Introduce yourself to a rare Loire red

Since I seem to be on a Loire kick, let me take the opportunity to introduce many of you to my new favorite grape: Pineau d’Aunis.

Sometimes called chenin noir, it is very much its own grape and despite its relative obscurity, has been used to make wine for a
millennium.

Grown in Touraine and Anjou, Pineau d’Aunis was very popular in the Middle Ages and apparently was a favorite among the nobility. To me it smells a lot like tequila (and that is a very good thing) and a humidor (appealing provided the cigars are never lit). Light-bodied as a rule, it has plenty of acidity and berry fruits. It can be tannic but is never chewy, and I find that sometimes the tannins seem to glide, giving a very pleasant sensation. It is often blended with cabernet franc or gamay but it seems more and more it is being allowed to stand on its own.

Pineau d’Aunis was pretty much unheard of on our shores until very recently and it is still not terribly easy to locate on American wine shelves. As it does not dominate one appellation the way, for instance, cabernet franc is the only grape permitted in wines labeled as Chinon (rouge), it is often even more difficult to find. It is often given a proprietary name and those near the Loire River north of Tours can be labeled as Coteaux du Loire.

Lest you fear I am sending you on a wild goose chase, there are retailers in the Bay Area that carry some of these wines and you can also probably locate some online.

Domaine de Montrieux “Le Verre des Poètes,” 2006: Emile Heredia set up shop in Montrieux in 1999 and has made his name using Pineau d’Aunis. Made from 100-year-old vines and fermented on its skins for one month, this wine has incredible flavor yet is not overly concentrated. Spicy with reposado tequila aromas and juicy blackberry fruit, it is especially refreshing and tasty when served ever so slightly chilled. ­Suggested retail: $21

Domaine de Belliviere Coteaux de Loir, “Le Rouge Gorge,” 2007: Eric and Christine Nicolas are not from the Loire, and Domaine de Belliviere is just a few years old, but their wines are terrific. Though chenin blanc is the mainstay at the domaine, the red wine, Le Rouge Gorge, is a beauty. Made entirely from Pineau d’Aunis, it is subtly captivating, with its fragrant, fresh-rose aroma, bright cherry, cranberry fruit and traces of spice. Suggested retail: $30

Puzelat Pineau d’Aunis, “Les Tesniere,” 2008: To say the least, Thierry Puzelat’s wines are idiosyncratic. His Pineau d’Aunis “Les Tesniere” is one of close to a dozen that he makes, and it is consistent and reliable. He buys grapes principally from growers that share his biodynamic philosophy. Bright and light, this wine has bounce with wild strawberry fruit, black pepper and a rose-petal, cigar-tobacco fragrance. Suggested retail: $26

Next week, we are leaving the Loire and traveling back to California for a little chardonnay.

Pamela S. Busch is the wine director and proprietor of CAV Wine Bar & Kitchen in San Francisco.

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