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19 May 2012

France: Centre-Loire "silex" tasting

Silex? Sounds like a distant planet in an implausible sci-fi movie, but silex actually comes from the Latin for a kind of hard flint, although it can also mean silica in modern English according to Wikipedia. Anyway, this wasn't a rock-sucking tasting but of ten 2010 vintage whites from the Menetou-Salon, Pouilly-Fumé and Sancerre regions in the central Loire Valley, where in places this type of soil crops up mixed with clay. Well, do these wines really taste "flinty"?
Photo © Benoit Roumet
The science behind any possible correlation between soil, vines and actual flavour in wine is complex and, as yet, not very conclusive and probably not that helpful either. And this sort of geological jargon only helps perpetuate old clichés about soil being more important than anything else in growing grapes and making wine. However, you'll notice the regular use of words like "chalky," "steely" and "mineral" in my tasting notes below; maybe because I knew these wines were from 'silex' and inevitably you're influenced by this? What they do have in common is high quality, with some excellent wines in the line up, and showing intense expression of the Sauvignon blanc grape variety (they're all made from 100% SB, steeped in flint chips of course...). I see that, on the vins-centre-loire.com site, they don't go overboard about silex in the glossary simply saying: "...Wines sourced from these soil types generally have good ageing potential," which I wouldn't disagree with.
Being intense concentrated and well-built like this also makes them great food dry whites, including the usual fish-pairing suggestions but should handle rich or full-flavoured sauces well (wine, sherry, cream, black pepper, parsley, basil etc.). And why not try with e.g. a succulent pork rib roast, rabbit stew or duck/goose even. Or anything with cheese in it... I've included a few UK distributors and prices where available.

Domaine Pellé Le Silex du Carroir, Menetou-Salon - grassy gooseberry aromas tinged with intense citrus and lime even, crisp chalky mouth-feel with long finish and subtle ripe green fruits. Very good.
Domaine de RiauxPouilly-Fumé - more fragrant gooseberry / kiwi style, concentrated vs crisp palate with lingering citrus and ripe greengage flavours, oily notes too vs steely and intense. Very good. Layton's Wine Merchants.
Domaine ChampeauPouilly-Fumé - similar profile to above although "flintier" perhaps, certainly has zesty chalky texture vs nice green fruit depth vs oily notes too, crisp elegant finish. Lovely wine.
Domaine Masson-Blondelet Pierres de Pierre, Pouilly-Fumé - showing yeast-lees edges and vibrant gooseberry fruit, steely mineral palate vs concentrated and ripe, great balance and length. £16.95 from Stone, Vine and Sun (appropriately as the wine's name is "stone stones" or "Pierre's stones" perhaps...)
Domaine Michel Girard et Fils Silex, Sancerre - leesy and "flinty" nose, subtle green fruits vs a riper side vs nice crisp length. Good stuff although less expressive than some of the others at the moment. Boutinot.
Claude Riffault Les Chailloux, Sancerre - blackcurrant leaf aromas, quite intense and chalky mouth-feel to start although falls away a little perhaps. Flint Wines (ho ho).
Vincent Grall, Sancerre - nettley gooseberry tones, steely chalky and intense with crisp long finish vs tasty concentrated fruit. Very good. Jascots, Decorum Vintners, Avery's of Bristol. About £16.
Domaine Vacheron Les Romains, Sancerre - don't mention the Romans! More closed up on the nose, moves on to an intense palate showing green vs oily combo, elegant crisp length with underlying green pepper / sweet gooseberry flavours. Stevens Garnier.
Domaine Laporte Le Rochoy, Sancerre - screaming gooseberry and greengage fruit, builds up to lively zesty finish with steely chalky undertones, very long and classy wine. Auriol, Roberson, Jascots, Ellis, Cellarrange/L'Assemblage. About £19.
Serge Laloue Cuvée Réservée, Sancerre - smoky notes plus gooseberry fruit, pretty intense and "flinty" actually with lovely bite and length vs riper rounder side too. Grands Vins de France.

More Centre-Loire posts: Pinot Noir rosés and reds and Sancerre vertical tasting (2005 to 1996 vintages).

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