By Robert Parker
The Loire Valley, by far France's largest wine-producing region, stretches across the country from the warm foothills of the Massif Central to the windswept shores of the Atlantic Ocean in Brittany. The region is best known for its white wines—sauvignon blancs and chenin blancs that seem to hit heights of finesse and elegance.
On a recent trip to France, I gorged on oysters, shellfish, and fresh fish in Paris, meals made all the more enjoyable because they were accompanied by a number of unbelievable Loire wines from the 2005 vintage. Great vintages are few and far between in the Loire, and while 2002 was one, 2005 may be even better because of the combination of concentrated flavors, extraordinary aromatics, and crisp acidity and minerality.
These zesty wines are just hitting the market now, but they're likely to disappear quickly because of their high quality. Here are three notable winemakers that should be on your shopping list. I've also identified two worthy labels in the Sancerre and Saumur-Champigny appellations. There's a wide price range in these wines, from as little as $10 to as high as $75.
Winemaker Didier Dagueneau makes outstanding dry sauvignon blancs in Pouilly-Fumé. Look for the Pur Sang and Cuvée Silex, wines of extraordinary minerality, richness, full-bodied power, and intensity. They are among the most expensive dry whites of the Loire, but they are truly great wines.
Domaine des Baumard
Check out the dry chenin blancs from the appellation of Savennières, probably the most underrated dry white wine in the world. The Savennières Clos du Papillon has gorgeous notes of honeyed oranges, nectarines, and citrus. Hints of almonds, chalk, and honeysuckle are also apparent. This is one of the few dry whites from the Loire that can last more than a decade.
Try Le Haut Lieu-Sec and Le Mont Sec, both from Vouvray. These wines should appeal to those who enjoy exceptionally dry, honeyed notes of chalk, spices, and lemon grass in a medium- to full-bodied, incredibly intense wine. They should age beautifully for four to five years.
In most Paris bistros, the dry sauvignon blancs from the Sancerre appellation are enormously popular. Some of the best in class come from Domaine Alphonse Mellot, Hippolyte Reverdy, Domaine Thomas et Fils, Henri Bourgeois, and Edmond Vatan. For an earthy, full-bodied, intense Sancerre, look for the Pascal Cotat.
In this lesser known yet emerging appellation, the wines are getting better all the time. Look for bottles from Clos Rougeard, Château de Villeneuve, and Domaine de la Roche Neuve.
Robert Parker is the world's most influential wine critic. Visit www.eRobertParker.com to see tens of thousands of tasting notes, buy his books, or subscribe to his newsletter, The Wine Advocate.