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Originally from France’s Loire Valley, Manhattan-based Master Sommelier Pascaline Lepeltier has the ability to identify with the wine culture of the Loire Valley, yet simultaneously survey its progress from an objective distance. Throughout her career, Lepeltier, now a partner at Racines NY, has noticed one important trend with the French region’s wines: “Overall, the quality has increased, without a doubt,” she notes.
She believes this is the result of the region’s producers adopting low-intervention winemaking practices over two decades ago, long before many other regions in France or around the world. In turn, these techniques in the vineyard and the winery have resulted in a leap not only in quality, but also in transparency as the low-intervention approach has clearly allowed the region’s multifaceted terroir to shine. The region’s tremendous diversity in soils, microclimates, grape variety, and wine styles—combined with a palpable upswing in quality—have made the Loire a lynchpin for wine buyer’s building on- and off-premise wine programs across the U.S.
“The knowledge and the curiosity in Loire wines from the [American wine trade] has really exploded,” says Lepeltier. SevenFifty Daily spoke with four wine professionals to learn how they utilize the region’s array of diverse wines to add quality and value to their wine programs.
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Showcasing Freshness and Approachability
In multiple ways, the Loire Valley’s wines tap into several important consumer trends. The Loire Valley has consistently delivered a less extracted, less heavy-handed style of wine, both from the natural wine producers (the region is widely considered to be the global pioneer of the natural wine movement) as well as from the more conventional producers as well.
But most of all, says Master Sommelier Craig Collins, currently a sales manager for Vintus, wines from the Loire Valley are food-friendly and easy to appreciate. “There is a real approachability and drinkability to the Loire’s wines,” he observes. “Even at the lower-tier levels, they maintain your attention through the entire bottle, and that’s something that is becoming harder and harder to find.”
Sue Ellis, the general manager and buyer at Urban Uncorked, a Brooklyn-based wine shop, routinely turns to her selection of Loire Valley wines for their drinkability and sense of place. “In the Loire Valley you get a sense for the terroir and the freshness,” she observes. Whether it is a flinty Pouilly-Fumé or a botrytis-tinged sweet Quarts de Chaume Grand Cru, customers find the Loire Valley’s transparent display of terroir to be a compelling reason to buy.
The Loire can also be a provider of surprising rosé wines, says Gary Swantner of Nolita Wine Merchants in New York City. While one of the region’s best-known pink wines, Rosé d’Anjou, is off-dry, “there are many dry styles now”—and he often pitches Loire’s rosé for its curiosity factor to fans of Provence rosé. Because they are mostly produced from Cabernet Franc, dry Loire rosés tend to feature good underlying structure; and the familiarity with the grape can help entice red-wine drinkers who are hesitant.
A Rare Combo: Value and Ageability
While many approachable wines are best consumed in their youth, many of the Loire’s wines possess a verve and structure that give them the ability to age. “Muscadet, Savennières, Chinon—if properly cellared, they will age 20 to 30 years, no problem,” suggests Craig Collins, MS. This attribute makes some of Loire’s classic AOC wines ideal for buyers looking to add affordably-priced older vintages to their lists.
Speaking to the wholesale level, Vintus’s Collins continues to marvel at the availability of Loire Valley wines that combine longevity—a trait of high-end luxury wines—with affordability. “There is tremendous value in the Loire Valley, I think even more so than any other region,” he asserts.
While ageability may be of more interest to the trade and connoisseurs, Swantner notes that his everyday-wine-drinking clientele have another reason to gravitate toward the Loire. “We’re seeing a trend of the general consumer moving toward lower-alcohol wines,” he notes. “People will commonly say, ‘I don’t want anything over 13.5 or 14 [percent alcohol by volume].’”
In these instances, Swantner likes to turn to his Muscadet selection, whose crisp character belies an ABV that rarely tops 12%. Another particular wine that has long been a best-seller: a Sauvignon Blanc from Touraine. The trend of consumer curiosity and its Loire rewards—noted as well by Lepeltier—is ever-present in Swantner’s shop. “People come back over and over again for these wines,” he notes.
Few regions offer the number of affordable alternatives, says Swantner. For instance, Loire Valley Pinot Noir such as Touraine—long a well-kept secret in the wine world, he believes—satisfies numerous customers who want a red Burgundian-style wine without dropping a fortune. He has also found that Crémant de Loire satisfies many customers seeking a high-quality sparkling wine without the Champagne price.
“We are a conversational, neighborhood wine shop,” he says. “The value of the region is a big selling point. You can always show a customer something that fits their budget.”
Moreover, the Loire’s relative affordability fortuitously runs across many appellations and styles. This can be attributed to several factors, Lepeltier explains. “The land is on the cheaper side and the cost of planting is not that high,” she says. “But there is also a culture of accessible wine. This is not a small region. Muscadet is big, Touraine is big, Sancerre is big, so they have some wine to sell.”
Loire Building Blocks for a Wine Program
When it comes to selling those wines, Lepeltier favors building a multifaceted program to reach as many different types of interested customers as possible. “I would recommend working by subregion, because this is how [the Loire Valley] works,” she notes. “A fundamental grounding in the Pays Nantais, Anjou, Saumur, Touraine, and Centre-Loire will help you focus on grape varieties because they are so inextricably linked to the terroir of the appellations.”
From there, Lepeltier suggests populating the wine list, or the shelves of your shop, with a mix of familiar and not-so-familiar names. “I would work with classic names [e.g., Sancerre, Chinon, Vouvray] because it is always great to be able to see a benchmark example at a very great price. Then I would balance it out with somebody who is experimenting, and then I would add some aged wine.” Often, she notes, distributors offer older bottlings, so it’s worth inquiring.
And when it comes time to sell the wines, all of these wine professionals agree that education—of consumers and staff—is essential. “The biggest challenge [to sales] is that we are often dealing with unheard-of appellations,” notes Collins. “You have to break it down and make it as easy as possible for the consumer.”
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