FOR AMERICANS, France’s Loire Valley is familiar as the source of the lively, mineral-inflected white wines of Sancerre and Muscadet. The region is also home to a broad, if less frequently encountered, range of red wines made from varietals such as cabernet franc, gamay (of Beaujolais fame), and the curious antique cultivar pineau d’aunis. Although some are sturdy enough for long-keeping, most Loire reds – with their bright red berry fruit, crisp acidity, and modest alcohol – are designed to be consumed young, and cool.
Drop into one of the region’s many family-owned, working-class cafes during the warm months and chances are your red wine will come in a bottle, pitcher, or carafe beaded with condensation, the wine inside held at approximately the temperature of well water (55 degrees or thereabouts).
If the notion that some red wines are improved by a little time in the ice bucket is still a foreign one to American consumers, blame it on restaurant wine programs that even this late in the game remain strangely loyal to a binary system that seems to get nothing right: whites always far too cold; reds ever unpalatably warm.
And while that savagely frigid sauvignon blanc will eventually come ’round given time and a little help from a pair of warm palms, a cabernet 10 degrees above what it should be on delivery hasn’t got a chance of returning to drinking condition. Most restaurants with credible wine programs now have stemware tuned to specific wines; isn’t it time they paid as much attention to serving temperatures?
Chilled reds may be the next hot thing. Considering recent, hard-won advances by pink wine, screwtops, unoaked chardonnay, biodynamics, and any number of once obscure varietals is enough to make one hopeful.
What we are certain of is that the wines here provided a distinctly better experience at 55 degrees, or so, than at ambient temperatures. We weren’t reluctant to pull the instant-read thermometer to make sure we had it right. We think you’ll warm to the idea.
Domaine des Chesnaies “Cuvee Chesnaies’’ Bourgeuil 2010 Good richness and depth of flavor in this entry-level wine from a stylish, conscientious property. Some pleasing, modestly chewy tannins and characteristic cab franc fruit; bit of grip and nicely firm. Around $12.
Domaine la Grange Tiphaine “Ad Libitum’’ Touraine Amboise 2010 Beautifully bright, ripe, crisp red fruits; lovely, lip-smacking acidity. As full of sheer, breezy charm as a wine can well be. Around $15.
Clos Roche Blanche “Cuvée Gamay’’ Touraine 2008 Quite ripe, sweet, citrus-inflected fruit; fine zip and liveliness here; insistent acidity. Around $16.
Clos du Tue-Boeuf “La Butte’’ Touraine Gamay 2009 Delightfully bright, sweet, juicy gamay fruit; just-right acidity and a lovely clean, refreshing finish. Scant 12 degrees of alcohol. Be prepared for your guests to flip over this. Around $17.
Les Vins Contes “Poivre et Sel’’ Vin de France 2010 Needle on the quirk-o-meter goes wild. A lighter-than-air red wine delivering a pleasing mouthful of bright fruit, an emphatic garnish of minerality, wrapped in a scant 11.5 degrees of alcohol. Pineau d’aunis and a little gamay. For adventurous palates. Around $22.
Originally published in the Boston Globe on August 31, 2011
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