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New fizz category and Cabernet Franc interest lifts Loire

Published:  28 February, 2018

Nine Loire wine producers and regional wine body, Interloire, have joined forces to launch a premium category for Crémant de Loire and sparkling wines.

‘Prestige de Loire’ exclusively includes vintage wines made under strict production specifications, with the new category comprising 17 wines: 10 Crémants, five wines from Saumur and two Vouvray wines from the 2011, 2012, 2013, 2014 and 2015 vintages.

The collaboration follows the creation of similar market segmentation initiatives for premium fizz launched in Alsace and Burgundy, but includes an obligation for Loire producers to meet higher agro-environmental standards.

The Loire is France’s second largest production region of sparkling wines after Champagne. Whilst Champagne exports to the UK have dramatically fallen over the past two years, Crémant and other Loire sparkling wines were the highest climbers in terms of Loire wine exports last year.

Export figures exclusively released to Harpers show that Crémant de Loire exports to Britain jumped by 34.2% to 4, 255 hl in 2017, while exports of Saumur fizz increased by 21.5% to 2.600 hl in 2017.

“We are indeed seeing an increased demand for Crémant and other sparkling wines mainly due to increasing Champagne prices,” said Alex Meunier, sales manager at Loire wines broker, Charles Sydney Wines.

Matt Wilkin from Loire specialist distributor, H2Vin said that interest in Loire fizz had developed partly on the back of Prosecco, which he said, had “broken the umbilical chord of Champagne”.

‘Prestige de Loire’ wines are labelled with a crown sticker. In France, they sell for a least €10 a bottle and are destined primarily for the on-trade and independents merchants.

The 17 ‘Prestige de Loire’ wines include several wines from Bouvet Ladubay and Ackermann, which changed the name of its group last December to Orchidées, Maisons de Vins and has created two separate portfolios for its wines, highlighting the trend for greater market segmentation of Loire wines.

Overall Loire wine exports to the UK in 2017, fell 15.3% in volume, due to the low quantities of the 2016 vintage, but increased 8.7% in value. Despite a second consecutive year of frost, Loire wine production volumes for the 2017 vintage have, however, increased by 6% compared with the 2016 vintage.

Meanwhile, brokers and buyers are reporting a growing interest in Loire Cabernet Franc (LCF) as a result of a succession of quality vintages since 2014.

“We are starting to look more closer at Loire Cabernet Franc; we are starting to get more samples and to look around,” Max Lalondrell, buying director and Bordeaux buyer at Berry Bros & Rudd, told Harpers.

In similar fashion to the competitive offering of Crémant and sparkling wine prices when compared to Champagne, LCF is now providing an alternative to expensive Bordeaux.

“With the current prices of Bordeaux and the succession of great quality Loire vintages since 2014, Loire Cabernet Franc offers an affordable and delicious alternative to the red wines of other classic French regions,” said Alex Meunier of Charles Sydney Wines.

The rise in the interest of LCF, follows greater use of the late-ripening variety, globally and in right-bank Bordeaux wines: whilst Cabernet Franc in Chateau Pavie wines, was once was a very minor partner in blends, it now represents 35% of the production at the estate, other producers, such as Cheval Blanc, use up to 60% in blends.

Despite vintage variability in the Loire, improvements in canopy management techniques have helped ensure that the quality of LCF wine has been maintained during poor quantity vintages, according to Matt Wilkin.

“We get a lot of demand for Bourgueil, Chinon and St Nicolas de Bourgueil. One of the catalysts in the rise in interest in Cabernet Franc is the overall demand for low alcohol wines. Most of the LCF’s are 12.5% abv, the ideal strength for drinkability. If I were to open a wine bar, I would call it 12.5% abv,” Wilkin said.

“In LCF you get Incredible graphite quality; its crunchy, perfumed, multi-layered with silky tannins, when made well, “ added Wilkin, who has taken on distribution of LCF wines from super premium Chinon producer Domaine Pallus.

The rise of interest in LCF follows Bouygues group’s acquisition of the legendary Saumur-Champigny producer Clos Rougeard last June.

Prices of Clos Rougeard, some of which are available on Fine + Rare wines, have escalated in recent years partly due to speculation from buyers re-selling the wines on e-bay.

Max Lalondrell has no doubts about the future of LCF in the Fine-Wine trade.

“Many Loire reds are still Brasserie wines, I say that in a very good way. We have a long way to go before they become fine wines, but it is all going in the right direction,” he said.