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French Vouvrays Fill a Holiday Need : Still or Sparkling, They Lean Toward Pleasant Sweetness

November 28, 1986|NATHAN CHROMAN | Chroman is a free-lance wine writer and author who also practices law in Beverly Hills

If it hasn't been said yet, it should be: What this country really needs is inexpensive good white and sparkling wines, especially as the holidays draw near. Whereas California types have been obvious choices, there are still undiscovered French wines from the Loire's premium district of Vouvray which are noted for charm and delicacy not found elsewhere. Even in so-called poor vintage years they can be attractive and drinkable.

Whether still or sparkling, Vouvrays generally lean toward a slight, pleasant sweetness, the degree depending on grape ripeness, principally in a fine and sunny vintage. Most consumers are likely to perceive the wines as soft and dry because the sweetness may be imperceptible to a palate not seasoned to drier types. When the wines are good they are very good, but in off years (infrequent in Vouvray) tasters may discern an acidic finish, which is fine with a saucy fish stew but of little interest for other dishes.

Monmousseau by the Loire

One of the best of Vouvray vintners is Armand Monmousseau of the firm of J. M. Monmousseau, which is celebrating its centennial in 1986. An excellent choice is Monmousseau's still Vouvray Blanc de Blanc, 1985 for its clean, flowery nose and lovely crisp, fresh, delicate flavor. It is now showing handsomely from a vintage that is considered to be tops, ranking with the great vintages of 1969 and 1959. Made entirely from Chenin Blanc grapes, also known as Pineau de la Loire, and grown on vines that thrive in clay and limestone soil on chalky hills, this wine is produced at the firm's winery situated along the gentle slopes of the Loire river.

Monmousseau's Vouvrays generally sell for about $6, including a Vouvray 1981 from his personal vineyard, Clos le Vigneau, which offers an older smoky nose and a lovely crisp, earthy taste. This is a superb bottle with a capacity to age 10 or more years--definitely worth more money, but difficult to find. The '84 Vouvray didn't fare as well, but note that it comes from a vintage not in the same class as '85. This is one of the better '84s, and on that basis it makes a solid choice.

A Tad Sweeter for U.S.

Exceptional is the winery's Brut, Touraine, Non-Vintage, a Blanc de Blanc sparkler made from Chenin Blanc grapes made in the classic Champagne style of methode Champenoise . It should sell from $8 to $10. Interestingly, this wine is made in two versions, the French, not sold here, which is drier and more austere, and the U.S. version--clean, in a rounder, heavier and a tad sweeter style. Monmousseau believes that Americans will appreciate its slight sweetness; hence the difference.

A fine still Vouvray is the firm's Chateau Gaudrelle, 1985, which is not filtered. It is made from old vines planted after the French period of phylloxera. This is a very flowery, fruity, long-on-the-palate Chenin Blanc wine, and because of the old vines, production is low. Avoid the '84, which is less flowery and complex. The '85 is surely a winner.

Monmousseau represents four generations of wine making. As a child, M. Armand spent his playtime roaming around the firm's dark caves--eight miles of hand-dug underground tunnels. Today he resides at Chateau Gaudrelle with his wife, two daughters and son. His son, Alexandre, is in charge of his two top vineyards, Gaudrelle and Clos le Vigneau.

A Marc Bredif Semi-Sparkler

Another Vouvray firm of note is Marc Bredif, now owned by noted Pouilly Fume producer Patrick La Doucette. The Bredif family traces its wine roots to the 16th Century and is responsible for fashioning one of the most interesting Vouvray wines, Vouvray Petillant, a wine that is best described as only partly sparkling, since it contains even less effervescence than Cremant, Champagne's well-known light sparkler. Bredif's wine is rich and reflects a delicately balanced Chenin Blanc touch without an excessively fruity taste. This is a house specialty designed for consumers who prefer a higher dosage , which is a sweeter style, yet dry enough to not qualify as a dessert sparkler. It is priced in the $8 to $9 range.

Bredif's methode Champenoise Non-Vintage, Brut, has a clean, yet heavier style than Monmousseau's Touraine, Brut. It is a sparkling wine that essentially contains grapes from the '83 vintage. There is considerable flesh and rich sweetness here with an emphasis on a fatter, less delicate style.

Bredif's current still whites are quite good. The '83 is fresh, light and fruity, nicely balanced and showing an excellent rich Vouvray style. Because of high acidity and good fruit the wine should be good for several more years. It is priced at $6 to $7. Here too, avoid the '84 since the wine, reflecting this vintage, is less fruity, somewhat sweeter than the '83 without attendant crispness.

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