How to Fall in Love with the Loire Valley

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A Q&A with Advanced Sommelier & the “SommlYAY” Erik Segelbaum.

A sommelier, consultant, and entrepreneur with decades of experience in the wine industry, Advanced Sommelier and SOMLYAY founder Erik Segelbaum knows his way around the world’s best wines. His expertise – which includes everything from running award-winning restaurant wine lists to corporate consulting – is broad, giving him a unique perspective of the wine industry at large which means couldn’t resist picking his brain on what makes Loire Valley wines special. Read on for our Q&A with Erik, where he shares his thoughts (and perfect pairing) for Loire Valley wines.

Loire Valley Wines (LV): What is your favorite thing about Loire Valley wines?
Erik Segelbaum (ES): “As a sommelier I care about two things in addition to taste – balance and freshness. Across the board from whites and reds, from Muscadet to Chenin Blanc, the Loire Valley’s terroir produces bright, fresh, and balanced wines. They are so fresh, combining the presence of fruit with great acidity and that’s simply the type of wine I like to drink. There’s also not a lot of oak use in general, so the wines can speak for themselves and their terroir, rather than competing with the flavors of oak.”

LV: What do you think most sommeliers forget about the Loire?

ES: “Chenin Blanc! I think Chenin Blanc plays such an important role in terms of food-friendly wines, and I think not enough thought is placed on Chenin Blanc from the Loire in America. I can’t tell you how many wine lists might have five Sauvignon Blancs and only one Chenin Blanc. The red wines of the Loire Valley get forgotten a lot too. People think about Chinon and then forget about everything else like Bourgeuil, Saint-Nicolas-de-Bourgeuil, Pinot Noir, Malbec and Pinot d’Aunis – these are truly beautiful reds that deserve to be cherished.
Similarly, Crémant de Loire and non-crémant wines should be on more people’s radar as a good intermediary between lighter fresher wines and intensely mineral, creamy Champagnes. Overall, a lot of the Loire Valley wines are right in the middle of that spectrum from lean to creamy, especially those made from Chenin Blanc.”

LV: When you’re interacting with wine lovers, what do you like to tell them about this slice of France?
ES: “The advice that I give often is to remember the Loire Valley is like a rainbow – don’t paint it in black and white. When you’re using the Loire Valley wines, you have all the colors of the rainbow at your disposal. You’ve got all the colors at your disposal. I think a lot of Loire Valley wine lists are not well balanced, unless you’re at a French restaurant. Unfortunately, on the red wine side you might only have Chinon and maybe a Saumur-Champigny while on the whites you’d have a Sauvignon Blanc and maybe a chenin Vouvray but not others. And don’t forget about Loire bubbles – people often forget about sparkling wine, but it’s almost impossible to find wines that hit at fine dining restaurants for $40-$60 per bottle like Loire sparklings.”

LV: What makes the Loire Valley different from its peers in France?
ES: “The #1 thing the Loire does differently is limit oak use. If you look at Bordeaux, Burgundy, or the Rhône they all have lots of oak. As a result, Loire Valley wines are able to show more of their terroir in the glass, rather than having to compete with or outshine the oak treatment. Secondly, it’s hard to compare the Loire to other regions because the Loire isn’t small – it’s huge. It is five regions, not one. The differences between Pay Nantais and the central vineyards is so huge. You can’t generalize the area into just one thing – what it does differently is everything depending on where you are. As a result, the Loire valley has incredible versatility. It goes beyond what many other regions have in the breadth of its offerings.

LV: What’s your absolute favorite pairing for Loire wines?
ES: “I love Chenin Blanc with roasted meats and grilled fish, and with any savory food item that’s served a fruit component. Whether it’s fresh fruit, grilled fruit, a gastrique, or a fruity syrup the combination with Chenin Blanc is universally wonderful.”

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