One of my acquaintances invests in white Burgundy every year, even in times of hardship for the region. I recently asked what he thought of Burgundy’s low 2016 yields, and he said, “I have a feeling my favorites will be hard to find…I’m thinking about buying more Loire instead.” He isn’t alone; Loire Valley is emerging as an unexpected 2017 wine trend among collectors looking for quality white wines. For decades, Loire sat in the shadows of Bordeaux and Burgundy, but 2017 might be the year for the region’s dry white wines and herbaceous Cabernet Franc to shine. Ideal weather conditions coupled with a renewed interest among collectors will leave Loire poised for success in 2017.
2017’s Burgundy Replacement
Both Loire and Burgundy rely on slightly cooler climates to produce some of the best white wines in the world. Usually, collectors focus on Burgundy’s rich Chardonnay because it can last for decades in a cellar, however, 2016 was a difficult growing season. Early frosts destroyed much of the crop, and although the weather improved enough in the summer and fall to create healthy grapes, yields are extremely limited. In fact, six of Montrachet’s top producers had to combine their grapes together in 2016 to make just 600 bottles of wine. It will be far more difficult to buy quality Burgundy this year, since the best labels are expected to sell out quickly, and bottles will increase dramatically in price almost immediately after release.
Savvy white wine collectors are turning to Loire’s sweet Chenin Blanc and zesty Sauvignon Blanc instead. The region recently found a new audience in American wine drinkers, with export sales up by 10 percent last year. Experts expect this number to climb even higher in 2017. In addition to this increase in Loire exports around the world, more wine enthusiasts are searching for Loire’s white wines online in recent months. As of January 1, 2017, there were about 33 times as many Google searches for “white Loire wine” than there were in December. By contrast, search results for “white Burgundy” have stayed relatively steady over the past year, with fewer dips or spikes in popularity:
What these wine trends tell us is that more collectors are interested in information about Loire than they have been in the past, and that in 2016, Loire produced age-worthy wines that could quench the thirst of even the most diehard white Burgundy fans.
Yields and Quality Look Promising
Bloomberg’s Elin McCoy says, “In the Loire, most winemakers harvested a plentiful crop with smiles on their faces.” Yields were especially high this past season, owing to dry, sunny weather in the summer. Rains in the spring and again in the early fall kept acidity levels high across the region, resulting in balanced wines that are perfectly ripe, but that still buzz with zest on the palate. Winemakers say that Loire reds and whites will be more fruit-driven than usual, which is a great sign for collectors who will miss Burgundy’s rich, opulent wines this year.
So far, the best wines for investors will likely be Sauvignon Blanc, Chenin, Gamay, and Cabernet Franc. The varietal you choose to buy this year will depend on your goals. Sauvignon Blanc is expected to be more aromatic and concentrated than usual; this is best for collectors who want a bottle that will last a few years, but that will already be balanced and delicious in its youth. For both sweet and dry Chenin Blanc, yields are slightly lower than grapes like Sauvignon Blanc. You’ll likely find more Chenin from Vouvray than Anjou, so consider investing in more sweet Vouvray with noble rot this year. These wines will last for decades in a cellar, and are best enjoyed in their old age.
As for reds, 2016 Cabernet Franc will be elegant–winemakers are already tasting light, fully-ripened fruit. This varietal will be ideal for collectors who prefer their fruit-driven reds to retain a light touch on the palate. If you’re looking for an ultra-ripe, more intense red wine, consider investing more in Touraine’s Gamay. Sunlight gave these grapes more fruitiness than usual, and a dense purple pigment.
Tips for Investments
In general, for the Loire area, I suggest investing more heavily in less popular regions like Touraine and Vouvray this year. These two regions in particular had the healthiest grapes in Loire, and there will be plenty of bottles to choose from because they had relatively high yields. By comparison, the more popular Chinon had lower yields, making it more difficult to find these wines. I recommend buying at least a few age-worthy white wines from Chinon producers, and saving the rest of your budget for unusual, youthful wines from Anjou, Touraine, and Vouvray. Now is also the time to experiment with reds, which will likely reach their peak in quality this year. If you’ve always wanted to try Gamay from Loire, winemakers expect the 2016 vintage to be legendary–perhaps the best in a decade. Your key to success will be to think outside the box of blue-chip French wines and seek out exciting new Loire varietals in their prime.
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Image by chrisada [CC BY 2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0)], via Wikimedia Commons