Look to the Loire

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for summer whites, this northwest valley can't be beat

by josh perilo

summer is fast approaching: hamptons rentals are being gobbled up, sweaters are being stowed in under-bed containers and white wine is flying off the shelf.

in the area of light summer whites, there are thousands to choose from. however, when i think about my ideal summer white, i almost always turn to one area: france's loire valley. in the northwestern corner of france, just south of brittany, this area is often underestimated and overlooked in the international french wine conversation, but it has an amazing array of versatile offerings. covering more than 600 miles in length, the area offers wines that vary greatly in style, but all subregions contribute to the great summer white wine collective.

starting as far inland as the valley extends, we find the area of the loire that encompasses the famous white wines of sancerre and pouilly-fume. in this neck of the woods, sauvignon blanc is king, and it is argued that most great sauvignon blancs made around the world attempt to duplicate the flavor and nuance of these wines. because sancerre and pouilly-fume are so well known, they tend to be the most expensive wines that come from the loire. while only a sauvignon blanc made from grapes inside the strict confines of the sancerre or pouilly-fume areas can carry this prestigious name, wines made from sauvignon blanc from just outside these areas can be just as good without commanding the same price. henri bourgeois sauvignon blanc 2007 ($10.99 at yorkshire wine and spirits, 1646 first ave. at 85th st., 212-717-5100) falls into this category. grapefruit flavor and scents of fresh cut grass and flint make this a pitch-perfect loire sauvignon blanc.

farther west in the central loire, more distinct personalities are found from subregion to subregion. while the flavor profiles may change as you travel, chenin blanc is almost always the grape that dominates the white wines of these collected areas. chenin blanc is a chameleon grape that can taste as full bodied and complex as a chardonnay from burgundy, or as light and sweet as a german riesling. the best-known incarnation of this grape from the central loire is vouvray. even within this area, chenin blanc is made into different styles of vouvray, from sticky sweet to austere and bone dry. the best examples tend to straddle the line between the two extremes. a great example of what the central loire's vouvray area has to offer is domaine de vigneau-chevreau vouvray sec 2007 ($19.45 at 67 wine, 179 columbus ave. at 68th st., 212-724-6767). lots of white peach and apricot flavors burst on the palate and a veritable bouquet of wildflowers are present on the nose. this is the absolute best that the central loire has to offer at this price point.

the easternmost area of the loire sees the river empty into the atlantic, and the terrain turns from fertile to rocky. this is where the lean and mineral-y muscadet wines of the loire are made. contrary to what the name suggests, these wines are not made from the muscat grape, but from the obscure melon de bourgogne grape. the best examples of these light white wines are the ones that are left to mature on spent yeast cells, or lees, after they ferment. this gives the otherwise flimsy wine more body and character. when choosing a muscadet, always look for the words sur lie on the bottle to ensure this feature. domaine de la batardiere muscadet sevre et maine, 2007 ($9.99 at beacon wines and spirits, 2120 broadway at 74th st., 212-877-0028) is a perfect example of this style of muscadet. almost as light as the ocean spray, but with just enough creaminess to match perfectly with any raw shellfish, this is a must have for any summer seafood feast.

when searching for light summer whites of any style, look to the north of france for inspiration. there's enough variety to keep you trying something new every week till it's time to put that seersucker suit back in moth balls.

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