Wine ó Wine Between The Seasons

Wine between the seasons

Finding a great medium-weight drink

By Tim Protzman []

Early autumn and Indian summer paint the days with cool breezes and pure sunlight, before the first frost.

This is New England weather at its best. Harvest time, yes, but still a time of ripening in the strong September sun. In middle latitudes all over the Northern Hemisphere, grapes are being picked and crushed. And the glorious days of summer are being captured in the grape, the apple and the tomato. The only problem this time of year presents is what wine to serve.

With the heat of the summer gone, one canít cling to the light whites and thirst quenching roses that paired so well with the grilled seafood and composed salads of late July. Itís too early for the velvety burgundies that fit so well with the game fowl our hunter friends bring home. And until the weather turns nippier, nobodyís cooking up that pot of ragout or chili that lends itself so well to a syrah or zinfandel, so what does one drink?

I turn to the wines of Franceís Loire Valley. Why? Several reasons. The Loire, while 500 miles further north in longitude than New Hampshire, actually has the same climate.

The wines are not cult favorites and that translates into lower prices. The varietals and Appellation Control regions are simple and easy to understand. And they taste good!

Muscadet is produced near the city of Nantes, at the mouth of the Loire. It goes well with all seafood. I also enjoy it with grilled pork and chicken in lime and peppers. It comes from the Melon de Bourgogne grape, which on its own is rather bland. What gives good muscadet its character is the sur lie process, which allows small amounts of dead yeast cells, grape seeds and skins to remain in the wine after fermentation. This gives muscadet a slightly malty and fizzy quality. The best muscadets are the Muscadet Sevre-et-Maineís which come from the area between Maine and Sevre Rivers.

Try Andre-Michel Bregeon Muscadet Sevre et Maine Sur Lie. $12.99. A bit like a pinot grigio without the lemon tartness. Hints of celery and apple with slight touch of clover honey.

Heading up the Loire we come to the Anjou Region and the grape variety changes to chenin blanc. Rose díAnjou is a decent rose, but the region is known best for sweet dessert wines, especially from the Bonnezeaux area.

The Saumur region produces a nice, light red that pairs well with soups, chicken and fish. Marc Bredif Chinon comes from the Chinon district of Saumur. $12.99. It has the fruitiness of a beaujolais, even though itís entirely cabernet franc. Dried cherry and fresh strawberry flavors with a depth a Beaujolais will never achieve.

Outside the city of Tours is the Vouvray region, where the varietal switches back to chenin blanc. These wines are for colder weather as they have more residual sugar and are sweeter, but definitely not dessert- wine sweet. Marquis de Goulaine Vouvray $10.99 is a great fowl wine. Duck, chicken, turkey and goose love this wine. It also will go with salmon tuna steak and bluefish. It presents tannins and crisp sour grass flavors with a touch of caramel on the back of your tongue. Another wine thatís 100 percent chenin blanc is Kanu Chenin Blanc Stellenbosch $7.99. This is the South African take on chenin blanc, where itís often called steen. Kanu is a little less sweet and more approachable, although it lacks the depth of a Vouvray. Youíll taste clove, oranges and parsley.

The Loire Valley cuts through France and offers a slice of history. Huge chateaus line the banks. The ancient town of Orleans, birthplace of Joan of Arc, is on the Loire. So is Sancerre and Pouilly-Fume. These regions make heavenly whites from sauvignon blanc. Balland-Chapuis Sancerre Cuvee Pierre, $16.99, comes from a small family- held vineyard that sold 51 percent of itself to the giant Domaine Guy Saget in 1970. The Balland family still works the vineyard, which has acquired most of the surrounding vineyards. The wine is made to age, so it starts coming into its own after three years. Balland-Chapuis Cuvee Pierre is a bouquet of cantaloupe, pineapple and vanilla flavors, with a sweet gherkin-like finish with a touch of mineral acidity. This wine will work with any kind of sandwhich, ham, pork, chicken and fish, especially sole and flounder.

Pouilly-Fume wines has a smokey, flinty flavor and thatís where it gets the fume (smoke) part of its name. While still sauvignon blanc, itís lighter and greener tasting than its neighbor, Sancerre. Domaine Denis Gaudry Pouilly Fume, $13.99 offers that watercress and lemongrass mineral flavor, coupled with a touch of grapefruit and melon. This is a great early fall wine because it handles the acidity of tomato salads and grilled zucchini with equal aplomb. Serve this one at 58 degrees, for optimum flavor.

For those who donít want to purchase a French wine, even though now that the demand is lower so is the price, try a sauvignon blanc from California. These tend to be more French like than the very popular New Zealand sauvignon blancs, which present more sugar. Murphy-Goode Tin Roof sauvignon blanc, from the North Coast, offers the crispness of a Pouilly-Fume, with the right mix of Californian minerals. $10.99.

Or if you want to splurge try Chalk Hill or Duckhorn sauvignon blanc from Napa, priced $24.99 and $22.99, respectively. This traditional-style wine has the unmistakable ďcat peeĒ nose when opened and the tannic edge to stand up to acidic and spicy sauces. Versatile enough to go with cheese and fruit for an appetizer or dessert.

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óTim Protzman

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