Loire Valley Values

Famous for such white wines as Pouilly-Fumé and Muscadet, France's Loire Valley also offers some surprising bargains

One of the great specialties of my colleague, David Schildknecht, is the Loire Valley, which he calls "the bargain garden of France." Here are some terrific white wine selections on the market now that are under $25 a bottle and represent sensational values. With fish and shellfish (even sushi), these wines are a marriage made in paradise.

88 points2007 Château du Cléray Muscadet de Sèvre et Main sur Lie Réserve Haute CultureThe Château du Cléray's 2007 Muscadet de Sèvre et Main sur Lie Réserve Haute Culture (from the house of Sauvion) originates in a flint and clay rich soil. This may lie behind its relative body and richness of peachy fruit, as well as the prominently saline mineral cast and a wealth of flowers and foliage that puts me in mind of walking into a greenhouse. This distinctive and impressively concentrated Muscadet should give pleasure over the next two years, and perhaps longer. $16

88 points2006 Domaine de la Quilla Muscadet de Sèvre et Maine Sur LieThe 2006 Muscadet de Sèvre et Maine Sur Lie of Daniel and Gérard Vinet is restrained in its aromas of cress, lime and wet stone. With penetrating citrus rind pungency as well as notes of oyster shells and ocean water, it clings impressively, while offering an unusually glossy texture. Enjoy it over the next six months. $14

88 pointsNon-vintage Domaine des Aubuisières Vouvray Brut Méthode Traditionelle Girardières (sparkling white)The current Aubuisières non-vintage Vouvray Brut Méthode Traditionelle (with lot number LO10905) tweaks the nose with lemon oil, salt spray, and pungent flowers. Chalky, saline and alkaline on the palate, and with moderately fine mousse, it clings impressively with honey and bittersweet citrus oil. This is a wine of sheer intensity and minerality. Drink it over the next year. $18

89 points2006 Andre-Michel Brégeon Muscadet de Sèvre et Maine Sur LieBrégeon's 2006 Muscadet de Sèvre et Maine Sur Lie displays subtle floral notes on the nose and particular polish and mouth-filling generosity, all the while dominated by a cool, clear, refreshing fruit personality and utterly suffused with saline, oyster shell, and other ineffable mineral traces. The finish is bracingly like salt and chalk-encrusted fresh lime. Enjoy this Muscadet anytime over the next couple of years. $16

89 points2005 Château d'Epire SavennièresChâteau d'Epire's 2005 Savennières is pronouncedly mineral even in its aromas, suggesting oyster shell and sea breeze, along with quince and lime. Palpably thick yet bright on the palate, it is like a mineral soup of some sort, yet with tart, purple plum, and huckleberry fruit. This should be fascinating to follow for the next two to three years, and the way it behaves, it seems as though it should be a healthful tonic as well! $17

89 points2007 Serge Dagueneau Pouilly-Fumé Les PentesThis 2007 Pouilly-Fumé Les Pentes from Serge Dagueneau's daughters confirms the persistence of talent and excellence at this estate, even if the vintage circumstances were more challenging that for the outstanding 2005. Smelling of peppermint, sage, lime, and honeydew melon, this coats the palate with chalky, nutty, pungently herbal, and citrus zest residues. Impressively bright and focused, it finishes with a combination of lemon and peppermint guaranteed to leave your eyes wide open. $23

90 points2007 Francis Blanchet Pouilly-Fumé SiliceFrancis Blanchet's 2007 Pouilly-Fumé Silice smells of fresh lime, cassis, and fennel. Luscious and loaded with generous, juicy citrus fruit, it is charming and generous, with all the brightness and intensity of this grower's other 2007s here in spades. Its chalky, saline, citric, tart black fruit finish literally tugs at your salivary glands. $23

91 points2006 Claude Branger Muscadet de Sèvre et Maine Sur Lie Les Gras MoutonsClaude Branger has just released his 2006 Muscadet de Sèvre et Maine Sur Lie Les Gras Moutons. Lovers of Muscadet will not want to miss this old-vine bottling. With aromas of oyster shell, sea water, kelp, quince, pineapple, and lime, your mouth will be set aquiver by the mineral and citrus intensity of this wine, whose sheer, palpable density of extract is remarkable, not to mention for a wine of only 12% alcohol. "Palate-staining" is almost too weak a word for the finish. Treat yourself to a bottle from time to time over the next two to three years. $18

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