To the west of France, the Loire has many of the same climatic influences as Champagne. ROGER VOSS gives a guide to the best sparkling wines produced in the region
The Loire, with its northern cool climate, has all the same advantages for sparkling winemaking as Champagne. In Saumur, at the centre of sparkling wine production, there is the same chalk soil. The vineyards can produce just the right style of crisp, green fruit that is great for sparkling wines, but not ripe enough for still. Even the still white wine of Saumur has the same tendency to re-ferment as does still Coteaux Champenois.
There’s one big difference, though, between Loire and Champagne sparkling wines: the grape variety. The Loire’s Chenin Blanc, while it has all the right acidity for sparkling wine can, in the wrong hands, easily turn sharp and peppery, giving the sparkling wines a hard edge. In the last 10 years the quality of Saumur (the largest sparkling wine producer) has improved considerably. There is more ripe fruit, more honey rather than pepper, and more freshness in the wines. And there are also a few great Saumurs, such as Bouvet’s Cuvée Trésor, that show that Saumur can aim higher still. In the past, the producers of Saumur, like those of Vouvray and Montlouis, only made sparkling wines in cool years when richer still wines were out of the question. Now there’s more willingness to make sparklers as a normal part of production. This leaves the most interesting Loire sparkling wine, Crémant de Loire. This is a river-length appellation, which covers producers in Anjou and Touraine, as well as Saumur. Compared with Saumur sparkling wine, the rules for Crémant de Loire allow a higher percentage of Chardonnay and red grapes such as Pinot Noir and Cabernet. This gives the possibility of creamy, soft wines with greater richness and concentration than Saumur normally achieves.
Best Crémant de Loire
Blanc Foussy, Crémant de Loire
Although Blanc Foussy, based in rock-carved cellars in Rochecorbon near Vouvray, produces a range of sparkling wines, this Crémant de Loire, with its blend of 80% Chenin Blanc to give fine acidity, and 20% soft, creamy Chardonnay, is the best.
Langlois-Château, Crémant de Loire Vintage 1995 & Langlois-Château, Crémant de Loire Quadrille
The Bollinger-owned sparkling wine producer Langlois-Château decided some years ago to finish its production of Saumur Brut to concentrate its sparkling winemaking on Crémant de Loire. Its still wines come from its own domaine, but sparkling wines are made from grapes purchased from growers around Saumur. The standard Crémant de Loire is soft and nutty, but the stars here are the vintage, currently 1995 with mature, ripe, toasty fruit, and Quadrille. This is a blend of Chenin Blanc, Chardonnay, Cabernet Franc and Cabernet Sauvignon, aged for four years before disgorging. Ripe fruit is the hallmark of this wine, which is rich and complex.
Domaine des Baumard, Crémant de Loire
The Baumard family, based in Rochefort-sur-Loire, is almost as serious about its sparkling Crémant as it is about its wonderful still wines. There are other sparkling wines in the range, but the Crémant, dominated by Chardonnay, is certainly the best.
Vincent Ogereau, Crémant de Loire
Another producer whose main claim to fame is still wines from the Layon valley. But his Crémant, which might seem an afterthought among all his fascinating trials and experiments, is a deliciously crisp, fresh wine that makes an excellent aperitif.
Domaine de Brizé, Crémant de Loire
Luc Delhumeau trained in Champagne and the skills he acquired there certainly show in the cuvée of Crémant de Loire that is made at Domaine de Brizé. This sparlking wine is a blend of red (mainly Cabernet Franc) and white (Chenin Blanc and Chardonnay together), and, after two years of bottle ageing it has a fine toasty character on top of its fresh fruit.
Château de Passavant, Crémant de Loire
Yet another Layon producer, who, along with red, white and rosé still wines, makes something with bubbles. The Crémant de Loire has Chenin Blanc and Chardonnay and is light and fresh. There’s also a rosé, which is a blend of Grolleau and Cabernet Franc.
Best Saumur sparklers
Vignerons de Saumur, Saumur Brut
The most important cooperative in the Loire, the Cave des Vignerons de Saumur makes four sparkling wines, including a white and a rosé Crémant de Loire. The largest sparkling production is of Saumur, a lightly crisp, fresh, very modern style of wine which gives the lie to the idea that Chenin Blanc cannot make fruity wines.
Bouvet Saphir Brut Saumur Vintage 1998 & Bouvet Cuvée Trésor Saumur 1998
Bouvet Ladubay is the most serious and impressive producer of Saumur sparkling wines. Under the aegis of Patrice Monmousseau, it set new standards for other, more somnolent houses to follow. The Saphir vintage is 90% Chenin Blanc and 10% Chardonnay – toasty, honeyed, but with just a hint of Chenin pepper. The Cuvée Trésor is more of a rarity, barrel-fermented, 80% Chenin and 20% Chardonnay. Smooth, creamy and rich, it puts many Champagnes to shame.
Gratien et Meyer Saumur Cuvée Soleil & Gratien et Meyer Saumur Cuvée Flamme NV
Gratien et Meyer is the other Saumur producer who should be taken seriously. With its Cuvée Soleil, a ripe, full-bodied non-vintage wine which goes well with food, and with Cuvée Flamme, more austere and nutty, the firm is making some excellent classic wines. The rosé version of Cuvée Flamme is especially powerful and open.
Château de Hureau, Saumur Brut
Philippe Vatan makes an attractive, mainly Chenin-based, sparkling Saumur alongside his better-known range of Saumur-Champigny and rarer sweet Coteaux de Saumur.
Best Vouvray & Montlouis
Jean-Pierre Laisement, Vouvray Méthode Traditionelle
The affable Jean-Pierre Laisement makes a full-bodied sparkling Vouvray which brings out the weight behind good Chenin Blanc, along with an attractive lift at the end.
Château de Moncontour, Vouvray Méthode Traditionelle
The spectacular Château de Moncontour, which dominates the Loire just outside Vouvray, makes a soft, crisp, ripe wine with plenty of peppery Chenin flavours along with a clean, fresh aftertaste.
Domaine Huet-Pinguet, Vouvray Méthode Traditionelle
Arguably the finest Vouvray producer, Domaine Huet-Pinguet also makes one of the best sparkling Vouvrays, with just a hint of honey from the Chenin flavours, really crisp acidity and fresh fruit. Typically, as with all the wines produced by Noël Pinguet, these sparkling wines taste better with some bottle age.
Domaine du Clos Naudin, Vouvray Méthode Traditionelle
The Foreaus make a fine sparkling wine, right up with the quality of their still wines. Long ageing on the lees before disgorgement gives the wine a depth and richness, which means it can age well: a vintage from the early 1990s is still fresh today.
Clos Baudoin, Vouvray Méthode Traditionelle
As with his still wines, Philippe Poniatowski aims to make his sparkling Vouvray on the dry side. It is nervy, steely, but also full-bodied and is as close in concept to a Champagne style as you are likely to find in Vouvray.
Château Gaudrelle, Vouvray Méthode Traditionelle
Alexandre Monmousseau makes this complex, smooth sparkling wine alongside his still Vouvrays (including a new barrel-fermented dry white).
Deletang, Montlouis Méthode Traditionelle
Across the river from Vouvray, the Deletangs make what is the best sparkling Montlouis. Softer than most Vouvrays, this Montlouis style nevertheless has all the right slightly honeyed perfumes.
Joël Gigou, Vin Mousseux
A curiosity in the sense that all Coteaux du Loir wines are rare. Gigou makes the best still wines in Coteaux du Loir and Jasnières, and brings out, in his sparkling Vin Mousseux, all the fresh, crisp acidity of Chenin Blanc grown so far north.
Roger Voss is author of ‘The Wines of the Loire’, published by Faber.