While cruising the Canal Lateral de Loire, we moored the boat near Sancerre and planned to do some wine tasting. Wines from the Sancerre region and nearby Rue Pouilly Fuisse are exquisite and easily recognizable in the California marketplace.
However, today we decided to travel east of the Loire River to explore some lesser known white wines from Pouilly Fume’.
The Pouilly Fume’ appellation has only 1,300 hectares under vine compared to 3,000 in Sancerre. The region is small but has been producing dry-farmed wines for four centuries. The only grape planted in Pouilly Fume’ is Sauvignon Blanc, but the distinction in the wines comes from the terroir, more specifically the soil types: limestone, marl, a lime rich blend of clay and silt, sand and flint.
Neighboring Pouilly sur Loire, a sub-region of Pouilly Fume’ produces its wines exclusively from the chasselas grapes, named after a commune in the Saone et Loire region of Burgundy. A little known varietal with a global presence, chasselas vines grow in Portugal, Switzerland, New Zealand, Chile and other countries. Wherever it is grown, dry, full fruity wines are found.
As we explored the Pouilly Fume’ and Pouilly sur Loire vineyards, we found that the soils types could change within a few meters.
Although the region is 270 feet above sea level, there was clear evidence of sea fossils in the stones.
Although the autumn changes were visible, some vines looked more stressed than others. We discovered that this was due to the esca disease, which effects the trunks of the vines, requiring the replacement of nearly ten percent of stock each year.
Recent mechanical harvest missed some grapes at the end of the rows which we plucked from the vine and sampled. Tasted side by side, the differences and similarities between the Sauvignon Blanc and chasselas were as evident as they were in the glass. Distinctively, Sauvignon Blanc offers more tropical while the chasselas more stone fruit on the palate.
Eventually, we landed in the tiny community of Les Loges, population 78, where 10 families have been producing wines for generations. It was there that we met one such heir, winemaker Clement Marchand, owner/winemaker of Domaine Marchand & Fils, whose family has been in the community since 1650. Today, he makes his wines in the same cellar created by his grandfather. It’s a damp stone chamber filled with stainless steel and fiberglass tanks where the juice of his recently harvested grapes were in a slight fermentation boil. Later, the wines are aged for months in oak barrels.
Marchand grows high environmental grapes, a method known in this county as biodynamic farming. While explaining that balance is critical in his wines, he added that its all about the soil where limestone can add hints of citrus, flint a mineral element and stone fruit from the marl. Marchand produces about 25,000 bottles per vintage, divided among his four releases, all of which we tasted. The Pouilly sur Loire 2017, made to taste young, had clear hints of almond on the nose and a crisp, healthy acidity that would pair well with shellfish.
The Sauvignon Blanc in the Pouilly Fume’ 2017 (Les Kerots) was also fresh and crisp, but with more stone fruit flavors and a lingering finish. This wine would enhance any seafood dish. The Pouilly Fume’ 2016, from the local marl-based fossil soil named kimmeridgian, had much rounder texture and a more creamy mouthfeel than the first two, delivering nice stone fruit flavors. The “Kimmeridgian” was Marchand’s highest priced release at approximately $30. Our last wine, the Pouilly Fume’ Prestige 2016 was complex, but not too heavy with nice texture and soft, tropical flavors that seemed to linger on the tongue.
I believe that environmental elements can effect they manner in which the wines are perceived. There I was, standing in an ancient cellar, tasting wines that date back centuries in an authentic, small and secluded French enclave, east of the Loire River. Of course, they were all tasting great.
Marchand explained that it is hard for his wines to make it to U.S. markets, dealing with limited production and competition of established wines like Chardonnay and Sauvignon Blanc from our soils. Feeling fortunate to have discovered this region and acknowledging that we may not see them anytime soon, my travel mates and I purchased some bottles back to our boat. Pouilly Fume is a hidden gem worth exploring.
Lyle W. Norton is a wine enthusiast and blogger in Santa Rosa who has written a wine column for 15 years. Visit his blog at www.lifebylyle.com or email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.