A version of this article was first published in Hampshire View, September 2011.
If you’re into sauvignon blanc then Sancerre and Pouilly-Fumé are the names to conjure with, but France’s Loire valley offers many other opportunities to drink wines from this bright and zesty grape variety.
Outside of these two famous appellations, there are another couple that offer sauvignon blanc, and usually at a more affordable price, because they are ‘humbler’ areas. One is the catch-all Vin de Pays du Val de Loire (the Loire’s equivalent of Vin de Pays d’Oc), and the other is the Touraine Appellation d’Origine Contrôlée, which covers 4,500 hectares (ha) stretching east from Tours on both sides of the river Loire.
In both these appellations other grape varieties are grown, but sauvignon blanc will be mentioned on the label. In Touraine, Gamay de Touraine is the most common red wine, while Sauvignon de Touraine accounts for nearly 80% of the white Touraine wines.
Vin de Pays du Val de Loire is even larger than Touraine, covering 5,500 ha, and nearly half of all Vin de Pays du Val de Loire is sauvignon blanc. Other Loire vins de pays are made from the likes of chardonnay, chenin blanc, gamay and cabernet franc.
Fragmentation of production in Vin de Pays and Touraine has long been a challenge to focusing on improving the quality of production, with many growers owning a few hectares here and there. With some 1,700 growers of Loire Vin de Pays wines, it is really only the negociants, who buy fruit from many growers, who can bottle significant volumes of wine under one label. Otherwise it’s a case of searching out attentive and high profile producers, but who won’t make such high volumes of wine.
Recently, to give more emphasis on quality, the organisation that promotes Loire wines created a technical project in 2008, working more closely with growers and helping them to understand what styles of sauvignon blanc are preferred in the UK, whether more tropical fruits, or stone fruits, or citrus and grapefruit styles, or grassier, steelier styles, and how to work differently in the vineyard and the winery to achieve these styles, maybe using different yeasts, or fermenting at a particular temperature. One of the most important things is to keep oxygen away from the fruit during harvest and winemaking, which will keep the fruit expressions fresh, zingy and focused on primary fruit. Then extra style-enhancing options, especially keeping the wine on its lees for a few months, add varying degrees of weight, intensity, texture and richness to the finished wine.
The beauty of these styles of sauvignon blanc is they’re straightforwardness in delivering zingy fresh fruit flavours. It’s important to drink the most recent vintage available.
M&S: Domaine Jacky Marteau Sauvignon blanc 2010, £7.99, Loire.
Sainsbury’s: Taste the Difference Touraine Sauvignon Blanc 2010, £7.99
Domaine Direct: Domaine du Haut Perron, Touraine Sauvignon 2010, £8.70 (per bottle in a mixed 12-pack)