Little known gems of Loire Valley and Burgundy wines

Over the years, my love affair with all things French has brought me to some of the most seductive wine regions in France. From Bordeaux and Côtes du Rhône to the northern corner where Champagne is produced...


Over the years, my love affair with all things French has brought me to some of the most seductive wine regions in France—from Bordeaux and Côtes du Rhône to the northern corner where Champagne is produced. Recently, I filled in the missing middle on a trip to the Loire Valley and Burgundy.

The Loire produces beautiful white wines with expressive citrus and mineral flavors. Its most esteemed wines are from Sancerre and Pouilly-Fumé, but there are many lower-profile appellations as well. During a tasting at Joseph Mellot, I discovered just how diverse Loire wines can be. Vouvray is known for its pear and almond notes, Quincy for aromas of melon and mint, Touraine for exotic fruits and flowers on the nose, and Menetou-Salon for accents of spice, musk and menthol.

The sauvignon blanc from Pouilly-Fumé and Sancerre is known for its unique flinty notes, a result of the chalk and flint-stone soil under its vines. While Sancerre tends to have grapefruit and tangerine-like acidity, Pouilly-Fumé has a more flowered perfume. Both pair well with seafood, vegetables and soft mellow cheeses (goat cheese in particular).

Sancerre, the real queen of Loire Valley wines, has long been one of my favorites. At the source, I discovered the biodynamic Sancerre produced at the Domaine Vacheron. The four men behind this family operation adhere to the complex rules of biodynamic growing, following the phases of the planets as they tend their vines. The resulting wines have intense aromas of orange zest and honeysuckle with a great mineral finish.

In Chablis—the so-called “golden door of Burgundy”—beautiful white wines are produced. Made from chardonnay grapes, Chablis tends to have a stony minerality along with citrus and flower notes. Some have aromas of sweet pear and lime, and a sea-breeze salinity that comes from the fossilized seabed under the soil. Chablis goes well with oysters, scallops, mushrooms and aged cheeses.

Domaine Laroche, one of Chablis’ most prestigious producers, boasts some of the oldest cellars in Burgundy. Here, I soaked up a lesson on the crus of Chablis. Petit Chablis, the entry-level version, is grown on the flats, and the Premier and Grand Cru vineyards are along the slopes. All Grand Cru vines have southwest sun exposure. The crus are notably different: For instance, Les Blanchots is feminine and sexy with white flower aromas and Les Clos is masculine, austere and powerful with a long finish.

At 400-year-old Château de Béru, a mother-daughter team is working hard, in a challenging wet climate, toward biodynamic certification. Their Chablis is flowery and fruity with a great mineral overlay. When aged, it takes on complex notes of mushroom and candle wax.

I finished my trip in Beaune, the spiritual heart of the Burgundy wine region. I visited the legendary Hospices de Beaune, a centuries-old almshouse known in the highest wine circles for its annual auction of exceptional wines (wines are made under the Hospices de Beaune label).

At Maison Louis Latour, I navigated a labyrinth of tunnels dating back to the 18th century and toured the fascinating Five Senses Museum at Bouchard Aîné & Fils. And at Maison Bouchard Père & Fils, I discovered a library of 2,000 ancient bottles from the 1800s. It’s official: my love affair with France—and French wines in particular—has made it difficult to see (or sip) anything else.