Winemakers rely on a variety of methods to develop flavor and texture in sparkling wine. One approach is to simply exercise patience as a quaff matures. One husband-and-wife winegrowing team in the Loire Valley, in north-central France, waits 10 years.
At Chateau la Tour Grise, Philippe and Francoise Gourdon farm 20 acres in Le Puy-Notre-Dame, a hamlet of about 1,200 inhabitants in Saumur, located near the heart of a wine region defined by the Loire River. Philippe Gourdon, who comes from a family of winemakers who began in the 19th century, rehabilitated the property in the ’90s and established organic and biodynamic practices in the vineyards. The couple rents a portion of their land to up-and-coming winegrowers in town, while they work the rest.
In 2004, Phillipe Gourdon crafted a sparkling wine from a plot of chenin blanc grapes. He did so in the traditional method, the multi-step manner in which Champagne is made, where the bubble-creating second fermentation takes place in the bottle in which the wine will be sold. He then left the wine to rest on the lees — the fine yeast cells that fall to the bottom of the bottle at the end of fermentation — for a full decade, more than three times longer than the minimum aging time for vintage Champagne. This technique lends texture and complexity to the finished product, and Gourdon forgoes adding any sweetness before release. The age alone of this appetizing, bone-dry, platinum yellow pour makes uncorking a bottle a special occasion indeed.
A traditional-method sparkler from another Loire producer comes in a festive-looking bottle, with colored spheres on the label, crafted by winemaker Jean-Francois Merieau. The vineyards are in the tiny village of Saint-Julien-de-Chedon, in the wine region Touraine, east of where the Gourdons are located. This new-guard winegrower, who worked at South African wineries before returning to his family’s property, tends over 80 acres that are in the process of becoming certified organic. Merieau’s bubbly, a blend of mainly chenin blanc with a splash of sauvignon blanc, develops flavor and texture while spending two years on the lees, with an additional year maturing in bottle.
Trace the river east and then south on a map and you will land in the Cote Roannaise, in the Upper Loire, where a fifth-generation winemaking family, now headed by Stephane Serol, farms 70 acres of gamay grapes. Like Merieau’s property, the vineyards of this family estate are converting to organic agriculture. The winery crafts a pretty pink pour whose flavor and texture get a boost from a variation of “methode ancestrale,” where wine is only partially fermented before it goes into the bottle. The still-active yeast consumes most, but not all, of the sugar left in the wine, resulting in a fruity, fizzy, low-in-alcohol quaff.
These artisan bubblies will inspire you to explore other Loire wines in the new year. Time to get started.
Chateau la Tour Grise Saumur Brut Non Dose 2004 This sparkler offers a healthy head of froth at first pour and fast-streaming fine bubbles. Nuanced stone and dried honey aromas combine with yeast and apple, leading to a lively, bone-dry palate of chalky minerality, mature apple, citrus zest, and brisk saline on the finish. Serve with toasted Marcona almonds and aged Gruyere. Around $25. At Darwin’s Ltd., Mt. Auburn St., Cambridge, 617-354-5233; The Cheese Shop of Salem, 978-498-4820.
Jean-Francois Merieau “Bulles” 2011 As fast-moving bubbles settle in this light yellow pour, scents of freshly baked bread and white flowers invite you to sip a rounded profile of apple-citrus-pear, with polished acidity and a hit of saline mid-palate. Lovely with creamy chevre on hearty toast. Around $23. At Central Bottle Wine + Provisions, Cambridge, 617-225-0040; Shubie’s, Marblehead, 781-631-0149.
Domaine Serol “Turbullent” Floral and sweet-smelling on the nose, this pretty-in-pink sparkler from Cote Roannaise offers bright notes of raspberry, peach, and red plum skin in a delicate, delectably fruity package. Delicious with brunch favorites, especially quiche. Around $22. At Central Bottle Wine + Provisions, Cambridge, 617-225-0040; The Wine Bottega, North End, 617-227-6607.