Touring Wine-growing Regions Of France

Felix Meyer of Meyer-Fonne | Photo from Roberto Viernes

I have just returned from almost two weeks of traveling throughout most of the classical wine-growing regions of France. I have plenty to write about, but I want to share with you some general overviews of the current vintages being sold in each specific region.

I have mentioned before that I am not a fan of the vintage chart. However, I think it is still useful for wine lovers to have an idea of what to expect when putting their money into wine.

One of the overarching themes of my trip was the 2012 vintage. This proved to be a difficult one for much of France. It was a very challenging growing season for the vignerons of all the classical wine-growing regions from the Loire Valley north, including Burgundy (Chablis, Cote d’Or and Beaujolais). The stories were similar, with a very cool start to the year combined with lots of rain at flowering. This rain at flowering resulted in a huge decrease in production. Combine this with the incidence of hail thereafter, the total yields for these regions ended up to be down 40-60 percent of a normal vintage. In speaking to one vigneron in Burgundy, he said that if the Cote d’Or has another vintage like that in 2013, there will be a lot of domaines up for sale in 2014. The quantity of wine would be unsustainable for many of them to continue to make a living.

That being said, with low yields of 2012 the vines were able to concentrate their energies into the few grapes they had, so the quality of many of the wines I tasted still were very high. I recount below each region with the vintage of the wines that are currently being released. In some cases it is 2012, and others, 2011. And as I have much to write, this will be a two part column.

I began my trip in the Loire Valley going from west to east. The Pays Nantais (Muscadet) region was particularly hit hard in terms of volume in 2012. Average losses were hovering around 50 percent. The quality of the wines was very high, though. See my previous column on Domaine Bregeon, which I think was particularly successful.

Chateau d’Epire in Savennieres made a really lovely Cuvee Speciale in 2012 with wines that are particularly dry and mineral-laden. The red wines of the Loire, including Chinon, Bourgeuil and St. Nicolas de Bourgeuil, are still selling the 2011 vintage wines, which I find to be very bright and airy. They are not as rich as the 2010s or 2009s, but they have a lovely freshness to them that will lend to their longevity.

Vouvray’s wines are really classic in 2012. They have ample fruit with the ability to express the tufa terroir that may not be found in riper vintages. The famous AOCs of Sancerre and Pouilly Fume are actually quite successful in 2012. They combine great intensity and structure with the beautiful minerality that you expect from these terroirs. A real sleeper is the 2012 Domaine de Reuilly “Pierre Plates,” which is a ringer for Sancerre at 30 percent less money.

In Alsace, the current vintage being sold is 2011. The 2011s that I tasted were very, very high in quality. No slouch to 2010 or 2009 at all. In fact, I prefer the 2011s in many cases because of their balance and minerality, and their ability to express the different terroirs better than heavier vintages. One of my highly recommended wines is the 2011 Meyer-Fonne Gewurztraminer Dorfburg Vieilles Vignes, which has an absolutely exotic nose with sweetness and an uber-penetrating floral component. My notes say “I wish someone made a perfume out of this.”

I will continue my impressions on the rest of France in next week’s column as part two.

Roberto Viernes is a master sommelier. Email or follow him on Twitter @Pinotpusher.