The Resurgence of the Loire Valley – Premium Appellations Are Reasserting Themselves with Every New Release…

Much has been written about the brilliance of the Loire Valley whites and reds, but of course the 2015 vintage heralded some very opulent, exotic, atypical whites and indeed some super suave, rich, ripe, elegant reds. I will be the first to admit that I have been so preoccupied tasting 2015s that I have failed to get a good look in on the 2016s that seem will be imminently released into the market due to low trade stock holdings. As a buyer, it gets just harder and harder to keep up with new releases, especially when either demand is high or supply is so meagre due to short European vintages.

Today I took the opportunity to have another look at the Comte Lafond Sancerre 2016 white, drinking a bottle over lunch. Baron Patrick de Ladoucette produces this wine in the Sancerre Controlled Appellation area, which includes the villages of Bué, Chaudoux, Chavignol and Verdigny. Vines are aged from 25 to 35 years and the the soils are typically a combination of clay, limestone and silica.

Comte Lafond Sancerre 2016, 12.5 Abv.

This is a super elegant Sauvignon Blanc with the most delicate, pretty aromatics. So expressive and complex with a nose of white peaches and cream, lemon butter, sweet baking herbs, thyme and fresh crunchy green fennel root notes. So multi-dimensional and multi-layered, with stem ginger and lemon grass nuances dominant. The palate is taught, direct and focused with lashings of crunchy gooseberry, green Granny Smith apples, green tea and yet more crushed fennel root. Lovely balance, vibrant crisp crunchy acids and an alluring chalky, dusty Bon Bon sweet palate that is so tantalising. This Grand Vin possess such lovely depth and texture, but is perhaps more linear and mineral than the exotic 2015, and more piquant and fresh, more in the mould of the superb 2014. A fabulous expression from the Loire with incredible concentration of flavour and detailed length. Drink now to 2026+.

(Wine Safari Score: 94+/100 Greg Sherwood MW)

Can new world wines challenge the French classics… when matched with food!? 

I remember back during the 2008 Lehman Bros. banking crash period, how wine merchants the country over reported seeing a massive and sudden consumer movement back to the French classics. Apparently this trend manifested itself at all levels, from supermarkets up to fine wine merchants.

As a buyer for a niche high-end merchant in London, I can confirm after a brief look over sales figures by region for these years, that this certainly was the case for us. In the mainstream, stats were undoubtedly influenced by the parallel factor of a strengthening Aussie and Kiwi dollar against the pound, which raised prices by 20%-30%+ over a very short period of time. As key volume component players in the UK market, a drop in sales was perhaps inevitable for these countries. But was there more to it than economics at work?

Pollsters reported that consumer behaviour flocked back to the security and safety of the classics that espouse a sense of quality, prestige, and a subconscious feel-good factor. 

Well, my Sunday lunch today definitely stuck to the classics, with a sensational bottle of Comte Lafond Sancerre 2014 (94/100) kicking off proceedings, followed by an opulent, but very attractive Chateau Le Bon Pasteur 2011 Pomerol from Michel Roland to match the roast chicken. Both hit the spot perfectly. 

I think perhaps South Africa has had more recent success in cracking the food and wine pairing category although Californian classics are very compatible too. It is perhaps the riper sunshine styles from Australia, New Zealand, Chile and Argentina that have fallen behind the fine dining food & wine matching curve? My figures are anecdotal, but with many South African producers making fresher styles of wine, with reds exhibiting crisper, crunchier acids and sappy, spicy minerality at lower alcohol levels, these wines will undoubtedly appeal to European sommeliers and consumers alike. 

Tasting Note: The Le Bon Pasteur 2011 Pomerol, an 80% blend of Merlot and 20% Cabernet Sauvignon, was rich and opulent with complex multiple layers of sweet black cherry, cassis, salty Victoria plum with a hint of liquorice on the finish. What makes this wine so appealing is its intense concentration and vibrant fresh acids that make it perfect with food. At 14 abv, it’s not a “cool” style Bordeaux, but it is certainly perfectly balanced with the most lush fruit balanced with sweet tannins and seamlessly integrated oak. Certainly the best estate wine in the Roland Collection in my opinion. (Wine Safari Score: 94/100 Greg Sherwood MW)

When it comes to food and wine matching, new world wines with their varying degrees of sweet fruit, lower acids and sunshine ripeness, will always struggle to compete with the fresh acids, austere restrained fruit intensity and dry minerality of an old world classic, whether from Bordeaux, Burgundy or the Rhone. 

But this is an important factor that I believe weighs heavily on new world producers and is one that drives them vehemently to achieve better freshness, structure and restraint. No bad thing!