Plus: which producer to try if you really want to educate your taste buds on the category.
If you’ve followed me for a while, you know that I can be a tough sell on sparkling wines – whether from Champagne or anywhere else in France. From the classic producers to some of the more off-the-beat pétillant naturel, I struggle with sparkling largely because of its texture. I came late to the carbonation game and didn’t drink anything bubbly, sparkling, or remotely fizzy until college, and at the time, I equated it all in the same area: undrinkable. But my fiancé – a massive fan of sparkling wine – has insisted to continue to challenge my palate, and as a result, I’ve been trying all kinds of sparkling wines. Some have continued to elude my tastes, but many in the méthode traditionelle category have won me over. Enter Crémant de Loire.
Were I to exclude the sparkling wine category entirely from this post, the Loire Valley would still be one of my all time favorite French wine regions. This is a place that truly has everything – especially if you are into cooler climate wines like me. What’s more, some of (in my humble opinion) France’s greatest and most creative winemakers live and produce wine here. The Loire is no stranger to thinking outside of the box and responding to nature’s challenges in ways that many other regions haven’t tried, and this rings true for the tradition of sparkling in the area, too. Read on to discover why I think the Loire is responsible for some of France’s most sought-after sparkling wines – if not the world.
REASON #1: THE SOILS
Saumur, located in the center area of the Loire Valley, is famed for sparkling wine production, its defining characteristics being tuffeau: a unique chalky limestone that informs winemaking techniques throughout the region. Ah yes, you read that right – chalk: also responsible for fantastic wines in other regions with great sparkling traditions, like Champagne, for instance. It’s because of these rich calcium soils that the Saumur subregion in particular can create great sparkling wines, as this type of soil (when combined with the cool climate – reason #2!) typically creates higher acidity wines needed to craft sparkling wines. But tuffeau doesn’t just refer to soil types here – it also refers to a system of cellars that is hundreds of years old. The great castles of the Loire were built from tuffeau, and as a result builders dug dozens of quarries to extract the building material. Nowadays, these underground caves are used for a variety of reasons – from Michelin-quality restaurants to unique Airbnbs – but winemakers around the region also use them to age their wines, too. Such is the case for Maison Bouvet-Ladubay, whose cellars lie in a tuffeau cave excavated 1,000 years ago by the Saint Florent monks and converted in 2002 to the Underground Cathedral, declared a World Heritage Site by UNESCO. Today, it’s open to visitors and you can even take a cycling tour through it!
REASON #2: THE CLIMATE
There’s no question that cool climate wine regions make this world’s best sparkling wines. The Loire Valley is at the optimal latitude to do so. The cool climate found throughout the Loire Valley is ideal for the production of the high-acidity base wines (known as vins clairs in French) required for sparkling wines. However, the middle Loire, where the majority of sparkling wine production is based, also benefits from a duo-climate. The winters here are colder than in other Loire Valley subregions and the summers are a bit warmer, too. This dichotomy lends itself to small microclimates throughout, so detail-oriented producers can choose which grapes to grow where. Without these nuances, the Loire Valley would not be home to these incredibly sought-after sparkling wines.
REASON #3: THE KNOW-HOW
The Loire Valley is home to some seriously incredible producers who are passionate about expressing their unique climate and terroir – and doing it phenomenally well. While the Loire doesn’t have a cru system like many of its neighbors, that doesn’t mean it doesn’t hold itself to the same level of excellence. One such producer is Maison Bouvet-Ladubay. Since 1851, Bouvet Ladubay has been one of France’s greatest producers of méthode traditionnelle sparkling wine. It’s only been run by two families: Bouvet-Ladubay, who started the house, and its current owners, the Monmousseau, who took over in 1932. Throughout the decades, Bouvet-Ladubay has remained family operated, and all involved in the production of the wines remain committed to the creation of the highest quality bubbles. The house collaborates with dozens of small growers across the Loire Valley to ensure the three main grapes used in its sparkling wines – Chenin Blanc, Chardonnay, and Cabernet Franc – are all grown consistently and with great care. In my opinion, you would be hard-pressed to find a producer that crafts Loire Valley sparkling at the same volume and quality!
While Champagne’s reputation is undisputed, it’s clear that the Loire Valley is game for competition. This region’s incredible sparklers are becoming more and more sought-after – with good reason. If you’re looking for a place to start, you certainly won’t be disappointed in exploring the wines from Bouvet-Ladubay. Whether a Saumur Brut or a Crémant de Loire, there’s certainly something here for all.
This post has been generously sponsored by Bouvet-Ladubay. All thoughts and opinions shared here are uniquely my own. Thank you for supporting French Wine Tutor!