Bouley has one of the best-smelling foyers of any restaurant, filled with the fragrance of fresh apples
Left: The Chef’s Pass adjacent to the kitchen at Bouley is one of the most beautiful private rooms at any restaurant in New York City; Right: Loire Valley Sparkling Wines being poured at Bouley
Top Right: Master of Wine Christy Canterbury leads us through a tasting of sparkling wines from the Loire Valley; Bottom Left: Our host Marie-Christina Batich of Sopexa (at right, glass in hand)
The exquisite array of Loire Valley sparkling wines held their own against dishes featuring ingredients ranging from artichokes to shaved white truffles
“You can’t even buy a half-bottle of Champagne for the price of a full bottle of these [Loire Valley sparkling] wines.”
–Christy Canterbury, MW
As the holidays draw closer, wine lovers increasingly have one thing on our minds: bubbly. But as we were deliciously reminded over an extraordinary lunch last week, “bubbly” does not always have to mean “Champagne.”
Yet most of us are much more familiar with the term “Champagne” (which describes sparkling wines made via the traditional method in the region of Champagne from Chardonnay, Pinot Noir, and/or Pinot Meunier grapes) than we are with the terms that describe the sparkling wines made via the same traditional method in the Loire region — which include terms like “Cremant de Loire” (reflecting a gently sparkling wine, versus Champagne’s fully sparkling wine), “Saumur Brut,” “Saumur Mousseux,” “Touraine Brut,” “Vouvray Brut” and “Vouvray Petillant” (gently sparkling).
It’s a good idea to get to know these terms, as the region is focused on producing increasingly excellent sparkling wines, and – after Champagne itself — the Loire Valley is France’s largest producer of sparkling wines. The featured grape is most frequently the Loire’s prized Chenin Blanc, which often contributes notes of apple, honey, oil, wax, and wet wool in addition to the sparkling wines’ common notes of biscuit or bread. (Some may also feature small amounts of Cabernet Franc and/or Chardonnay.)
A week ago today, we gathered with fellow wine writers in the Chef’s Pass at Bouley to taste through a number of Sopexa‘s “Fines Bulles” [feen BOOL] elegant sparkling Loire Valley Wines. The highest priced among them was a mere $40 — a price point that would be suspect for a bottle of Champagne. All of the sparkling wines we tasted were made through the same traditional method used to make Champagne (with aging and secondary fermentation taking place in the bottle itself). Most of these Loire wines were very gently priced in the high teens to mid-twenties — offering exceptional value.
Among our favorites we’d tasted during our vegetarian menu — whose ingredients spanned artichokes braised in almond milk, 24-hour roasted Japanese eggplant with a red pepper puree, and a medley of mushrooms including maitakes, matsutakes, and shiitakes in a dashi broth — included:
– NV Cuvee Excellence, Vouvray Brut, Cave des Producteurs de Vouvray C. Greffe (100% Chenin Blanc; dry, with notes of citrus, peach, and pear; $17-$21)
– NV Saumur Brut, Domaine du Vieux Pressoir (80% Chenin Blanc, 20% Chardonnay; dry, with notes of apple, brioche, and lemon; $16-$20)
– NV Intense Brut, Touraine Brut, Chateau de L’Aulee (80% Chenin Blanc, 20% Chardonnay; hint of residual sugar, with notes of dried apricots, flowers, minerals, and nuts; $14-$18)
– 2011 Vouvray Methode Traditionelle Brut, Domaine Sylvain Gaudron (its lusciously creamy texture wowed a lot of us in the room, even before its $16-$20 price tag did!)
– NV Bulles de Roches, Saumur Mousseux, Thierry Germain & Michel Chevre (90% Chenin Blanc, plus Cabernet Franc and Chardonnay; a standout of our tasting, this aromatic, “funky” — in a good way! — wine is currently on sale at Sherry-Lehmann in Manhattan for a mere $17.95 a bottle!)
We’ve long championed the food-pairing maxim “When in doubt, serve bubbly!” The Loire’s food-friendly sparkling wines offer enough finesse to pair beautifully with the haute cuisine of a special-occasion restaurant like Bouley, but are so gently priced that you don’t need to wait for a special occasion to enjoy them. Consider picking up a mixed case of Loire Valley sparkling wines to enjoy all year long.