The Loire is not only France’s longest river, but one whose history and tradition of grape-growing and wine-making are the most diverse. In the eastern part of the Loire Valley, sauvignon blanc reigns supreme, with pinot noir on hand for light reds and roses. In the great Central Loire, looking westward from the ancient city of Blois to the ancient city of Angers (near where the confusingly named Loir river runs into the Loire), chenin blanc and cabernet franc reach their apotheosis, though the wide range of grapes planted in these appellations makes the region the most varied of any in France. Farther west, where the Loire debouches into the Atlantic Ocean, the melon de bourgogne grape is made into Muscadet. The four regions, east to west, are Sancerre-Pouilly; Touraine; Anjou and Saumur; and the Pays Nantes.

I recently tried two bargain-priced wines from the Central Loire, a Savennières (Anjou and Saumur) made from chenin blanc grapes, and a Saint-Nicolas-de-Bourgueil (Touraine) made from cabernet franc. Both, I am sorry to report, have limited availability but are Worth a Search.
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Whether the chenin blanc grape reaches its fullest potential in Vouvray or Savennières is an issue I will leave to the nit-pickers; each region does exceedingly well by the grape, though while Vouvray is produced in a variety of styles ranging from bone-dry to glowingly sweet, Savennières is a dry wine. Because production of Savennières is so low — about 30,000 cases annually compared to 13 million for Vouvray — a mystique of rarity and quality has developed around the region that is frankly, almost never disappointing. It doesn’t hurt its renown (or notoriety) that Savennières is the home of Nicolas Joly, owner of Coulée de Serrant and the hugely vocal and influential advocate of the biodynamic method.

One does not often come across inexpensive wines from Savennières, so I was delighted to find the Moulin de Chauvigné “Clos Brochard” 2007 from Sylvie Termeau, who with her husband launched the Moulin de Chauvigné estate in 1992. Clos Brochard 2007, which sees no oak, offers a distinctive, brilliant light straw-gold color; the beguiling nose wreathes roasted lemon, quince and yellow plums with hints of cloves, crystallized ginger and jasmine. Moderately lush, the texture feels silky but not heavy and is enlivened with tingling acidity, conveying a sense of fleetness and elegance. Lemon balm and a hint of roasted peach, slightly honeyed yet achingly dry, are permeated by smoke and spice, with touches of straw and dried herbs. The finish becomes increasingly dry and fairly austere. As attractive as it is now, the wine would benefit from two or three years aging. Excellent. About $20, a Great Value.

Imported by Fruits of the Vines, New York.
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St.-Nicolas-de-Bourgueil is an appendage to Bourgueil proper, producing less robust yet often delightful red wines from the cabernet franc grape; cabernet sauvignon may be blended up to 25 percent in both areas. These are ideal picnic and outdoor cooking wines, well-suited to burgers and hot dogs, grilled chicken and leg of lamb. Or try with a fried pork chop or a ham sandwich. We’re talking about versatility.

The Maison Audebert et Fils “Vignoble de la Contrie” 2005, St.-Nicolas-de-Bourgueil, sports a deep purple-black color with a touch of magenta-blue at the rim. Aromas of black currant and mulberries, lead pencil and smoke and flint, new leather and violets burst from the glass. There’s something untamed here in the wine’s hints at wild blueberry, at some mossy-rooty tea-like element, its leathery, briery-and-brambly, black olive qualities. The leather and brier components gain power toward the finish, as the minerals pile up, and the wine turns rather dusty and austere. An intriguing combination of exuberance, rusticity and flat-out deliciousness. The alcohol level is only about 12 percent; how sane and helpful. Very Good+. About $15, a Great Value.

Imported by Fruits of the Vines, New York.

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