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Longing for Loire

Summer whites from France

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Although we're trying to ignore it, the French wine party is still hoppin'. Their braggart Bordeaux and Burgundy wines scream for attention and snooty Champagne rears its ego-filled head often, but the leisurely Loire [l' WAHR] Valley is the shy wallflower hiding in the corner. Wake her inner wildcat and reap the rewards of refreshing whites perfect for summer. The Loire wine region lies southwest of Paris. Historic, since kings and queens "weekended" there, after several centuries the region still produces delicious white and rose wines. There are four sub-regions in Loire Valley: Center Loire, Touraine, Anjou/Saumur, and Nantes. Center Loire boasts the semi-famous Pouilly-Fume [p'WEE FOO may], made from the Sauvignon Blanc grape. Robert Mondavi borrowed the "Fume" part to coin his California Sauvignon Blancs "Fume Blanc." Centre Loire's Pouilly Fume is generally medium-bodied, very dry, yet ripe and perfumey.

Also in the Center Loire is Sancerre. If you remember anything from this column, remember that Sancerre [sahn SEHR] rocks. This region's wineries produce crisp, lively, flinty, green-grass Sauvignon Blancs, our answer to the perfect -- albeit expensive -- summer quencher. One good Sancerre experience and you'll jones like a heroin addict.

Chenin Blanc, the predominant grape in Touraine, remains the redheaded stepchild here in the states. But with Touraine's Vouvray, they have Chenin Blanc down to a science. Easily the most famous wine in the Loire, Vouvray normally features slight sweetness and a variety of fruit flavors, great for people who shun acidic, bone-dry wines.

If searching for fun, inexpensive wines, fill your stash with Anjou/Saumur roses. Normally retailing for under $12, these dry to medium-dry fruities are fridge-fillers during the heated months. Called Rose d'Anjou, they exemplify the best deal in the Loire for casual, slurpable wines with slightly sweet, smooth strawberry flavors. Saumur also does a great business in sparkling wine, an up-and-coming niche for Loire Valley. Made from Chenin Blanc, Loire sparklers are hard to find, but they're worth investigating if you come across one.

Nantes, the westernmost Loire region, grows two grape varieties: Gros Plant, really obscure outside of France, and Muscadet. The word Muscadet encompasses both the grape name and the wine, as well as the zone within Nantes where it's grown. Not particularly popular in the US, the wine is better consumed in France, where it can be drunk fresh. The grape has naturally low acidity, making it more prone to spoil than other wines. When you do find it on American shelves, look for recent vintages -- within the last year -- and the words "sur lie," an aging procedure which gives wine freshness and a slight fizziness.

Recommended Wines

Domaine des Hautes Ouches 2001 Rose D'Anjou Like walking through a ripe strawberry patch on a warm spring day, the fragrant smell hangs out in your nose. The ever-so-slight sweetness in this wine makes it a spicy food friend. $10

Marc Bredif 2001 Vouvray Ever-so-slight sweetness nestles in this tart green apple and cool almond wonder. I never cease pondering how winemakers can bring out the unusual flavors. Fascinating. 1/2 $16

Pascal Jolivet Sancerre 2001 Chateau du Nozay Oozing citrus with zesty grapefruit and tangerine grabbing at your tongue. Crisp, refreshing, minerally and absolutely gorgeous. 1/2 $25

de Ladoucette 2000 Pouilly Fume Steely and limey like a snootful of Sprite. It has a tantalizing and lingering acidic aftertaste. Let it sit in the glass and soak up the air to release its best potential. 1/2 $30

Four for Friday Four premium wines are featured in four ways: 2 oz. sample, 5 oz. glass, by the bottle or in a flight. Fridays. $20. Reid's Fine Foods, 7th Street Station. 704-377-1312.

Sunset Wine Tasting Summer white wines. Limited attendance, call to register. Wed., July 30, 7:15-8:15 p.m. $10 per person. Southern Spirits, Hwy 521. 803-548-8888.

Wednesday Night Flights Very informal. Three wines tasted each week. Wednesdays, 5:30-7:30 p.m. $10. Reid's Fine Foods, 7th Street Station. 704-377-1312.

Wine Tasting A couple of select Italian wines will be presented by Vino Vino Distributors. For any questions or registration contact via e-mail or telephone. This event is FREE and open to the public. info@keekeerikee.com. Sat., July 26, 1-5 p.m. Kee-Kee-Rikee, 219 Main St., Pineville. 704-889-5333.

Wine Tastings Wednesdays, 6-8 p.m. $10. Barone's Wine Room, Birkdale Village, Huntersville. 704-987-0011.

Wine Tastings Two locations offer FREE wine tastings every Fri (4-7pm), Sat (noon-5pm), and Sun (1-4pm). Tasting between 4 or 5 different white wines and 4 to 5 different reds. Informal setting. In Matthews, 10052 E. Independence Blvd. Total Wine & More, 1600 East Woodlawn Ave. 704-295-9292.

Wine Tastings Six wines tasted, which follow a monthly theme. Last Tuesday of every month, 5:30-7:30 p.m. $15 per person includes light hors d'oeuvres. Nectar, 1730-A E. Woodlawn Rd. 704-519-4174.

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