Summer Wines from the Loire: Look to the north of France for white wine inspiration

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Sooner or later, this rain is going to end. At least, that's what I keep telling myself. Sure, we've gotten a couple hints of the warm, sunshiny weather that summer surely has in store for us, but it always seems to be followed by another half-week of gloom and doom. Well, I've already checked into the summer rental in my mind. I've already tucked away my trove of heavy reds and invested in at least a case-worth of refreshing and light summery whites. And there are thousands to choose from. But, when I think about my ideal summer sipper, I almost always turn to one area first: France's Loire Valley. In the northwestern corner of France, this area is often underestimated and overlooked, but it has an amazing array of versatile offerings. At over 600 miles in length,the river 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-Fumé. 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 great wines. Because Sancerre and Pouilly-Fumé 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-Fumé areas can carry this prestigious name, wines made from Sauvignon Blanc from just outside of these areas can be just as good without commanding the same price. Henri Bourgeois Sauvignon Blanc 2010 ($12.99 at Yorkshire Wine and Spirits, 1646 1st Avenue at 85th Street, 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. In the Central Loire, the areas tend to have more distinct personalities 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 this is Domaine de Vigneau- Chevreau Vouvray Sec 2010 ($21.00 at 67 Wine, 179 Columbus Ave. at 68th Street, 212-724-6767). Lots of white peach and apricot flavors burst onto 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 westernmost area of the Loire sees the river empty into the Atlantic and the terrain turn from fertile to rocky. This is where the lean and minerally 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 their 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. Domaine de la Batardière Muscadet Sèvre et Maine, 2010 ($11.99 at Beacon Wines and Spirits, 2120 Broadway at 74th   Street, 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. So, 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 mothballs. Follow Josh on Twitter: @joshperilo.

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