reds have been under-the-radar choices for wine lovers in search of great values.
Why do they seem obscure? It’s not for lack of attention. Wine writers have extolled their virtues for decades, but the general public has long appeared unmoved. Perhaps they are destined to be niche wines. But they do have their fans.
Natural wine lovers know the Loire as having spawned many excellent producers in the early days of the movement. Some of them, like Clos Rougeard and Richard Leroy for his chenin blancs, have become cult labels, highly coveted and ultraexpensive.
But for the most part, the Loire plods along, producing a wide selection of wonderful wines, with talented younger producers joining in regularly.
I recently explored New York wine shops for Loire reds and found a dozen bottles that I highly recommend. Some are great thirst-quenchers that are moderately priced. Others are too expensive for many people, which I understand. But they are still excellent values relative to what you might get for the same price in some other French regions or the Napa Valley.
I’ve spoken generally of the Loire Valley, but it actually encompasses many different regions, from the Muscadet production zone in the west near where the river empties into the Atlantic, to Sancerre and a host of lesser-known areas in the east. I’ve focused on two central areas, the Anjou-Saumur region near the city of Angers and the Touraine area near the city of Tours.
Cabernet franc is the dominant red in both areas, though plenty of other grapes can also be found, including cabernet sauvignon, malbec (known regionally as côt), gamay, pineau d’aunis and grolleau. Most of these bottles are cabernet franc wines, but not all.
Please remember these 12 bottles are just a snapshot of the wide array of top-notch wines available from the region. They are by no means the 12 best bottles. Not being on this list should not be interpreted as a slight. I could not find some producers I wanted, and I found others who were new to me whom I wanted to include.
Most likely, you, too, won’t find all the bottles you are seeking. The best solution is to patronize the best wine shop near you and ask the merchants for good substitutes for the wines you can’t find. You may discover something you love.
Here are the 12 bottles, in ascending order of price.
Marc Plouzeau Château de la Bonnelière Chinon Rive Gauche 2021, 12.5%, $17
This is absolutely delicious Chinon and a great value. It’s easygoing cabernet franc, grown organically on gravel soil, but not simplistic. It’s light-bodied and full of flavors, with red fruit, flower and a touch of licorice. While refreshing, it’s structured enough to feel substantial. (Weygandt-Metzler, Unionville, Pennsylvania)
La Grange aux Belles Vin de France Le Vin de Jardin 2021, 11.5%, $22
La Grange aux Belles comprises a small group of vignerons who makes wine naturally in the Anjou region of the Loire. Le Vin de Jardin is classic thirst-quenching natural wine: juicy, supple and fruity, yet dry. It’s made from the grolleau grape, which is mostly used in the Loire for inexpensive rosés. This is delicious, a great bottle to lightly chill and share with friends while watching a game. (Selected by Fifi/Steven Graf, Ridgewood, New York)
Nadège La Vignes Herbel Vin de France Vigneronne 2019, 12.5%, $28
Here is another natural wine from the Anjou, a little more serious than Le Vin de Jardin but just as delicious. Nadège Lelandais farms organically and biodynamically, using grapes from various plots in the area. Vigneronne is made of cabernet franc and cabernet sauvignon, fermented in fiberglass vats and aged in older barrels. It’s fragrant with red fruits and cedar, and the fine tannins provide structure to the wine. (Selected by Fifi/Steven Graf)
La Famille Mosse Vin de France Cabernet Franc Vintage 2018, 13.5%, $32
Agnès and René Mosse, the longtime proprietors of this organically farmed estate, have been joined by Joseph and Sylvestre Mosse of the next generation. The wines continue to be superb. The Vintage cuvée is a selection of the best barrels of cabernet franc, which is given additional age in a big oak vat. It’s beautifully balanced, quite floral and structured enough to stand up to a juicy steak. (Louis/Dressner Selections, New York)
Domaine des Frères Vin de France Le Pérou 2020, 12.5%, $32
Domaine des Frères, a new estate, was, as its name suggests, started by two brothers, Henri and Valentin Bruneau, who both left their engineering jobs to grow grapes and make wine. They farm organically, roughly 27 acres spread through the Chinon region and take a largely hands-off approach to winemaking, adding only a small amount of sulfur dioxide, an antioxidant, at bottling. The 2020 Le Pérou, their first vintage, is fresh and alive, with flavors of red fruit and mint, along with tannins that are present but subtle. A delicious debut. (Avant-Garde Wines & Spirits, New York)
Domaine du Bel Air Bourgueil Les Marsaules 2018, 13.5%, $37
The Gauthier family, the longtime owners of this Bourgueil estate, farm organically. This cuvée is from Les Marsaules, a lieu-dit, or distinctive vineyard area, where the family owns about 4.5 acres. The wine ages in barrels for three years. It’s fragrant with red cherry aromas and persistent fruit flavors with a stony, mineral edge. (Polaner Selections, Mount Kisco, New York)
Domaine Guiberteau Saumur 2019, 13.5%, $37
Romain Guiberteau is one of the leading vignerons in the Saumur region, with excellent vineyards all farmed organically. This cuvée, one of his introductory reds, is made from grapes grown on silt and sand over limestone. It’s ripe and rich, with enticing aromas of flowers and red fruits, and an earthy, mineral edge. (Becky Wasserman & Co./Frederick Wildman & Sons, New York)
Bernard Baudry Chinon Le Clos Guillot 2019, 14%, $38
Year in, year out, Bernard Baudry is one of the most reliable producers in the Touraine region for wines that are not only delicious but intriguing. Matthieu Baudry has now taken over from his father, who is mostly retired, but the quality remains high. Le Clos Guillot is made from organically farmed vines on a limestone slope and aged in older barrels and in concrete. The wine is tense and energetic with red fruit and jalapeño flavors and pronounced minerality. It will benefit from a few more years of aging. (Louis/Dressner Selections)
Domaine des Closiers Saumur-Champigny Les Closiers 2020, 13%, $40
Domaine des Closiers is an ambitious estate under new ownership since 2018. It converted its vineyards to organic and biodynamic and so far, the results have been more than encouraging. Despite the lively acidity and fine tannins, this wine is smooth, almost mellow, with stony cherry flavors. It’s enjoyable now but will improve over the next five years. (The Rare Wine Co., Brisbane, California)
Fabien Duveau Saumur Champigny Les Hauts Poyeux 2019, 12.5%, $50
Fabien Duveau took over his family estate in 2008. Duveau, an eighth-generation vigneron, returned the vineyards to organic farming, as had been customary before chemical farming was introduced in the 20th century. Les Hauts Poyeux, from the upper portion of the Poyeux vineyard, has sandy soils over limestone and clay. The wine is light but intense, with deep aromas and complex flavors of flowers, earthy red fruits and herbs. (Schatzi Wines, Milan, New York)
Château Yvonne Saumur Champigny 2019, 13.5%, $54
This superb Saumur Champigny comes from a biodynamically farmed vineyard on clay and limestone soils. It’s a serious wine, but not self-important or calling attention to itself with needless flourishes. Rather, the unadorned aromas of red fruits, flowers and herbs are complex. On the palate, it has earthy, mineral flavors that will benefit from several years of aging. (Coeur Wine Co., New York)
La Porte St. Jean Saumur Les Pouches 2019, 12.5%, $57
Sylvain Dittière, the founder of La Porte St. Jean, farms organically in several different vineyard sites in the Saumur region. He ferments wines traditionally, adding nothing to the grapes but a small amount of sulfur dioxide. Les Pouches is youthful and complex. The tannins are fine but still apparent and will need a few years to soften, but the wine is pure and clear, with lingering floral, fruit and herbal flavors. (Avant-Garde Wines and Spirits)